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Burden of Proof

Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal Convenes Landmark Rape Trial

Aired March 22, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET



PAUL RISLEY, SPOKESMAN FOR THE PROSECUTOR: The charges that we have brought in this case are so extensive and the magnitude is so great that it's very hard for any responsible persons to believe in any way that this should be hushed up.

DIRK RYNEVELD, PROSECUTOR: Women and children, some, as I said earlier, as young as 12 years old, in Foca were detained and raped vaginally, anally and orally, subjected to gang rapes, forced to dance nude with weapons pointed at them, and even enslaved.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: The Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal convenes a landmark trial in The Hague. Three Serbs are charged with running a camp to rape Muslim women.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Roger is off today and I'm in New York.

For the first time in history, an international court is hearing a case about camps set up specifically to rape women. In the landmark trial set in The Hague, three Serbs are being tried for creating such a camp in which Muslim women and girls were allegedly beaten, gang- raped and forced to bear Serb babies during the Bosnian war. According to a Human Rights Watch report, rape and sexual violence has been used as weapons of war and an instrument of ethnic cleansing in the region.

Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch joins us today here in New York. And in Washington, Nina Bang-Jensen of the Coalition for International Justice. Also in Washington, Kelly Askin, who's the author of "War Crimes Against Women." And joining us from Los Angeles is KPCC Public Radio reporter Kitty Felde.

First to you, Kelly. I want to ask you about Foca. What can you tell us about Foca?

KELLY ASKIN, AUTHOR, "WAR CRIMES AGAINST WOMEN" Well, Foca is the first indictment of sexual violence that's devoted exclusively to sexual violence. It was -- it is a very historic indictment. It is the first sexual enslavement indictment in history for International War Crimes Tribunal. And the case has -- will have enormous repercussions, say some 200,000 former comfort women who were victimized during World War II and still have not received any form of redress. It is a very important case.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nina, what are the facts giving rise to this indictment that's currently going on?

NINA BANG-JENSEN, COALITION FOR INTL. JUSTICE: Well, Foca is a city -- and has been renamed -- but a city in southeastern Bosnia. Bosnian-Serb forces launched an attack on that city, and when they arrived in the cities immediately separated the men from the women and elderly and children.

They took the women and elderly and children into detention centers, and the allegation is that they removed those women and raped and enslaved them at hotels and brothels and elsewhere as a tactic to terrify them, to impregnate them and destroy their identity, their non-Serb identity. That is the allegation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nina, what has happened to this group of Muslim women in Foca. Where are they now?

BANG-JENSEN: Well, that's the sad thing. At the time before the siege, Foca was 50 percent Muslim. Presently, there are very few Muslims living in Foca. They have scattered elsewhere in the world and elsewhere in Bosnia. They simply still do not feel welcome in Foca because the people who were protecting these indictees are still there and still in charge.

VAN SUSTEREN: Reed, how unusual is it that the trial that's going on now is focusing on crimes of a sexual nature?

REED BRODY, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Well, this is the first crime that specifically focuses only on crimes of a sexual nature. There have already been both in the Rwanda -- in the tribunal that was set up to look at the genocide in Rwanda as well as in the Yugoslav Tribunal, indictments and convictions for rape as well as other crimes. A former mayor in Rwanda who was convicted of genocide was also convicted of having presided over rapes. In addition, in the Yugoslav Tribunal, one of the defendants who was convicted of a number of crimes was convicted of rape as well. This is the first case, though, to solely focus on the crime of rape and on the use of rape hotels and on sexual enslavement.

VAN SUSTEREN: Kitty, three are standing trial now. Are others indicted for events arising out of Foca?

KITTY FELDE, KPCC PUBLIC RADIO: Yes, there's several named in the indictment. As a matter of fact, this indictment has been amended, I think, three or four times. I believe the original indictment had seven.

The interesting thing about this particular trial is you've got -- you're sitting in a courtroom with three people who are going to be facing the women who are accusing them, and that's got to be handled particularly delicately. As a matter of fact, what will happen is, when those woman come into court to face those men, the curtains will be drawn, reporters will be escorted out, and it's likely that their testimony will not be given to the hands of the outside media until, perhaps, the entire trial is over. All of this is done to protect the witnesses.

But, you know, if such a thing, as you know so well, Greta, happened here in the United States, CNN would be the first one to have its lawyers on the phone to go down there to the court to file First Amendment rights, that the public has the right to know. Well, because this is an international criminal tribunal, there is no First Amendment, and therefore the tribunal can set its own rules, and it says that the victims' rights come first.

VAN SUSTEREN: Kelly, you actually were there for part of the opening statements. Anything significant, as far as you could see?

ASKIN: Well, it was very interesting. He started out with about an hour and a half of opening testimony. And one thing that he emphasized, which I think is very important to emphasize, is that these three accused are by no means the only people responsible for this indictment or for the other forms of sexual violence: the rape, the enslavement, the forced nudity, the sexualized torture, in Foca or in the other areas of the war. Nor will these be the only victims.

The victims and witnesses here will talk about not only what happened to them, but, unlike in a domestic context, many times three, four, a dozen were being gang-raped in the same room. So they will also testify about things that happened to other people, witnesses -- the crimes that they witnessed against other people. So they may not even be talking about their own victimization in certain circumstances if it's not against these particular accused.

And so I think that's really important to emphasize; and also that this is the first prosecution in the Yugoslav Tribunal for rape as a crime against humanity, and that's very significant. As Reed Brody alluded to, rape was successfully prosecuted in the Rwandan Tribunal as a crime against humanity and as an integral part of the process of genocidal destruction, and that's very significant. But in this tribunal, it'll be the first for rape as a crime against humanity and, for any tribunal, sexual slavery. It's charged, actually, as enslavement because sexual slavery isn't one of the -- isn't under the terms of the statute. So they're charging it as enslavement for sexual slavery.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nina, how were these three arrested?

BANG-JENSEN: I believe that these were all SFOR arrests.

ASKIN: No, one turned himself in.

BANG-JENSEN: Is that right? I'm sorry.

ASKIN: One turned himself in. Two were SFOR arrests.

BANG-JENSEN: Thank you. Was that Kitty?


BANG-JENSEN: Yes, thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: And how do we -- and what about the rest of them, Nina?

BANG-JENSEN: Well, the others who are out there in Foca have been seen sitting around in cafes; in one case, a year and a half ago, sitting in a cafe where there was French SFOR soldiers at a table within shouting distance. In the case -- in most cases of these indictees, they have either surrendered with pressure from their governments, in the case of a lot of the Croatian indictees, or been arrested by European forces when they were refugees abroad, in the case of three or four, or by SFOR forces in Bosnia itself.

ASKIN: And this is the larger...

VAN SUSTEREN: We need to take a break. Let me just have you hold that for a second. We'll get back to it. We're going to take a break.

And up next, inside the war crimes tribunal and how the international court varies from the United States' justice. Stay with us.


Leonard Peltier, an American Indian serving two life terms for the 1975 deaths of two FBI agents, has been transferred from prison in Leavenworth to a federal medical center near the Mayo Clinic. Peltier suffers from a jaw disorder, diabetes and a heart condition. The Federal Bureau of Prisons says the move is temporary.



VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log-on to We now provide a live video feed, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. If you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.


RYNEVELD: You will hear in details from the victims when, where and how often the accused raped and sexually assaulted them.

RISLEY: The rapes with which he is accused and the detention of women with which he is accused were among the most violent and the most vicious.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAN SUSTEREN: Three Serbs are being tried for alleged crimes during the Bosnian war. The defendants allegedly set up camps in which Muslim women were raped and forced to bear the children of their rapists. The trial is being held in The Hague, the site of the War Crimes Tribunal.

Reed, these are horrible, shocking crimes, and I assume that the women will be testifying, providing what they say happened. But the key question is: How do you actually prove that the men on trial were involved?

BRODY: Well, it's very much like a rape case that you would try here in the United States or anywhere else. You have first and foremost, the testimony of the victims and we expect at least 10 women will come forward under -- as Kelly mentioned, they will be testifying with some guarantees as to the confidentiality of their testimony.

In addition, we understand that there will be forensic evidence, evidence -- medical evidence from the women. There will -- we understand that the women's testimony corroborates each other. There will be information as to the location of the defendants at the time of the rapes. It's going to be the same as a domestic trial, in fact, with all the difficulties inherent in proving that rapes took place, except that here, the number and the systematic nature is going to make it much easier to corroborate the testimony of each of these women.

VAN SUSTEREN: Kitty, is it the actual rapists -- or alleged rapists who are on trial now or is it those who sort of set up the camp. And if it's the actual rapist, do you expect the DNA evidence will link any of the victims to the alleged perpetrators?

FELDE: Well, it's both, actually. And one of the defendants is likely to say that, yes, indeed he did have sex with at least one of the women, but it was consensual. Again, it sounds very much like an American rape case.

But because the investigators were not on scene to take samples directly after the fact, I don't think that DNA is going to become part of this. DNA has been part of previous prosecutions, but that was mostly, you know, the dead tissue of human beings that was used as -- I mean, DNA hasn't been used, but forensic types of use have been used in other cases. So I really doubt that we're going to see the charts that we saw during O.J. Simpson during this case.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Nina, it seems, in many ways, if you look at it in a conventional sense, in a conventional American sense, that it would be very hard to prove, to link the perpetrators to the alleged rape, absent some scientific, a he says/she says oftentimes as brutal as the crime is, may not be enough.

BANG-JENSEN: Well, in some case, as Kelly mentioned, there were other people in the room. These were gang rapes, there were other people who may well testify. There is going to be evidence, like there was yesterday of people talking about how this was part of the systematic attack, how the men and women and children were separated. And how trying to establish the intent of these acts, the intent being to terrorize and humiliate the Muslim population such that they would leave.

And one thing I didn't mention before, you asked about where some of these women are, some of them are unaccounted for, they have disappeared.

ASKIN: In particular, in fact, some of the victims in this case, who obviously won't be testifying, one of the accused is charges with selling more than one of the individuals who he enslaved and raped daily for three months, six months, and then would sell them for 200 deutsche marks. And one case was a 12-year-old girl and she's never been heard from since.

There is other situations like that, where many of the witnesses will talk about this woman who was -- or girl, I should say, who was raped with them repeatedly for -- and this isn't like in many ways like domestic rapes. This isn't like a one-day thing. Most of these perpetrators came from the Foca region, people knew them ahead of time. They've lived there all their lives, so they knew them ahead of time; B, they were raped, you know, 60, 200 times, so identification isn't quite an issue.

And to go back to one of the things, interestingly, that Kitty mentioned, consent. Under the terms of the rules of procedure and evidence for the tribunal, consent is not allowed as a defense if the victim or witness has been subjected to or threatened with detention, violence, psychological oppression or duress.

This defendant is going sort of in the backdoor alleging mistake of fact. I thought she consented because she didn't resist, she didn't say no. In fact, he has even indicated that she initiated the relationship. So he's trying to get around the reasons for the rules, trying to protect people in these types of situations, very different than domestic rapes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Reed, the indictment we have three on trial now, there are others included in the indictment. But when you step back and look at the allegations, how many people does, for instance, your organization believe were involved in this sort of systematic rape and setting up these camps?

BRODY: Well, here, as you mentioned, about half the defendants are at large. In fact, half of the defendants in the former Yugoslavia are at large. The tribunal has indicted, publicly at least, over 80 defendants, half of them, including most of the worst defendants, the head of the Bosnian Serb army, the head of Radovan Karadzic, the president of the Republika of Srbska. These people are at large and there has not been, in most case, the political will to bring them to justice.

Many of the people who have been brought to the tribunal are people who turn themselves in. There have been a number of arrests by the international forces, but one of the grave problems here is that a lot of the defendants, including a lot of the high-ranking defendants, are at large, in many cases, as Nina mentioned, we know where they are; in some other cases, they are well protected. But there hasn't been the political will to go in and capture these people and bring them to the tribunal.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, we're going to take a break.

Up next, is this the way the international community should deal with crimes against humanity? or is there another option? Stay with us.


Q: Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher has declined to head up an independent investigation of alleged widespread corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department.

What previous LAPD investigation did Christopher lead?

A: The blue-ribbon commission that investigated the LAPD after the 1991 beating of Rodney King.


VAN SUSTEREN: A report by Human Rights Watch chronicles 96 cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence during the Bosnian War. But activists say little has been done to help victims overcome the crimes and the stigma attached to the rape.

Nina, tell me, is -- who bears the burden of proof in this war crime? And also, what is it? As well as, who decides the case?

BANG-JENSEN: Well, the burden of proof that's born here, as in all cases by the prosecution, it's the standard that we're familiar with: proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And the decision is made by the judges; there is no jury present, which is quite different from cases here, of course.

VAN SUSTEREN: How many judges are there that make the determination?

BANG-JENSEN: I'm going to defer to Kelly on this one.


BANG-JENSEN: Just three. There're three judges who were assigned to each case. I'm sorry, Kelly, go ahead.

ASKIN: Three per trial chamber, and then five on the appeals chamber.

VAN SUSTEREN: Kitty, you've been in the courtroom over in The Hague, where the trial is being held. Is there anything that stands out in your mind about it?

FELDE: Well, the main difference, of course, compared to, say, the criminal courts building in downtown Los Angeles, is, while you do go through metal detectors the same way, when you sit in that courtroom, there is bulletproof glass that keeps you apart from the action, at the same time of providing protection for, I guess, both sides, but also puts you in pretty close proximity to those defendants. And they are often making eye contact with the audience sitting there.

And I guess it also should be said that there were very few people, you know, that courtroom is the largest and it seats about 100, those seats were not full on the first day of trial, Greta, they were unlike some of the other cases it's just -- even though it's this historic important precedent-setting case, there just isn't that much interest in the international community in what the tribunal is doing, and I think that's a great tragedy.

VAN SUSTEREN: Kitty, what about the media? Is the media interested?

FELDE: Well, no, I have to say that, you know, I haven't been back to the tribunal in about 11 months. And I have logged more time in that courtroom than any other American reporter, especially the American media. When the tribunal was first set up, its first defendant was a low-ranking guy and there was a sort of universal dismissal of it as being just a place where the small fish would be tried.

Well, that has changed, a lot has changed in the three and four years, and I just haven't -- there has been increasing interest in the tribunal, but it certainly isn't to the point that, as least I think, it should be covered.

VAN SUSTEREN: Reed, in the event of a conviction, what's the likelihood -- I mean, what kind of penalties can these three face, and where would they have incarceration?

BRODY: Well, so far the longest sentence handed down by the tribunal, which just a couple of weeks ago, was 45 years for a Croat commander. They would serve their sentence in one of the countries in Europe, up until this point, that have arranged to house the defendants and the convicted prisoners of this tribunal.

If I may jump here in for a second.

VAN SUSTEREN: We have 10 seconds.

ASKIN: Six countries who have signed enforcement agreements, so if these people are convicted, only six countries have signed enforcement agreements, agreeing to take people who are convicted.

VAN SUSTEREN: A very important trial that we are going to keep our eye on. But that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Stay tuned to CNN today for "TALKBACK LIVE." Today's guest is Trevor Rees-Jones, who is the sole survivor of the car crash which claimed the life of Princess Diana. That's at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.

And then, log-on to for an interactive chat with the former bodyguard. That's at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

And of course, we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



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