Maria Vullo, a lawyer who became famous for suing former Serbian President Radovan Karadzic during the Bosnian Civil War, spoke at a Morse College Master’s Tea on Tuesday afternoon.
In a room of 28 people, Vullo spoke about her life, the major pro bono cases she has tried, and how students can get involved in supporting their own issues.
Vullo has worked for the Paul Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison law firm since 1988. The commercial firm has funded her pro bono cases. Vullo was named one of America’s top female litigators by the National Law Journal.
But Vullo said students’ careers were more important than her story.
“There are a lot of ways to do good with a host of degrees,” she said.
Vullo discussed the suit she headed against Karadzic, a Serbian leader. In that case, she represented 12 Muslim women who were raped by men Karadzic commanded during the Bosnian Civil War in the early 1990s.
“The theory of the case was that rape is a form of genocide, which is a violation of international law,” Vullo said.
The argument she put forward was that the Bosnian Muslim women were raped by Serbs with the intent to impregnate them. “You’re impregnating them with a different race,” Vullo said, “[and therefore] you’re effectively committing genocide against the race to which they belong.”
Vullo said the women’s testimony was important to the case. The women were raped, tortured and sent to death camps during the war.
“It was the most painful testimony to have to listen to,” Vullo said.
The women won the suit, bringing in a $745 million verdict against Karadzic. Vullo said that she felt the trial had helped the victims to feel better about what happened.
Vullo also discussed her other major pro bono suit, in which she represented Planned Parenthood against a group of anti-abortion activists. The activists were putting up posters and, in one situation, creating Web sites designed to threaten and intimidate doctors who performed abortions.
One Web site had a list of doctors’ names with black lines through those who had died and gray marks on those who had been injured. Vullo said the message to the doctors was “you will be next — we’re just waiting to cross you out.”
“It was a very hotly contested case,” she said, “We were ushered back and forth by federal marshals — Microphones were in my face all the time.”
She also won this case, with a $107 million verdict that recently stood up to an appeal in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Audience members liked Vullo’s speech.
“I thought it was wonderful,” Justine Isola ’05 said. “One of the things that struck me was that [she is] giving people the opportunity to tell their stories.”
Michael Millerick, a lawyer and the parent of a Morse undergraduate, said he appreciated Vullo’s advice to students.
“It was very helpful for the students to realize that they have outlets for their beliefs within the context of a larger organization,” Millerick said.