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A search for a measure of justice — and official recognition of the horrors they suffered from ethnic cleansing and sexual violence during the Bosnian conflict — has led several women to a Manhattan courtroom to tell their stories. But the defendant in the case, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, was nowhere to be found Tuesday, having defaulted on claims that he directed troops under his command to terrorize the women of Bosnia and Herzegovina through an organized campaign of mass rape between 1991 and 1993. Plaintiffs’ lawyer Catharine MacKinnon, a visiting professor at the University of Chicago Law School, told the jury that her clients and thousands of other women were targeted for rape, forced impregnation, and torture “because they were Muslim or Croatian or both, rather than of Serbian ethnicity. The jury will decide damages in a case where damages will most likely never be collected. “It was all part of ethnic cleansing,” MacKinnon said. “This was not rape out of control. This was rape under control.” Two of the victims, overwhelmed with emotion, were compelled to leave the courtroom as MacKinnon detailed the crimes. The jury of nine women and one man had been warned by Southern District Senior Judge Peter K. Leisure that they would be hearing difficult testimony throughout the two-week trial. “They are unable to eat or sleep for the fear that they will be hunted down and killed — a terror that never goes away,” MacKinnon said. MacKinnon and co-counsel Maria T. Vullo, a partner at New York-based Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, promised to prove, by detailing a chronology of events that began in the fall of 1991, that the Serbs moved systematically through Bosnia and Herzegovina and established concentration camps where women were “systematically raped.” MacKinnon said that “the normal human tendency” when a person hears about the atrocities of the kind that will be detailed during the trial “is to shut it out” and not believe the acts were committed. “Take your stand against these acts of incredible horror,” she said. “The shame is his — not theirs. You can give them what he has taken away from them — respect for their humanity and human rights.” The case was brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim’s Protection Act in 1993, when Karadzic, president of the self-proclaimed Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was in the United States to promote the Serbian view of the conflict. After the suit was filed, Karadzic, through his lawyer Ramsey Clark, argued in vain before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the lower court lacked jurisdiction in the case. Karadzic has since been indicted by the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal on charges of genocide. “After being served with a complaint in 1993 when he was here, he participated in the case, with counsel, for four years, up until we started searching for answers to tough questions, when he decided not to participate,” Vullo said. “Unlike his victims, he has decided not to be here to explain why he thinks it was necessary for these women to be raped and tortured to establish his Serbian empire.” The lawyers had placed, across the room from the jury box, a poster-sized photograph of Karadzic. Vullo was intent on making it clear that Karadzic, present or not, must be held responsible for his crimes. “Do not let his chair in this courtroom remain empty,” she said, and then taped a picture of Karadzic to a chair. “That is his chair. We cannot allow Radovan Karadzic to escape justice any more.” The first witness was a Bosnian Muslim woman identified only by the initials of N.S. She described being held for months in a mountain shack with her two children, while she was repeatedly raped by soldiers, including her next door neighbor. The woman fainted during her testimony and was taken away from the courthouse by ambulance, effectively ending the first day of the trial.

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