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U.N. judges uphold Bosnian rape verdict

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — War crimes judges Friday upheld a landmark 10-year prison sentence against a Bosnian Croat paramilitary commander convicted of rape and torture for failing to stop a sexual assault by a soldier under his command.

The five-judge appellate chamber at the International War Crimes Tribunal on the former Yugoslavia, a U.N. panel, rejected every ground upon which the defense contested the Dec. 10, 1998, judgment against Anto Furundzija, 31.

The presiding judge, Mohamed Shahabuddeen of Guyana, said "the appellant was not denied the right to a fair trial" and that "the appeals chamber has not been persuaded as to the existence of any legal errors which require it to intervene."

The appeals ruling serves to reinforce the original 1998 judgment, which broadened the definition of rape as a war crime.

Furundzija, head of the special military police unit calling itself the "Jokers," stood by as a naked woman detainee was threatened with a knife and then raped during interrogation.

He was convicted of rape and torture and sentenced to 10 years in prison for the incident, which happened a year into the 1992-95 Bosnian war during a bloody campaign in central Bosnia to expel Muslims from the Lasva River Valley.

The original conviction, based almost entirely on the testimony of the unidentified victim, contained two important legal findings:

The witness was deemed reliable even though she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder to the point that a physician testified she was suicidal.

The definition of rape was expanded and made more easily punishable as an act of torture.

In the appeal's hearings, defense attorney Luka Misetic maintained that the prosecution failed to prove that the rapist had acted with Furundzija's consent.

The lawyer called 10 years "cruel and unusual punishment."

Misetic also challenged the impartiality of Zambian judge Florence Mumba, who presided over the trial. He said she had failed to disclose her previous membership in a U.N. women's rights commission that pushed for the reaffirmation of rape as a war crime.

Furundzija is one of 14 defendants from the 1992-95 Bosnian war who have been convicted and given sentences of up to 45 years at the tribunal, established by the U.N. Security Council in 1993.

The appellate ruling comes during hearings in another trial at the tribunal, the first international proceeding to focus on systematic rape and sexual enslavement.

Lawyers for three Serb paramilitary fighters are presenting their case after 16 Muslim women testified that they were raped nightly at detention facilities after Bosnian Serb forces overran the city of Foca in 1992.