Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
A defence witness told the trial of former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic this week that he saw no crimes being committed at the Susica prison camp during the time he spent working there.
Before the war, Momir Deuric worked for the Territorial Defence in Vlasenica, where he was a security guard at a depot storing military equipment.
In his witness statement, he said that until the early 1990s, “no particular ethnic intolerance or mutual mistrust could be felt”.
Two of the five security guards employed at the depot were Muslims, but the witness said they stopped coming to work by mid-April 1992 as tensions rose in the area.
When war broke out, the depot was initially used to house displaced Serb civilians.
After the Bosnian Serb army took over in late May 1993, its troops started bringing in Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) from Vlasenica. The witness claimed in his statement that sometimes Muslim families came there to spend the night “because they did not feel safe in their homes”.
He continued to work guarding a warehouse which, he estimated, was at most 20 metres from where prisoners were being held, until the camp was shut in late September 1992.
Deuric recalled that the Bosnian Serb soldiers were often drunk and there was a complete lack of discipline.
But he said, “I was not aware of anyone being killed in that facility, because during the day I was in Susica, and in the evening I would go home and feed my livestock because there was no one at my house, since my wife and children were in Serbia.”
Prosecutors allege that Mladic is culpable of crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible population transfer. He is also accused of the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995, and of planning and overseeing the siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead.
Some 8,000 civilians, mostly Bosniaks, were held at Susica between May and late September 1992. Conditions were grim, with prisoners underfed and often beaten. Female prisoners were sexually abused.
The indictment against Mladic specifically alleges that at least nine men were killed at the camp between June and August 1992.
When the camp was closed, the prosecution contends that the 140 or so prisoners who remained were summarily executed.
Dragan Nikolic, the head of security at Susica, was convicted in 2003 at the Hague tribunal for persecution, murders, torture and sexual abuse at the camp, and given a 23-year sentence, reduced to 20 on appeal.
Deuric has previously given evidence about his time working at Susica in the war crimes trial of former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic.
In cross-examination, prosecutor Jonathan MacDonald discussed conditions at the camp in further detail.
He noted a report by international observers who visited the camp on September 2, 1992 and found that detainees appeared to be “haggard, pale and thin” and concluding “there can be little doubt that most are hungry”.
“Well, what can I say? There were those who were skinny by nature who arrived there skinny, but even they volunteered to go and do different kinds of work,” the witness responded.
MacDonald went on to reiterate the prosecution’s position that detainees were held in Susica for lengthy periods without adequate nourishment.
“I wouldn’t agree with that. I know their food was brought in regularly and I know that everyone received food,” Deuric said.
The witness went on to explain that he had done his best to minimise his interaction with the detainees, some of whom he knew from the local community.
“I could not avoid contact when there were ten people who all of them knew me. I didn’t avoid contact – if they asked me to fetch something or to give them a cigarette or to light their cigarette, of course we had contact,” he said. “I didn’t particularly avoid them, but I avoided situations in which they might ask for some kind of help I might be unable to give.”
Presiding Judge Alphonse Orie asked the witness to elaborate on what kind of assistance had been requested.
“What kind of help? For instance, a man I knew, a friend of mine, asked me several times to take him somewhere to have a bath, and I was not allowed to do that, I just wasn’t able to,” Deuric said.
The prosecution went on to ask about the ill-treatment of inmates.
“Mr Deuric, you were aware that the Muslim detainees were suffering from violence inflicted on them by the guards, weren’t you?” MacDonald said.
“I don’t know that. People said all sorts of things but I never eyewitnessed that kind of violence,” he responded.
MacDonald raised the case of an unnamed prisoner, a former neighbour of Deuric, who stated that the witness had saved his life while he was being held in the camp.
“This person describes an incident where Dragan Nikolic pushed a gun into his mouth and then states that you came into the hangar and saved his life. Do you recall that incident, Mr Deuric?” the lawyer asked.
“I don’t recall that incident, nor did I see it,” Deuric answered. “I gave the same evidence last time [in the Karadzic trial]. I didn’t see it. It’s possible that it happened, but if they saw me as somebody they knew, they may have stopped doing it when they saw me, and then that person understood it that I saved his life but I didn’t see it.”
MacDonald then described another act of violence previously documented by the tribunal.
“This chamber has received evidence of other witnesses who were held in Susica camp. One testified that two prisoners were taken out some time after lunch. He states he heard only screaming, then the prisoners were brought back in, one of whom was unconscious, and he stated he overheard them saying they had been beaten by the A-tower outside the hangar,” he said, identifying the structure that the witness had previously confirmed was at most 20 metres from his post.
“Did you see or hear this beating taking place by that tower?” he asked.
“I didn’t see it, didn’t hear it,” the witness replied.
“The same witness stated he was able to see a patch of blood that had soaked into the sand by that A-shaped tower whenever he went to the toilet,” the prosecutor continued, adding that according to this testimony, “whenever it rained, the rain would bring the blood bubbling back up at that A-shaped pole.”
“Did you see this blood-soaked patch of sand at the A-shaped pole at any point when you were working at Susica?” he asked the witness.
“I never saw that,” Deuric replied.
Daniella Peled is an IWPR editor in London.
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