COURTSIDE: Foca Prison Trial

Defence claims that former warden was powerless to influence events in the notorious prison.

COURTSIDE: Foca Prison Trial

Defence claims that former warden was powerless to influence events in the notorious prison.

Milorad Krnojelac, former warden of Foca prison, "did not have any influence" over events at the institution, because the fate and treatment of inmates rested with the Bosnian Serb military, his defence claims.

Krnolejac is charged with crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva conventions and violations of the laws and customs of war in connection with beatings, killings and disappearance of non-Serb prisoners in Foca in 1992-93.

Defence witnesses said prisoners, soldiers who came to the prison to attack inmates and prison guards involved in the mistreatment of inmates were all under the authority of the Tactical Foca Group, the Bosnian Serb military command in the town.

Prosecutors claimed Krnolejac was on good terms with Foca's political and military authorities and could have prevented soldiers entering the prison and maltreating inmates. As warden, it was his duty to punish any abuse, prosecutors said.

The former warden's defence team rejects these claims.

The commander of the prison guards was subordinate to the army officer in charge of security, said defence witness Radomir Dolas, a temporary prison guard during the war. Dolas added that even deputy warden Simo Todovic, accused by some former inmates of cruel abuse, was subordinate to the military and not Krnjojelac.

Prosecutor Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff tried to demonstrate that the former warden, regardless of his civilian function, was part of a military hierarchy. She produced a list of persons "of members of the prison unit", in which Dolas was described as a soldier and Krnjojelac as a first-class captain.

When the prosecutor commented that "a captain is in charge of soldiers", Dolas agreed that "this is true in principle", however, in reality "there was never a military unit comprised of those who worked in the prison".

The defence witnesses said Krnolejac had been assigned to the prison on a "a work detail". He wanted out of the job, they said, but could not leave during a time of war without risking serious punishment. The defence said the preparedness of the military authorities to punish undisciplined Serbs could be demonstrated by the testimonies of three former soldiers sent to prison for refusing to go to the front or for accidentally killing their fellow soldiers.

The prosecution had also proven that there were Serb inmates in the jail, but stressed their treatment and food was far better than that provided to non-Serb detainees. Defence witnesses said all inmates received the same treatment. They said they heard no beatings or shots being fired in the prison.

The defence witness could not explain why the allegedly reluctant Krnojelac remained governor until August 1993, rather than resuming his job as a teacher when school term restarted in autumn 1992.

Support our journalists