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

COURTSIDE: Prijedor Genocide Trial

Doctor held at Trnopolje camp tells court of rapes and beatings.
By Mirna Jancic

A doctor from Prijedor last week told the court about conditions in Trnopolje detention camp, which the Serbs had set up for Muslims after taking power in the municipality in spring 1992.


The prosecution claims Trnopolje and other camps in the area were set up as extermination centres for Muslims and Croats. Milomir Stakic, who was president of Prijedor's Serb crisis staff at the time, is charged with genocide, as his authority had executive control over the camps.


Dr Idriz Merdzanic was held in Trnopolje but was allowed to work in the compound ambulance. He had taken a series of photographs of the beaten men who were brought to him, which were shown to the court.


The men had suffered injuries during "interrogations" in the laboratory next to the ambulance, from where Merdzanic could hear their screams. He recalled several occasions when women inmates complained to him of being raped by Serb soldiers.


After a number of such complaints in June 1992, the witness arranged for the women to be examined by Serb doctor Dusko Ivic, who took around ten of them to the hospital in Prijedor. Ivic confirmed to Merdzanic that the women had been raped.


The rapists were allegedly tank drivers who visited the camp without permission. After hearing the women had been medically examined, these soldiers protested to the camp commander Slobodan Kuruzovic, who had previously tried to stop such abuses.


On another occasion, a woman who lived outside the camp visited Merdzanic's ambulance and told him of being raped by soldiers at a Serb checkpoint over ten days. He recalled that she could barely walk.


Shortly afterwards, he was visited by a Serb lieutenant and a civilian inspector who were looking for the woman. They claimed she was needed to testify against the rapists, but Merdzanic did not trust them and refused to admit he had seen her. The inspector warned him to be careful, as all those who "work against Serbs" would be liquidated.


Merdzanic said that, over time, most of Trnopolje's women and children inmates were transferred from Serb-held territory to make space for new prisoners. He said this was how ethnic cleansing was gradually carried out.


In response to judges' questions, Merdzanic told the court he had never been affiliated to a political party and could not understand why he was taken to the camp, or why his Serb neighbours suddenly hated him.


He believed the highest-ranking Serb politicians used propaganda to mobilise Serbs against Croats and Muslims. "Somebody had to work hard to convince my Serb neighbour - who was born at the same time as myself and had been living next door to me all of his life - that I was his enemy and should be killed. To date I cannot understand how they managed to do that," Merdzanic said.


While the defence objected to such personal comments by the witness, Judge Wolfgang Schomburg let them stand, insisting the tribunal differed from other courts precisely because it has an additional duty to understand the nature of the conflict and enable Bosnia's peoples to live together peacefully in the future.


Merdzanic had been working in Kozarac when the Serbs began to shell the town on May 23, 1992. The Prijedor Serb authorities had issued an ultimatum to the Kozarac Muslims to surrender all their weapons.


The witness claimed that the only armed men in Kozarac belonged to a group organised by Sead Cirkin, the former mayor of Prijedor, and that they were out of town on the day the shelling started, leaving only civilians.


The shelling lasted for two days and resulted in many casualties. Merdzanic told how he used a radio belonging to Muslim guards on the outskirts of town in an attempt to arrange transport for the wounded. Two of the injured children in his care were dying, he said, including a girl whose legs had been blown off.


Over the radio link, he heard voices from the Serbian side refusing to grant safe passage for the wounded. Merdzanic claimed that he could hear them laughing. The town later surrendered and Serb soldiers escorted the survivors to Trnopolje.


In a television interview given to ITN in 1993, Stakic claimed it was necessary to "shelter" the Kozarac Muslims in Trnopolje to protect them from extremists within their own ranks, and because their homes had been destroyed in the fighting.


Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor


More IWPR's Global Voices

FakeWatch Africa
Website to provide multimedia training and resources for fact-checking and investigations.
FakeWatch Africa
Africa's Fake News Epidemic and Covid-19: What Impact on Democracy?