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

Foca Rape Trial Hears Conflicting Testimony

Defense witnesses in a Sarajevo trial for wartime rapes in eastern Bosnia told to tell the truth.
By Denis Dzidic
The trial of Bosnian Serb Gojko Jankovic, indicted for rapes of Muslim women and girls in the eastern Bosnian town of Foca in 1992, continued this week at the Bosnian war crimes court in Sarajevo with the testimonies of three former shift guards at the infamous Partizan detention center in Foca.

The witnesses said they had never seen the accused in or near the Partizan sports hall, which served as a detention centre for hundreds of non-Serb civilians during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

According to the indictment, the detainees were mostly women, children and the elderly, who were held in appalling conditions and often killed. Female prisoners were subjected to rapes, torture and sexual enslavement.

The indictment further alleges that between July 13 and August 13, 1992, Jankovic - a deputy commander of the military police in Foca at that time - raped or helped others rape a number of detained Muslim women in the sports hall.

Some of the detained women were subjected to gang rapes at several locations, and suffered serious injuries as a result.

Janković, 53, was originally indicted by the Hague tribunal in 1996, together with five other accused, but his case was referred to the Bosnian War Crimes Chamber in July 2005, due to the tribunal’s exit strategy.

This week, two former shift guards at Partizan, who testified in Jankovic’s defence, Boško Partalo and Soniboj Kovačević, said their job was not to guard the sports hall with detained civilians, but the police station across the street.

Partalo first testified that “no one ever went into Partizan, and no one ever took any of the women out”.

However, in the cross examination, prosecutor Phillip Alcock confronted him with extracts from a transcript of a testimony he previously gave, in which he said that “men with masks would come and take women”, but that it had never happened during his shift.

The witness then became visibly irritated and said he might have heard that, but could not remember when or from whom.

Soniboj Kovačević and another shift guard who testified this week, Savo Arsenić, admitted some Serb men would come and take women out of the sports hall, but they repeatedly said this “had never, ever happened during our shifts”.

The judges reminded all three witnesses several times that they must tell the truth or face legal consequences for giving false testimonies in court.

The fourth witness that testified this week was a Bosnian Serb woman from Foca, Mirjana Todorovic, who spoke about protected witnesses 191 and 186. They were both rape victims who gave evidence during the prosecution phase of the trial.

When she testified for the prosecution earlier this year, protected witness 191 described in court how she was taken from her home and brought to an apartment in Foca, where she was allegedly held as a sex slave by Jankovic and his men.

Protected witness 186 was only 12 at the time she was allegedly raped by Jankovic. According to the indictment and the statement she gave in court a few months ago, Jankovic picked her out “as his own sex slave”.

Todorovic testified that she met witnesses 191 and 186 during the war in the apartment building where she lived, but said she didn’t know they were Muslims. According to the indictment, the girls were not allowed to use their own names, and were given Serb names instead.

Todorovic also admitted she often saw Jankovic coming to the apartment where the two girls lived, but she said she thought he was “a family friend”.

The trial will continue on 15 December.

Denis Dzidic is an IWPR reporter in Sarajevo.

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.