Omarska Trial

Tribunal Update No. 175, Last Week in The Hague (8-13 May, 2000)

Omarska Trial

Tribunal Update No. 175, Last Week in The Hague (8-13 May, 2000)

Saturday, 13 May, 2000

The five accused - former deputy commanders at Omarska, Miroslav Kvocka and Dragoljub Prcac; former guard shift leaders Mladjo Radic (nicknamed Krkan) and Milojica Kos (nicknamed Krle) and Zoran Zigic - stand accused of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war for their part in the abuse at the Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje detention camps.

Two prosecution witnesses, former residents of Prijedor, did testify last week. Protected witness A.J. and Azedin Oklopcic, both Muslim, described their experiences on May 30, 1992, when they were awoken by gunfire and the sounds of shells exploding in the town.

Both witnesses said a radio broadcast shortly after this carried an order from the Serbian Crisis Staff calling on all Muslims to raise white flags outside their homes as a sign of "loyalty to the Serbian authorities."

Serbian soldiers then went from house to house, the witnesses said, rounding up Muslim residents and marching them to the Hotel Balkans in the town center. Once there the men were separated from the women and children and taken by bus to the mining complex at Omarska.

The witnesses then described conditions at the Omarska prison camp - the crowded rooms, the poor nutrition, the lack of drinking water, the appalling hygiene conditions, the non-existence of medical care, the constant terror of roll calls, beatings and killings.

The witnesses, a teacher and a barber, said they knew the accused before their detention at the camp. Both witnesses identified the accused in court.

The worst of the abuse, the indictment claims, took place on Krkan's guard shift. When asked if there was a difference in treatment between the various guard shifts, Oklopcic said in essence they were all the same. "But if one was worse than the others," Oklopcic added, "then it was Krkan's shift. They beat, tortured and killed the most."

Oklopcic said the inmates were beaten with planks, bats and rifle butts. The inmates ran the gauntlet of being dragged off for interrogation every time they went for lunch, for water or to the toilet. Oklopcic described seeing people with head injuries, wounds on their backs, scabs on their ears and bandaged arms.

"Once, in July 1992, the guards poured water on the canteen floor tiles and then put food trays down," Oklopcic said. "When the inmates, who always had to run to lunch, were slipping and sliding on top of one another the guards jumped on them, beating them with whatever came to hand."

One inmate was beaten to death, Oklopcic said, because he had interrupted some guards who were eating by greeting them with the word "bujrum", which can be translated as "bon appetit". Another was killed by a burst of machine-gun fire when he leapt up during the night shouting, "What are you doing to us? Long live brotherhood and unity! Long live Tito..."

Oklopcic said he was beaten himself and lost 18 kilogrammes during his two-month stay at Omarska. But the worst experience, he said, surrounded an official visit by a delegation from the Republika Srpska. For the two or three days before the delegation's visit the inmates were marched out to the runway - a concrete area in the middle of the camp buildings - to practice a welcome parade. The inmates, Oklopcic said, were forced to sing Serbian nationalist songs, shout, "Serbia! Serbia!" and make the three-fingered Serbian salute.

"I have never felt so humiliated and filthy," Oklopcic said. The prosecutor then asked him to demonstrate the salute to the judges. Oklopcic hesitated, but saying, "this is for the last time", he made the salute to the judges and the five accused.

Protected witness A.J. said he had tried hard to keep a low profile at Omarska in a vain attempt to avoid beatings. He said he rarely left the room in which he was detained. The witness said, however, that other inmates persuaded him to venture outside one day, assuring him that Krle's shift was "the best". A.J. said, however, that, as soon as he reached the runway, guards recognised him and started to beat him on the head and back.

"I had no experience of Krle's shift being the best," A.J. said.

A.J. then went on to testify in a closed session, when a witness's testimony cannot be heard in the press gallery. Judging by the questions asked during his subsequent cross-examination, A.J. described what appeared to be a number of serious beatings at the hands of Zigic and other "visitors" to the camp.

Zigic's defence counsel then said his client wished to express "sympathy for everything he [A.J.] suffered at Omarska in 1992".

The judges asked A.J. if anyone had ever explained why he had been detained, what was to happen to him and the other inmates and why he had been beaten? A.J. replied that no one had ever offered any explanations but that he understood his being a Muslim was the reason for it all.

The prosecutor asked both witnesses if anyone in command at the camps had ever tried to stop or prevent the abuse or punish the perpetrators. Oklopcic and A.J. both responded with a resounding, "No".

Of the five accused, four were in positions of command at Omarska and stand accused under Article 7.3 of the Tribunal Statute - that they "knew or had reason to know" what was going on but "failed to take necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts or to punish the perpetrators thereof."

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