Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

COURTSIDE: Omarska Judgment

Bosnian Serbs participated in "hellish orgy of persecution" at Prijedor detention camps.
By Mirko Klarin

Five Bosnian Serbs charged with crimes committed against Muslims and Croats at three detention camps near Prijedor, in north-west Bosnia in 1992, were found guilty last week and sentenced to terms ranging from five to 25 years imprisonment.

Concluding a trial that began in 1998, Judge Almiro Rodrigues of Portugal said Zoran Zigic, Mladjo Radic, Miroslav Kvocka, Milojica Kos and Dragoljub Prcac had participated in a "hellish orgy of persecution".

They were "perfectly aware of the system of persecution set in place in Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje camps," he said. "Each in their own way [was] fully aware of what they were doing."

Zigic received the heaviest sentence of 25 years imprisonment for crimes including torture. Radic was jailed for 20 years, Kvocka for seven, Kos for six and Prcac for five years, for persecution on racial, religious, and political grounds among others.

Although the prosecution requested minimum sentences of 25 years, the court made that figure its maximum, on the grounds that other people bore greater responsibility.

The court was alluding firstly to the Bosnian Serb leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, whose general indictment for genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina includes the Prijedor camps, and Momir Talic and Radoslav Brdjanin, accused of genocide in the Bosanska Krajina region, to which Prijedor belongs.

They were also referring to the leaders of the Crisis Staff of Prijedor in 1992, who set up and managed the camps. Of that group, Milomir Stakic is in custody while two indictees are dead. Simo Drljaca, the notorious chief of police in Prijedor, was killed in 1997 resisting arrest by SFOR soldiers. Milan Kovacevic, arrested on the same occasion, died in tribunal custody in summer 1998, three weeks after the start of the trial. A fourth man, Zeljko Meakic, Omarska's former commander, also accused of genocide, remains at large.

The five men sentenced last week did not belong in the

top category of those most responsible for crimes in

the camps, though the indictment said four of them held some command positions in Omarska, and the fifth - Zigic - frequently visited all the camps in the Prijedor region.

Zigic's heavy sentence reflected the fact that although he held no command position, the court considered he took "sadistic pleasure" in beating, abusing and humiliating detainees.

Radic, known as "Krkan", commander of the cruellest guards in Omarska and on duty while most crimes took place, got the second longest sentence for doing nothing to stop the men he commanded from beating and even killing detainees, and raping women inmates.

Judge Rodrigues said that considering the vulnerability of the victims, the pain they suffered and the fear they were kept in, Radic's acts of sexual violence were defined as acts of torture under Article 3 of the tribunal statute, concerning violations of the law or customs of war.

The remaining three accused were found guilty of participating in persecution on political, racial and religious grounds, and in killings and torture, though they did not personally commit those crimes.

Their guilt was based firstly on their command positions in the camp, where Kvocka was deputy commander, Kos was head of guard shift and Prcac was administrator, and on their conscious participation in a "joint criminal enterprise" that targeted the non-Serb population of the Prijedor region.

The defence did not deny that serious crimes took place in Omarska and the other Prijedor camps in the summer 1992 but rejected claims the accused took part. It said they either knew nothing about the crimes or were powerless to prevent them.

Judge Rodrigues disputed this. Recalling how people were beaten, killed, and on one occasion burnt alive, he asked how it was possible that the accused "heard nothing, saw nothing, smelt nothing", and asked, "Under these circumstances, how can you legitimately claim you did not know?"

Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor for the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief of SENSE News Agency.