Courtside

Karadzic Witnesses Deny Prison Camp Atrocities

Former officials say they were unaware of mistreatment at Omarska and Keraterm detention centres.
  • Radovan Karadzic, former Bosnian Serb political leader in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)

The trial of former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic continued this week with testimony from several defence witnesses who spoke about events in the northwestern Bosnian municipalities of Prijedor and Sanski Most in 1992.

Both were captured by Serb forces at the beginning of the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and were subsequently controlled by Karadzic’s Serb Democratic Party (SDS).

Karadzic is accused of crimes of genocide, extermination, persecution, murder and forcible transfer of non-Serbs from the territories under the control of Bosnian Serbs.

The indictment against him alleges that crimes committed against non-Serbs in Sanski Most and Prijedor municipalities amounted to genocide. (See Genocide Count Reinstated in Case Against Karadzic on this part of the indictment.)

The first witness to testify this week was Dusan Jankovic, who served as commander of the police station in Prijedor, close to where the Bosnian Serb-run prison camps of Omarska and Keraterm were located.

Last year, Jankovic was sentenced to 21 years in prison by the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina for his part in the execution of about 200 Bosniaks at Koricanske Stijene on August 21, 1992.

Testifying at Karadzic’s trial this week, Jankovic told judges that in his role as police commander in Prijedor, he did not receive reports from Omarska and Keraterm and he had no knowledge of what was going on there. He said these reports were sent to his superior, Simo Drljaca, who was chief of police for Prijedor.

Drljaca was indicted by the Hague tribunal in March 1997, but he was shot and killed by NATO soldiers during an attempt to arrest him in July that year.

According to Jankovic, Drljaca was subordinate to the Banja Luka regional police department and above that the Bosnian Serb interior ministry – “but not to Karadzic”.

“Drljaca had no contact with the president, and there was no need for that,” Jankovic said in court.

Momcilo Gruban, a former guard at the Omarska prison camp, also testified this week.

In 2008, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina found Gruban guilty of crimes against non-Serbs in the Prijedor area and sentenced him to 11 years’ imprisonment. In 2009, his sentence was reduced to seven years on appeal.

Gruban told Karadzic’s trial this week that there was “no maltreatment or any bad behaviour towards the detainees at the Omarska camp”.

He referred to Omarska not as a detention camp, but as a “shelter and investigation centre”. He said the police were there to protect and help the people held there “as far as the law and the circumstances allowed”.

In the cross-examination conducted by prosecutor Ann Sutherland, Gruban said that he “had never seen any beatings or incidents” but that he had “heard of cases when people from the outside would come to the camp to ‘settle scores’ with some of the detainees, sometimes violently”.

The witness added that those responsible were paramilitary soldiers from “groups outside the system”.

“These people were well armed and there was nothing that the police who were securing the camp could actually do to stop them,” Gruban told the court.

Asked by the prosecution about cases where people died in Omarska due to insufficient medical care and malnutrition, the witness responded by making a comparison with conditions at the Hague tribunal’s detention unit.

“You see, people are dying here too, and there are complaints about the quality of the food here as well, although unlike us, you have everything you need to ensure good food for the people. Maybe the food wasn’t good and plentiful in Omarska back then, but there is no such thing as good food for detainees,” Gruban said.

The third witness to testify for Karadzic’s defence this week was Dusan Mudrinic, who was an SDS party member in Sanski Most in 1992.

“We cannot speak of any organised war crimes in Sanski Most,” Mudrinic told the court. “There were crimes committed by individuals without any support from the government, but those were sporadic incidents.”

“Muslims were asking us for protection and they got it,” Mudrinic continued. “And when they asked us to let them leave their homes, we did that, too. We allowed them to go.”

When prosecutor Bronagh McKenna put it to the witness that the property of non-Serbs was taken by force, and noted that Mudrinic himself became the proprietor of a café previously owned by a Bosniak, the witness insisted that the prosecution had “got it all wrong”.

He claimed that Bosniaks gave away their homes, cars and cafés “to their Serb friends”, including himself, “of their own free will”, and that this transfer of property had occurred “absolutely legally, in the presence of a lawyer”.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR reporter in Sarajevo.


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Former officials say they were unaware of mistreatment at Omarska and Keraterm detention centres.