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

Mandic Trial Hears of Terrible Jail Conditions

Former inmates of infamous Serb prison near Sarajevo speak of hunger, beating and torture.
By Denis Dzidic
The trial of former high-ranking Bosnian Serb official Momcilo Mandic continued this week at Bosnia’s war crimes court in Sarajevo, with the testimonies of four prosecution witnesses who were detained in the notorious Serb-held Kula prison, east of Sarajevo.



They all talked about terrible conditions in the prison, as well as regular beatings and torture.



One witness said that in August 1992, he personally saw the accused accompanied by the top war crimes fugitive Radovan Karadzic, who has been on the run since 1995.



In 1992, Mandic served as deputy interior minister and justice minister in Karadzic’s government, and he is the most senior Serb wartime government official to be tried so far in the Bosnian court.



In separate hearings held in Sarajevo over the last several months, Mandic was tried for various alleged financial crimes. He was sentenced to nine years in prison by the court for organised crime and corruption at the end of October this year.



Mandic was also suspected of providing financial assistance to Karadzic for years after the war, helping him escape justice. But he was acquitted of those charges.



According to the indictment, Mandić was solely responsible for the administration of all prisons operating in Republika Srpska at the beginning of Bosnia’s war. He is accused of crimes that allegedly occurred in Kula as well as a prison in Foca, eastern Bosnia, where hundreds of Muslims and Croats were unlawfully detained, tortured and often killed.



The first to testify this week was Musan Sunj, who was captured in the Sarajevo suburb of Hadzici in May of 1992. He was first taken to the Bosnian Serb army barracks in Lukavica, before being transferred to Kula at the end of June.



Sunj testified that on his last day in Lukavica, men in uniforms came with a list, separated 48 men from the 120 that were captured, and took them away. On the next day, the rest of the group - together with Sunj - was transported to Kula.



The witness said that before he left Lukavica, he had seen clothes piled up in one of the rooms.



“There were sweaters and belts all over the floor. I recognised them as the clothes of the men that were taken from our group,” he said. “I’ve never seen any of them again.”



The witness also testified about the poor sanitary conditions in Kula, saying the prisoners received food only once a day. As a result, he said, in the first two months of his detention, he lost over 30 kilogrammes.



Alisa Muratcaus testified that she only spent two weeks in Kula, but said the conditions there were appalling. She added that she was never tortured but that she often “heard screams from the floor underneath where the men were detained”.



Salko Zolj, who was next on stand, also spoke of horrible conditions in the camp and added that during his time there, from May to June 1992, he was beaten by men in uniforms with Serbian accents.



The fourth witness, Hajrudin Karic, testified that he had been detained in the ski resort of Pale near Sarajevo in May 1992 and was taken to a sports hall in the town where he was held for more then a month, before being transported to Kula.



He claimed that there were about 200 Muslim men in the sports hall in Pale, and that they were “harassed ten times a day”.



“Five Serb soldiers would come in and start hitting whoever they could reach,” added the witness.



He told the court he himself was so heavily beaten that he still has scars.



He also said that sanitary conditions in Kula were dismal, that food was scarce and that he lost over 30 kg. However, he said he was not tortured or harassed in any way while held there.



He also testified that in August 1992, he and other prisoners were all taken outside where he saw the then Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Mandic, who had come for an inspection of the camp.



“Karadzic talked to us, he told us to stay in the camp and stay safe, he said that [Bosnian President] Alija [Izetbegovic] doesn’t want us back,” said the witness.



At this point, Mandic smiled broadly at the witness as if he wanted to say something, but remained silent.



The trail chamber had to intervene twice this week during the cross examination of witnesses by the defense, warning the lawyers not to express their conclusions and thoughts during the examination, but wait for closing arguments to make such remarks.



The trial continues next week, with the prosecution expected to bring more witnesses.



Denis Dzidic is an IWPR reporter in Sarajevo.