Nancy L. Paterson, 56

Nancy Paterson; wrote war crimes indictment against ex-Yugoslav leader Milosevic

By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 8, 2010

Nancy L. Paterson, 56, a lawyer who co-wrote the indictment against former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic that forced him to stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity, died March 27 at her home in Bethesda. She had ovarian cancer.

Ms. Paterson, a specialist in prosecuting crimes of sexual violence, joined the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia as a trial lawyer in 1994. The tribunal was established to investigate reports of human-rights abuses against thousands of civilians -- including rape, torture and mass murders. The tribunal, established as the nearly decade-long war raged in the Balkans, was the first such international effort to bring war criminals to justice since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II.

In January 1999, a wave of especially intense violence washed over Kosovo. Tribunal officials decided that it was time act against Milosevic, then president of Yugoslavia, who was widely thought to be orchestrating acts of brutality, particularly against ethnic Albanians, who had been driven out of Kosovo by the hundreds of thousands.

Ms. Paterson and her American colleague Clint Williamson were chosen to lead a team of 50 experts to gather evidence against Milosevic. Working furiously to document the crimes that had taken place and establish that Milosevic had played a central role in planning them, the team -- in less than two months -- produced an indictment written largely by Williamson and Ms. Paterson.

Completed in the midst of the Kosovo war, it charged Milosevic and four other Serb officials with 340 counts of murder and 740,000 forced deportations of ethnic Albanians from their homes in Kosovo.

The timing of the indictment, the first against a sitting head of state, was controversial.

"Some people thought it a bad idea to issue the indictment while the war was on, that it was in some way going to prolong the war," Ms. Paterson told the British newspaper the Observer in 2001. "But we decided that this was not going to prolong or shorten the war; we had the case, we had the evidence, the satellite photos and the witnesses."

Indeed, Milosevic surrendered just days after he was indicted.

Immediately after the war ended, Ms. Paterson and her colleagues traveled to Kosovo to continue collecting evidence against Milosevic for the trial. They found about 500 mass graves and a country ripped apart by the horrors of war.

"At first, it was desolate; before the refugees returned -- dead animals lying in the fields, houses still burning," Ms. Paterson said in 2001. "I remember going down the steps to a cellar in which 19 women and children had been burned; there was a child's slipper burned on the step. These things you remember."

In 2001, seven years after joining the tribunal, Ms. Paterson had seen enough inhumanity. She decided to return to the United States and drew her last paycheck from the tribunal on the same day that Milosevic first stood in court at The Hague.

Ms. Paterson's indictment was later extended to include Milosevic's alleged war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia. His trial dragged on for more than four years, revealing appalling details about the Balkan conflicts that left about 200,000 civilians dead and millions more displaced.

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