Researchers documenting war crimes



CHICAGO (AP)—In a cramped DePaul University room that used to house a student video arcade, researchers pore over reports of men in the former Yugoslavia forced to sodomize each other, have sex with their sons and watch their daughters raped.

The researchers have the gruesome task of documenting atrocities for the first international war crimes trials since World War II, a job that for many means 15 hour days, seven days a week.

So far they’ve come up with a list of thousands of killings, rapes, torture and mutilation—and the reports keep coming.

‘‘It’s really hard to imagine that they’re happening in this day and age. Sometimes I read this stuff and think it’s happening in the Middle Ages,’‘ Mark Bennett, a staff attorney, said Monday.

Colleague Carson Wetzel sat in the makeshift downtown office, staring at a list of 393 detention centers in the war-torn nation taped to the wall. He’s haunted by many of the reports. In one Yugoslavian prison, he said, ‘‘seven pairs of fathers and sons were forced to have oral sex with each other and then were shot.’‘

The U.N. General Assembly is expected to pick 11 jurists to serve at the trials, scheduled to start within a month.

Diplomats have said privately that few people guilty of ethnic cleansing or many other crimes, or the political leaders behind them, would be brought to justice. They said they expected Serb, Muslim and Croat leaders to demand some immunity before signing a partition-peace treaty and that sovereign Serbian, Muslim and Croatian states would not surrender leaders and military commanders for trial outside their borders.

Although the Serbs have been portrayed as the main aggressors, many victims of atrocities have been Serbian, and perpetrators also have included Muslims and Croatians, said Bennett.

The group is being run by DePaul law professor Cherif Bassiouni, a member of the five-person commission named by the United Nations to investigate the war crimes and also a candidate for lead prosecutor.

Bassiouni, an international law expert and the only American on the commission, is overseeing the project for the UN and has compiled a staff of about 25 lawyers and students, mostly volunteers.

The group receives written reports of atrocities, many unverified, from foreign governments and various human rights groups. Bassiouni, who was born in Egypt, also has traveled to the former Yugoslavia to talk with victims and is there now gathering documentation.

‘‘We’re all kind of sacrificing our personal lives for this,’‘ said Bennett, 29.

Since the group began in January, Bennett hasn’t seen much of his wife, who’s expecting their first child and hates that he’s rarely home.

‘‘I tell her at least we have a home to come home to,’‘ he said.

For Bennett the long hours of emotionally draining work are worth it.

‘‘If we just turn a blind eye to it, which is what the world leaders are doing now, it’s just going to happen again and again,’‘ he said.

Staffers log the information in a computer database and have compiled periodic reports that are sent to the U.N. commission in Geneva. The information eventually will be given to prosecutors for the war crimes trials.

Three reports totaling nearly 800 pages—on rape, mass graves and concentration camps—were sent last week, Bennett said.

The Security Council later will select a prosecutor from names presented by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

The tribunal in The Hague will be the first of its kind since the World War II allies held the 1945-1949 Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders and the Tokyo war crimes trials.