News 15 Mar 11

French Court Orders Karadzic to Compensate War Victims

A French court has ordered former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Biljana Plavsic to pay €200,000 to a Bosnian family for wartime abuses in a potentially precedent-setting case.

Eldin Hadzovic

The Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris on Monday ordered Karadzic and Plavsic to compensate Adil and Zuhra Kovac and their children for the humiliation they suffered and costs incurred from Adil's injuries sustained after being attacked in the eastern Bosnian town of Foca during the 1992-1995 war.

The court found sufficient evidence that Karadzic and Plavsic were personally responsible for the harm suffered by the Kovacs, especially Adil Kovac, who was left disabled.

This decision is unprecedented in Europe because it was imposed before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, has issued a verdict in its trial against wartime Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic.

Radovan Karadzic faces 11 war crimes charges before the ICTY, including counts of genocide and murder. His trial is expected to last through 2012.

Biljana Plavsic was released in October 2009 from a Swedish prison after having served two-thirds of her 11-year prison sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"This sentence can not compensate the suffering that we have survived, but it's a big win for us anyway," Zuhra Kovac said after the court's verdict.

During the attack on their home, Zuhra's husband Adil was beaten, and the family was locked in their gasoline-drenched house, news agencies reported.

The family then fled to the woods, where their grandmother was murdered and Kovac's son was shot in the leg.

After the incident, the Kovacs left Bosnia and acquired French citizenship. In 2005 they launched their civil suit against Karadzic and Plavsic, asking for €1,000,000. The suit also named top Bosnian Serb wartime official Momcilo Krajisnik, a convicted war criminal currently serving a 20-year sentence, and former Bosnian Serb army general Ratko Mladic.

Ratko Mladic, who faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity before the ICTY, is currently at large.

In its decision on Monday, the court requested additional evidence to determine Mladic's responsibility and declared itself incompetent to hear the case against Krajisnik.

The decision must now be accepted by Bosnia and Herzegovina and communicated to Karadzic and Plavsic.

Nikola Sladoje, Bosnia's deputy minister of justice told Balkan Insight that the French court's verdict would have to be accepted by a Bosnian court at the request of the Kovacs.

Since this is a legal precedent, Sladoje said, the Ministry of Justice still cannot say with certainty who will pay the damages if Karadzic and Plavsic do not have sufficient funds.

The court's ruling may pave the way for victims of war crimes to obtain civil compensation from war criminals before criminal trials are completed or held.

Kovac family lawyer Ivan Jurasinovic expressed satisfaction with the verdict and what it may mean for other victims.

"This means that citizens will no longer have to wait for the criminal trial of war criminals in order to obtain civil redress," he said.

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