Torture trial continues without defendant

Monday, October 22, 2001

ATLANTA -- The defendant's chair will be empty at the Monday opening of a civil rights trial here accusing a former Bosnian-Serb soldier of torture and other atrocities in the former Yugoslavia.

The defendant, Serbian-born Nikola Vuckovic, is accused of detaining and torturing Bosnian Muslims and Croats after the Bosnian-Serb takeover in 1992.

But Vuckovic won't be in court. According to his former attorney, Vuckovic, who in recent years had lived in the Atlanta suburb of Clarkston, went back to Bosnia months ago to care for his sick mother, who has since died. His family said they don't know when he'll return.

Vuckovic was sued in 1998 by one of his alleged victims, Kemal Mehinovic. Once co-owner of a family bakery, restaurant and cafe in a small city in Bosnia, Mehinovic, 43, lost it all in the takeover.

According to documents he filed in federal court, he was arrested with other Muslims, sent to a concentration camp, separated from his family for more than two years, abused and starved.

Mehinovic's lawsuit claims that between May and November 1992, Vuckovic beat him with metal pipes, baseball bats, chair legs, wooden batons, his fists, heavy boots "and at one point forced his legs apart and beat his genitals, stating 'You won't be needing this anymore."'

Mehinovic left the country in 1995 and settled in Salt Lake City. When he found out that Vuckovic had also moved to the United States, he sued him under a 200-year-old law allowing people claiming to be victims of torture to seek redress in American courts. The lawsuit was later joined by three more plaintiffs.

The lawsuit is among the latest in a small but growing body of cases giving new life to the Alien Tort Claims Act, enacted by the first Congress in 1789. The law allows foreign residents to sue in U.S. courts those who break "the law of nations or a treaty of the United States."

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