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3 December 2007
Analysis

Horrors of Omarska and Keraterm

Aida Alic BIRN BiH Sarajevo
In less than a year, the Prosecution of BiH has examined 45 witnesses and presented 201 pieces of material evidence against the four indictees charged with crimes committed in Omarska and Keraterm detention camps.
The Prosecution's evidence presentation process against the so-called "Prijedor Four", which has lasted for about a year, has now been completed.

In that period, 45 witnesses - including 28 protected witnesses - have been examined and more than 200 pieces of material evidence have been presented.

This is the first case conducted before the Court of BiH in which the indictees are charged with involvement in "a joint criminal enterprise".

The indictment charges the four men with having participated in the murder, rape, torture and beating of Bosniaks and Croats in Omarska and Keraterm detention camps during 1992. All four indictees have pleaded not guilty.

The first Prosecution witnesses were examined in late February 2007. Throughout the Prosecution phase, there were several instances where data on protected witnesses was revealed to the public in the courtroom. However, due to the responsible actions of the media, this sensitive information was not reported.

Most of the Prosecution witnesses were former detainees from the two camps. Day after day, they told stories of the horrors they survived in Omarska and Keraterm - and said what they knew about the four indictees.

International journalists revealed the existence of Prijedor's detention camps in August 1992, and the resulting television images from Omarska were broadcast around the world. These recordings were also shown in the courtroom as material evidence.

The witnesses said that the sexual abuse of two prisoners was the most difficult moment of their detention in Omarska. They spoke, with the same dose of sadness, about the mass execution of 12 men, members of the Garibovic family.

"In Omarska every night was difficult, but, to me, one was particularly difficult. This was when they took two young men out. After a while we heard mourning, screaming and kicking. I know they ordered them to bite off each other's genital organs. We never saw them again," said Ermin Strikovic.

Mass beating of detainees over the so-called "bloody lunch", which happened in June 1992, is something protected witness K041 will always remember.

"They ordered us to walk on all fours between two lines of soldiers who were beating us. The prisoners were covered with blood. Some people's ears were hanging off, they were cut all over their bodies," described K041.

Witnesses claim that 37 women were also detained in Omarska, and suffered physical, mental and sexual abuse. Protected witnesses K035 and K027 said that, in July 1992 in Omarska detention camp, Zeljko Mejakic took Sadeta Medunjanin and Edna Dautovic "down the road that led to death".

"I saw when a bus, with a 'Seselj' sign written on it in Cyrillic, arrived. Zeljko Mejakic took Edna out of the room. We never saw them again," said protected witness K035.

Twenty-seven witnesses confirmed that they saw Mejakic in the detention camp. They claimed to have heard that he was commander or chief of security. This is in line with the allegations contained in the indictment, which say that Mejakic was commander of the detention camp from May 24 to August 30, 1992. Two witnesses also said that they saw Mejakic participating in the beating of detainees together with other guards.

On the other hand, some witnesses recalled Mejakic's positive role in the camp. Kerim Mesanovic and K036 said that Mejakic helped the detainees by bringing them food. In addition, Mesanovic said that Mejakic helped him leave BiH.

Thirteen witnesses said that Momcilo 'Ckalja' Gruban was one of the three guard commanders in the same detention camp. This is in accordance with the allegations in the indictment. They all said that Ckalja treated the detained Bosniaks and Croats "better than other guards".

"During our detention in Omarska, we could hardly wait for Gruban's shift because we felt safe then. We were allowed to drink water and we were not beaten," said witness Enes Kapetanovic, who told the court that Gruban had saved his life.

Most former detainees in Omarska detention camp confirmed that they used to see the bodies of killed Bosniaks and Croats in front of the "Bijela kuca" on a daily basis. A yellow truck "drove the bodies in an unknown direction".

"From July 20 they started taking away policemen, engineers, medical doctors and other prominent people in Prijedor. Later on, some of them were found in mass graves," said witness Nusret Sivac.

Witnesses also spoke about Dusko Knezevic, known as Duca, who often visited Omarska and Keraterm and participated in the beating and murder of detainees. The indictment alleges that Knezevic murdered and beat up a number of prisoners, without being interrupted by anybody.

"Although he was not a guard, Duca visited the detention camp very often, together with his group. He would usually first go to the 'Bijela kuca', where he used to beat the detainees. He would come out of there all sweaty. Later on, he would come back and shoot the survivors," said witness K042.

Protected witness K033 recalled the day when Knezevic beat the detainees in Keraterm detention camp with "bars, legs, hands, but most often with wooden sticks". The witness blamed him for the death of many people.

Nine witnesses testified about indictee Dusan Fustar. They all said they saw him in the detention camp and that he was commander of the guard shift, which some of them called "the darkest one". The indictment alleges that Fustar had "actual control over the guards' behaviour".

"On the eve of Fustar's shifts we used to say: "How shall we survive this night?'," said protected witness K010.

One witness described how Fustar cruelly beat him up in Keraterm detention camp in June 1992. He said he beat him with "a cable to which nails were attached" and that the injury the witness suffered "got infected with maggots later on".

Some witnesses also recalled that, at the end of July 1992, between 90 and 190 detainees were shot in Keraterm detention camp.

"We could hear shooting from automatic guns, machine guns, and then we heard screams. All that was coming from the direction of hall number 3. The morning after, we saw bodies being loaded onto a truck covered with a yellow awning. Blood was dripping from the truck," witness K08 recalled.

The indictment alleges that more than 7,000 Bosniaks and Croats were systematically detained in camps established on the territory of Prijedor in 1992.

As per a request filed by the Prosecution of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, in July 2005 the tribunal's referral bench rendered a decision to refer the case of the Prijedor Four to Sarajevo for further processing.

The ICTY prosecution filed the request considering that the crimes charged upon the indictees are "sufficiently severe to be tried by the tribunal", but they cannot be characterised as "so severe that they must be tried before the ICTY".

In May 2006, the four indictees were transferred from the detention unit in Scheveningen to the detention unit in Sarajevo. Soon after that, the indictment was amended in accordance with the local legislation. The trial began in December last year.

So far, the ICTY has sentenced the following persons for having committed crimes in Omarska and Keraterm detention camps: Zoran Zigic (25 years' imprisonment), Mladjo Radic (20 years), Dusko Sikirica (15 years), Predrag Banovic (eight years), Miroslav Kvocka (seven years), Damir Dosen, Milojica Kos and Dragoljub Prcac (five years) and Dragan Kolundzija (three years).

Aida Alic is BIRN - Justice Report journalist. [email protected]
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