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South Texas College of Law Professor Peter Murphy will help defend Biljana Plavsic — often referred to in international press reports as Bosnia’s “Iron Lady” — before a war crimes tribunal in The Hague next year. “It’s a vast case,” says Murphy, noting that prosecutors have named more than 400 witnesses and have as many as 3 million documents that could be relevant in the case. Plavsic, 71, is accused of being part of the Bosnian Serb wartime presidency that allegedly ordered the executions of Muslims and Croats in an ethnic cleansing campaign at the outset of the conflict that erupted after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. The indictment against Plavsic charges her with genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of the laws and customs of war, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. Plavsic and other members of the Serbian Democratic Party planned the ethnic cleansing of thousands of Muslims and Croats from July 1991 to December 1992, the indictment alleges. Plavsic, one of the top Bosnian Serb officials to be brought to trial, pleaded not guilty to the charges in January. A former biology professor at Sarajevo University, Plavsic served as deputy to Radovan Karadzic and became president of the Republika Srpska, the Serb-held part of Bosnia, when Karadzic was forced from office in 1996. Karadzic also is charged with war crimes but remains a fugitive. Plavsic is to be tried with Momcilo Krajisnik, a wartime speaker of the Bosnian Serb Parliament. Murphy says prosecutors aren’t suggesting that Plavsic personally committed war crimes. “They’re saying she bears political responsibility as a member of the presidency.” Robert Pavich, lead lawyer for Plavsic’s defense team, says the case is significant. This is the first time that the top political leaders of warring factions have been tried for war crimes, says Pavich, a partner in Chicago’s Monico, Pavich & Spevack. While a number of Germany’s political leaders during World War II were tried for war crimes at the Nuremberg trials, none of them were at the top of the political structure, Pavich says. Hermann Goering, founder of the Gestapo and Germany’s minister of economics until 1943, was the chief defendant at Nuremberg. Plavsic is the first woman to face charges for atrocities allegedly committed during ethnic warfare. Murphy says one of the big issues is whether the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia will provide adequate funding for the defense. The tribunal keeps the prosecutor’s office well-funded and well-equipped, he says. “The defense, I think it’s fair to say, has to fight for every dollar,” Murphy adds. Pavich says a motion was filed in April requesting that the case be dismissed unless adequate funding and time are provided to defend Plavsic or, in the alternative, that the tribunal monitor the resources provided to the defense team. The tribunal took the motion under advisement, he says. Murphy says that assuring Plavsic receives adequate defense resources is important, not just to this case, but to show that an international tribunal can conduct a fair trial. The United States supported the tribunal but has been hesitant to support the proposed creation of the Permanent International Criminal Court, he says. Although former President Bill Clinton signed the treaty to create the court, the U.S. Senate has not ratified it, Murphy says. Pavich says countries want to make sure that their citizens’ rights are protected if they are to be tried by an international court. The U.S. would not want its soldiers stationed in foreign countries taken before an international court for alleged crimes unless they would have the protections that an American citizen can expect, he says. “I think a lot of people will be watching [Plavsic's trial] very carefully to see whether the tribunal is able to accomplish its objectives in providing a court where countries can be comfortable in submitting their citizens and be sure they get a fair trial,” Pavich says. UNEVEN PLAYING FIELD FOR DEFENSE ATTORNEYS Houston solo Cynthia Sinatra, the first American lawyer to receive an appointment to represent a defendant in a war crimes trial before the tribunal, says the defense did not have a copy machine, fax machine or a computer when she first arrived at The Hague in 1997. “The defense, even today, has an uneven playing field,” Sinatra says. While prosecutors have unlimited funding for investigators on the scene and technology, defense attorneys have to share copy and fax machines and often don’t receive reimbursement for case-related expenses. The defense receives only what the registrar, the tribunal’s administrative body, decides it needs, Sinatra explains. “We really don’t have control over our own case.” Sinatra represents Esad Landzo, a Muslim who served as a guard at the Celebici prison camp in central Bosnia. After a trial that lasted from March 1997 to November 1998, Landzo was convicted of torture and three murders and has been sentenced to 15 years in prison. Murphy, who was one of Sinatra’s law professors, got his first opportunity to work on a case at The Hague when he became her co-counsel in Landzo’s appeal. One of the greatest challenges for American lawyers representing defendants before the tribunal is facing judges from different legal backgrounds, he says. According to Murphy, the tribunal’s rules of procedure and evidence look like common law rules, but the judges interpreting them often are not from common law countries and can be “pretty unpredictable.” American lawyers also may be surprised when the judges actively question witnesses, he says. Pavich says that Murphy, who has expertise in international criminal law, is a core member of Plavsic’s defense team and is expected to be one of her trial lawyers. Murphy received his law and advanced law degrees from the University of Cambridge in England, his native country, and was a barrister (trial lawyer) in common law chambers in London between 1970 and ’78. During the same period, he was a lecturer at the Inns of Court School of Law in London, where barristers are trained. After moving to the United States in 1980, Murphy became an associate attorney with San Francisco-based Bronson, Bronson & McKinnon, practicing in the fields of aviation, business and insurance coverage litigation. In 1984, Murphy joined the faculty at South Texas College of Law, where he teaches trial advocacy, evidence and criminal law. Murphy’s involvement in Plavsic’s defense will be a family affair. His wife, Chris, will act as the defense’s case manager, organizing documents for the team. She served as a legal assistant on Landzo’s appeal, Murphy says. The couple left Houston for the Netherlands on Wednesday. One of his first priorities, Murphy says, will be to meet Plavsic, who was granted a provisional release on Aug. 29 and has returned to Belgrade. Pavich says a trial date has not been scheduled for Plavsic and Krajisnik. The earliest that the trial could start is February 2002, but Pavich says it’s unlikely that proceedings can get under way by then. The lawyers hope to get more direction from the tribunal at a status conference scheduled for Oct. 3, he says. Other core members of the defense team are Eugene O’Sullivan, a former Canadian law professor who practices full time before the tribunal, and Igor Sikavica, a Belgrade attorney who has been working in Chicago. The tribunal’s chief prosecutor is Carla del Ponte. Murphy’s involvement in Plavsic’s case could open a new opportunity for South Texas law students. South Texas Dean Frank Read has asked him to create a program for the school’s students in The Hague, Murphy says. As proposed, the program would allow students to take classes at the University of Leiden. They also would have the option of working as interns for Plavsic’s defense team.

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