Foca Prison Trial

Former detainees speak of physical and psychological abuse

Foca Prison Trial

Former detainees speak of physical and psychological abuse

Saturday, 20 January, 2001

Former detainees at Foca prison continued to give evidence last week against the facility's former warden, Milorad Krnojelac, who is accused of the mistreatment and murder of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) in 1992 and 1993.

Over the previous two months of the trial, the prosecution has sought to reconstruct the experiences of Bosniaks taken to the prison following the Serb take-over of Foca in April 1992.

A majority of the former detainees, some of whom wish to return to Foca, have appeared as protected witnesses, their identities disguised.

According to their testimonies, the former prisoners were reduced to a very poor physical and psychological state after only a few months detention. Most disturbing, the witnesses said, were the cries and shots, which echoed around the compound.

Inadequate food rations resulted in an average weight loss of 20 kilogrammes. In addition, the witnesses said, their cells were not heated and hygiene conditions were appalling.

One protected witness, who was suffering from an ulcer, said he considered suicide.

"I felt I was sinking lower and lower, I was dying, " he said. " It is hard to stay sane in such conditions."

Another former prisoner, Rasim Taranin, said he had been crammed into a solitary confinement cell with eight other detainees on one occasion.

"The solitary cell was narrow for one person, let alone nine!" Taranin said. " We slept while standing if we could, but you can't sleep if you are afraid." He was let out of the cell after six days, the first to be released.

None of the witnesses accuse Krnojelac of personally abusing them. Nor do any claim to have heard him issuing orders to beat or kill detainees.

The witnesses said they would see the defendant around the prison only occasionally, mostly during the day.

Several said the former warden agreed to listen to them when they complained or asked to get in touch with their families.

The witnesses also said, however, Krnojelac did little to ease their suffering and that life in Foca prison only improved after his departure in mid 1993.

"After the change of the warden, the International Red Cross came to visit more often, the food was better, and we could have a bath once or twice a month," said protected witness 182.

The witness added that the prisoners also saw less of Sava Todovic, the deputy warden many former detainees claim maltreated prisoners.

Krnojelac's defence lawyer pointed out that many witnesses, in their written statements, said it was Todovic, and not the defendant, who was the "camp chief".

The prosecutor is trying to prove that as camp warden, Krnojelac must have known what was happening in the prison, allowed the guards to maltreat detainees, allowed inspectors and soldiers from outside to interrogate and beat prisoners and permitted inmates to be taken away to work as forced labour or to be "exchanged".

As a person in a senior position, the prosecution argues, Krnojelac had a duty to prevent and punish such crimes.

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