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22 May 2008
Analysis

Opposing Memories of Stala Camp in Eastern Bosnia

BIRN BiH
Prosecution witnesses in the trial of Ferid Hodzic mainly testified in his favour, denying he committed any crimes in the camp near Vlasenica.
By: Nadzida Cano

Over the past two months, the State prosecution has examined 19 witnesses and presented about 40 pieces of material evidence while completing its evidence presentation against Ferid Hodzic, former commander of the Territorial Defence in Vlasenica, eastern Bosnia.

On May 22, Hodzic's Defence started presenting evidence, despite the fact that defence lawyer Asim Crnalic said at an earlier hearing that the Defence might not present evidence "if the Prosecution fails to prove the allegations contained in the indictment".

The Prosecution charges Hodzic with war crimes against civilians and prisoners-of-war from May 1992 to January 1993.

The indictment says he ordered the arrest and detention of six civilians and prisoners-of-war in the so-called Stala ("Barn") prison in Rovasi, a hamlet in Vlasenica municipality, where they were kept in inhumane conditions for seven months.

During detention, they were allegedly physically and mentally abused while one detainee died.

The Prosecution does not maintain Hodzic carried out this abuse himself but holds that "as a responsible officer", he ought to have investigated the crimes and punished the culprits.

Two former detainees, Andja Obradovic and Rade Pejic, known as Miso, testified for the Prosecution concerning the grim conditions and abuse in the camp.

Obradovic said she was beaten and raped after being taken to Stala in early October 1992; four other detainees were already there.

"They would hit us like animals," she recalled. However, she did not hear of Hodzic while at Stala, which she left on January 26, 1993.

Veiz Bjelic, a former guard in the camp, earlier admitted raping the prisoner.

The Prosecution originally filed an indictment against Bjelic and Hodzic but Bjelic then concluded a guilt admission agreement with the Prosecution on March 26, 2008, after which he was sentenced to six years' imprisonment.

Witness Rade "Miso" Pejic said it was not the guards who beat the detainees but "other persons who visited the place".

Those persons were "afraid of being caught by Ferid Hodzic, doing what they were doing".

Pejic further said he saw the guards remove the body of detainee Dusan Cestic out of Stala. He recalled that Cestic had earlier "complained about some health problems".

Pejic added: "I guess he died during the night. I did not see anything until the moment when they carried him out of Stala.

"I can't confirm whether he hung himself, because I was not able to see anything in the dark," the witness continued, answering a query of prosecutor Sanja Jukic, concerning whether Cestic might have committed suicide.

Witnesses Dzevad Music and Ismet Huric, former guards in the camp, maintained that Cestic had committed suicide only 24 hours after he was brought to Stala.

"As I was about to start my morning shift, the other guards gave me the key, as they did not dare go inside and look at the dead man,"

Music said. "I went in there and I saw Dusan had hung himself from a beam in the barn," Music said.

Cestic's son, Zeljko, who testified at this trial, said his father's remains were found near the prison last year.

The Prosecution examined other former Territorial Defence members from Vlasenica who worked as guards in the camp. They also denied Hodzic was responsible for any crimes that had occurred there.

"Hodzic did not even see the people detained in Rovasi," Besir Aljukic said.

"He could not have known about the abuse of detainees…Hodzic seemed a military-oriented man and you could see that he was an experienced soldier."

Adil Omerovic, a former staff commander based in Rovasi, insisted the Territorial Defence in Vlasenica had tried to "protect the detainees in Stala from revenge by civilians and soldiers".

He said: "People were saying that there had been some cuffing in there. I also heard detainees were beaten.

"[But] we held a meeting to improve security in Stala and Hodzic was also involved. We did not let anyone maltreat them [the inmates]."

Witness Avdija Omerovic, a former clerk of the Territorial Defence HQ in Rovasi, said it was wrong to call Stala a "prison".

He said it was place used to "hide two Serbian soldiers in order to protect them from being harmed by other people", while the other inmates included "two Bosniaks who had violated public order".

He recalled that the Serbian detainees had been the objects of many threats: "Whoever passed by said that they should be killed. When I told Ferid [Hodzic] about it, he did not react at first, but then a meeting was organized to strengthen security in Stala".

According to Nurija Huric, another former guard at Stala, the police were responsible for the prison and Hodzic "was almost never there".

Huric and Music agreed about "poor conditions in the prison" but added that they, too, suffered from "the lack of food" and had to sleep in another barn, as they were refugees.

Avdija Omerovic, on the other hand, insisted conditions had been satisfactory and that the prisoners had been given "food, soap and towels and had access to hot water".

The Defence has started its evidence presentation process with the examination of two witnesses.

Nadzida Cano is BIRN - Justice Report journalist. [email protected] Justice Report is BIRN weekly online publication.
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