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

Karadzic Trial Hears of Persecution in Vlasenica

Witness says he was imprisoned and beaten after Serbs reached town in April 1992.
By Velma Šarić
  • Ibro Osmanović, prosecution witness at the Karadzic trial. (Photo: ICTY)
    Ibro Osmanović, prosecution witness at the Karadzic trial. (Photo: ICTY)

A prosecution witness testified at the trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic about war crimes allegedly committed against Bosnian Muslims in the eastern Bosnian town of Vlasenica at the beginning of the 1992-95 war.

Vlasenica is one of 21 municipalities listed in the indictment against Karadzic. According to the prosecution, the accused “planned, instigated, ordered and/or aided and abetted persecutions on political and religious grounds against Bosnian Muslims and Croats” living in these municipalities.

Karadzic is also accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead, as well as the massacre of some 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.

Ibro Osmanovic, a Bosniak from Vlasenica, described the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats in his town after Bosnian Serbs took power.

Osmanovic has already testified in five other trials at the Hague tribunal, including that of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 before proceedings against him were completed.

This week, Osmanovic's written statement was admitted into evidence and a summary of it read out in court by prosecutor Carolyn Edgerton.

According to this statement, Yugoslav National Army, JNA, troops entered Vlasenica on April 22, 1992.

“They joined hands with the local Serb troops, taking away any weapons which the Muslims had,” the statement read. “They stayed in Vlasenica for a few weeks, and when they left, Muslim villages around this town were attacked. The JNA had given weapons to Serbs villages around Vlasenica. Serbs from these villages were running around Vlasenica armed with guns.”

Osmanovic was arrested on May 22, 1992 and taken to the police station in Vlasenica.

“We were locked up, 20 of us, in a one-man cell. We were beaten there by Serb police and other Serb forces,” the statement continued, adding that Osmanovic and other Bosniak prisoners were taken to the town prison, and from there to the Susica detention camp.

The witness stayed at Susica until June 1992, when he was transferred to Batkovic, a Serb-run detention camp in north east Bosnia, near Bijeljina.

“In Susica I was beaten up every day,” the witness’s statement read. “The guards, especially Dragan Nikolic, were beating us up virtually every day, all 500 of us.”

In 2005, Nikolic was sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Hague tribunal; he is currently serving his sentence in Italy.

Prosecutor Echerton then showed Osmanovic a list of prisoners from Susica, and the witness recognised the name of a fellow prisoner, Reuf Rasidagic.

“Rasidagic was beaten up every day, five days in a row. So he started begging [Nikolic] to kill him. But Nikolic told him: ‘Nah, no bullet for you. That's too expensive, you know. It's three Deutschmarks a piece,’” the testimony said.

When Osmanovic was transferred to Batkovic, his younger brother remained at the Susica camp. “My dead brother's head was found 15 miles away from his body,” he said in his statement.

The witness described himself as “one of only two surviving members of his family,” with 33 other relatives still unaccounted for. According to the witness, only some of his sister's remains have been found.

“It is not my job to serve justice, but I hope that whoever is responsible for all this will face justice one day," Osmanovic’s statement concluded.

During cross-examination, Karadzic, who is representing himself in court, put it to the witness that people in Bosnia were detained at the beginning of the war because they were suspected of deserting or terrorism, and not because they belonged to a certain ethnic group.

“I'm speaking only about Vlasenica,” the witness responded. “Everyone who lived in this town knew each other well, we knew who we were and what we were doing, we even knew what we ate every day.

“Non-Serbs didn't pose any threat to anyone. When I was arrested, the only armed people I saw were Serbs. When the joint police and the joint municipality were gone, everything had suddenly become 'Serb'. So we, the others, had no business there. We were not welcome in Vlasenica any more, despite being born and having grown up in this town,” the witness continued.

Karadzic countered this claim by saying that the witness knew “only half the truth”.

“There were talks about dividing Vlasenica municipality into a Serb and a Muslim part and you didn't know anything about it,” the accused said.

"The SDA [Bosnian Muslim party] was also training and arming its members and sending them to war in Croatia, so that they could fight the JNA,” he added.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.

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