A federal jury today ordered Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to pay $745 million to a group of women who accused him of responsibility for killings, rapes, kidnappings, torture and other atrocities in their war-torn homeland.
The judgment, ending an eight-day trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, carries symbolic impact. But the ability of the women to collect any money is in doubt. Karadzic, who did not mount a defense, is an international fugitive charged with genocide by a United Nations tribunal.
The civil suit was filed by 12 women who survived rapes and beatings in the former Yugoslavia, and on behalf of three organizations that provide humanitarian aid to Bosnian and Croatian war victims. The plaintiffs accused Karadzic of directing Bosnian Serb forces to commit atrocities during a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" in the early 1990s.
During the trial, many of the women wept as they described their experiences.
"It's a tremendous relief because we have been telling this story for seven years," said plaintiff Nusreta Sivac. Attorneys had kept the names of the plaintiffs confidential throughout the trial, but Sivac and another woman agreed to be identified and photographed after leaving the courthouse.
After the decision was read, jurors asked permission to shake the hands of the women and their attorneys. One juror called the plaintiffs "wonderful and dignified ladies who deserve justice for the indignity they suffered."
Although the case was tried in the United States, none of the plaintiffs is a U.S. citizen. The trial is one of several brought in recent years by human rights advocates attempting to hold alleged international wrongdoers accountable through the Alien Tort Claims Act, a 211-year-old U.S. law originally meant to combat piracy.
The judgment is among the largest ever returned under the law, which has been used to win awards on behalf of plaintiffs from numerous countries including Guatemala, Haiti and the Philippines. Some legal scholars have criticized the recent application of the law, saying it puts the courts in the position of meddling in foreign policy.
A second suit against Karadzic--a class-action case--is to begin here next week.
Even though none of the previous suits has generated a significant payment, lawyers for the women said they would make every effort to seize "substantial assets" held by Karadzic. One attorney, Catherine A. MacKinnon, said she disagreed with a prediction that no money will be recovered.
"It seemed as though they would get away with everything up until now," she said of Karadzic and his supporters.
No matter what happens, some women said the case gave them "moral satisfaction."
"It's unspeakable in terms of money," one said.
Haughney reported from New York, Miller from Washington.