Omarska Trial

Tribunal Update 176 Last Week in The Hague (May 15-24, 2000)

Omarska Trial

Tribunal Update 176 Last Week in The Hague (May 15-24, 2000)

Wednesday, 24 May, 2000

The ex-prisoners told the Tribunal the rules included keeping a low profile, sticking as close to the wall as possible and going for lunch or to the toilet as little as possible - even if this meant risking starvation and living in your own excrement.

"They would rather, forgive my language, piss or defecate in their pants than go out to the toilet and be subjected to beatings," protected witness A.I. told the court.

The witness was testifying during the trial of Miroslav Kvocka, Dragoljub Prcac, Mladen Radic, Milojica Kos and Zoran Zigic, accused of crimes against detainees at the Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje camps between May and August 1992.

The witness went on to describe the appalling hygiene conditions at the camp. The prosecutor asked if the prisoners were ever given the opportunity to wash themselves or their clothes.

According to A.I., during his 66 days at the camp, the only opportunity to wash came when the guards turned a fire hose on the prisoners. A.I. described how the starving, sick and naked men were knocked over by the force of the water. "The guards were having fun, laughing when they knocked one over," he said.

A.I. said the Omarska prisoners lacked sufficient drinking water, never mind water for washing. The guards used to force the prisoners to sing Serbian nationalist songs in exchange for water, he said. To this day, the witness said, he often catches himself singing one of the songs.

Another elementary rule of survival prohibited prisoners from looking the guards in the face, especially when a prisoner was being summoned to an interrogation or while a beating was taking place. During such events, the prisoners were generally ordered to lie on the ground, faces to the floor.

"I did not dare to look," A.I. said when asked by the prosecutor to describe the participants in some of the incidents.

But A.I. said he had witnessed some of the accused participate in several violent incidents. On one occasion he saw Milojica Kos kill a prisoner, after the distressed inmate refused sit down when ordered to do so.

A.I. also testified that Zoran Zigic summoned three prisoners who were taken to the notorious 'White House' and badly beaten. The witness claimed that deputy commander at the camp, Miroslav Kvocka, was present when the men were taken away and heard screaming from the White House for the next three hours.

Kvocka's lawyer asked A.I. if he had ever heard his client order the killing or beating of inmates. When A.I. said he had not, the prosecutor then asked if the witness had ever heard Kvocka order the guards not to maltreat the inmates. Again A.I. said he had not.

Last but not least, prisoners who valued their life never complained. When asked by the prosecutor why he had never complained about the maltreatment he received from one particular guard, Drazenko Predojevic, A.I. said, "I didn't dare to complain to anybody because I was so afraid and I believed it would only make matters worse".

Thirty women had also been detained at Omarska between June and August 1992. One of the women, obliged to work as a cook and cleaner at the camp, testified last week.

The witness, known as B, said she knew the accused Mladja Radic from before the war. On one occasion, she said, she asked Radic why the prisoners were subjected to beatings. Radic had replied with a curse, "Whose to forbid them from doing that?" adding that the guards were little better than a "gang". The witness said that the maltreatment of prisoners was worst during Radic's guard shift.

"They were strong, solid built young men. Those young men were simply proud of their position within the camp. I do not know why. They were so vicious to us," witness B said.

When cleaning the rooms used for interrogations, witness B said she often found blood on the tables, walls and floors. She said she also saw a whip and blood stained metal bars.

One night, witness B said she heard a friend, Silvio Saric, begging his tormentors to stop, "I'm not guilty," he screamed. "Please don't, brothers." Witness B said she recognised the voice of Zeljko Meakic, the camp commander, say "F*** your Ustashe mother, I am not your brother." Meakic has yet to be arrested and brought to The Hague.

The guards, witness B said, would abuse the detained women during the night. At the beginning of her internment, B said one young man took her into an office. "He laid over me. I tried to defend myself while I had strength. He threatened to kill me, but I still resisted," B said. Then the witness said she told the young man she knew Radic and some other Serbs. At that the young man stopped and said, "Can we be friends from tonight?"

Witness B said she thought the guards took the women without the knowledge of senior officers in the camp. Asked if the women were maltreated, the witness was reluctant to say more. Assured that no names were necessary the witness confirmed women were "abused".

Judge Almiro Rodrigues asked the witness whether she had anything to add. After a long pause and with tears in her eyes she said, "After all that tragedy I cannot be happy. I lost my father and sister. My daughter and I suffer the consequences. I wonder who had the right to throw me out of my house and my country, to make me live as a refugee. I hope the one who did that will be punished by God and by you."

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