September 26, 2000.
NEW YORK — Former Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic has been ordered by a U.S. jury to pay $4.5 billion in damages for atrocities committed by his soldiers. The jury and judge hearing the civil case against Karadzic, who remains an international fugitive, said Monday that the United States can’t ignore genocide a world away. “It’s very important that the United States of America rises to the occasion when these things happen and we just don’t wait for the United Nations’ war crimes tribunal,” Judge Peter K. Leisure said in the Manhattan courtroom.
The jury awarded $617 million in compensatory damages and $3.9 billion in punitive damages for injuries and deaths suffered by 39 people. The damages were awarded to 13 women and 10 men, none of whom were in the courtroom when the verdict was read. The verdict came just weeks after a different jury returned a $745 million verdict against Karadzic in a civil case focusing on women injured in the war in the former Yugoslavia. Both lawsuits had been brought under a 221-year-old U.S. law letting foreign citizens sue foreign officials and citizens for violating the law of nations.
Karadzic fought the claims through New York lawyers for four years before telling the judge he would not defend himself. He also has been indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, on charges of genocide.
“Can you really hope to find truth or do justice or protect rights for people in distant nations?” Karadzic wrote. ” Do you really believe that attaching a U.S. dollar sign to human tragedy around the world by empty judgments in uncontested lawsuits is a step toward peace or justice?”
The judge ruled that Karadzic defaulted in the lawsuits, leaving the juries only to decide what he owed the plaintiffs in damages. Both trials featured several witnesses who traveled from Bosnia and appeared anonymously, describing scenes so disturbing that Bill Walters, the foreman of Monday’s jury, said he had nightmares.
“It was not easy to come up with compensation, but it was also not hard,” Walters said.
The plaintiffs alleged gross human rights abuses, including genocide, torture, rape, execution, war crimes and other human rights abuses in an ethnic cleansing campaign to drive non-Serbs from their homes in Bosnia-Herzegovina and to establish Serbian control of the region.
A 12-year-old girl who now lives in Chicago described during the two-week trial how her leg had been blown off by a mortar attack in Bosnia when she was 5. Other victims described nightmares after being raped repeatedly and witnessing the murders of loved ones. Some told stories of men being forced to have sex with one another or others being forced to drink motor oil. Another said he saw Serbian soldiers cut off the head of one man and play soccer with it in front of the man’s friends.
Mirza Hirkich, a plaintiff who testified during the trial, said she didn’t expect to ever see a penny of the damages award. “They believe what we went through,” she said. “I wanted all those people to understand how guilty were all the Serbs who did bad things.” Walters said jurors understood that a verdict likely would never be paid but it was important to send a message because it was clear Karadzic was responsible.
“The guards did the same things all over the country so there was no doubt in our minds that there was a master plan,” he said.
keywords: US jury, US verdict, Radovan Karadzic, Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing, Bosniaks, Bosnian Muslims, Bosnia-Herzegovina