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

Prlic Trial Shown Images of War

Photographer says Muslim prisoners he photographed in 1993 were in bad shape.
An ex-Bosnian army photographer testifying this week against six former Bosnian Croat leaders said Muslim detainees released from Croatian Defence Counsel, HVO, prison camps in 1993 were in bad condition and claimed they had been maltreated.

Nermin Malovic was a photographer with the press service of the 44th brigade of the Bosnian Army, ABiH, stationed in Jablanica during the Muslim-Croat conflict in the early Nineties.

He was testifying in the trial of Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic - all charged with being part of a joint criminal enterprise from November 1991 to April 1994 to ethnically cleanse non-Croats from certain areas of Bosnia.

The indictment states that members of the enterprise - along with the HVO - set up and ran a network of prison camps, including the Heliodrom camp and Dretelj prison, to arrest, detain and imprison thousands of Bosnian Muslims. Muslims in the camps were allegedly starved and subjected to “physical and psychological abuse, including beatings and sexual assaults”.

The trial chamber this week saw a series of pictures Malovic took on August 28, 1993 of apparently malnourished former prisoners.

The witness said that when he heard prisoners had been freed from Dretelj and the Heliodrom and taken to Grabovica, a village on the banks of the Neretva River, he accompanied a freelance journalist to the Grabovica power plant. There they found several released prisoners.

“They were in an extremely bad state. They were physically exhausted and they were not in a good mental condition either,” he said.

The prosecutor asked Malovic how he could determine their mental state.

“When you look into somebody’s eyes, you can see whether it is a stable person. It is very obvious when a person cannot control their behaviour, when the look in their eyes is glassy,” he replied.

As well as taking their pictures, the witness spoke to several of “those poor people”. He learned that they were Muslims and had been imprisoned by the HVO, before being released after negotiations, he said.

“Their stories were all alike. They all looked extremely bad. They had been imprisoned in camps and were maltreated, he said.

He added that he later heard that one of the former prisoners was in such a poor state that he didn’t survive.

Malovic admitted having asked his subjects to strip from the waist up “so their condition would be more obvious”.

During cross examination, the defence attempted to undermine the photographer’s credibility.

Michael Karnavas, defence counsel for Jadranko Prlic, suggested that as his “first and foremost employer at the time” was the Bosnian army, he was biased in its favour.

But the witness, who also worked for the United Nations Protection Forces, UNPROFOR, insisted he suffered no conflict of interest.

“I tried to perform all my duties honorably, professionally and as well as I could, no matter who the employer was,” he said.

Karnavas then proposed that the press service of the 44th brigade only allowed journalists to see “what ABiH wanted them to see - excluding anything favourable to the Croats or anything showing ABiH in a more negative light”.

But Malovic said that he knew only of journalists being denied access to certain areas for reasons of safety.

Senka Nozica, defence lawyer for Bruno Stojic, the former head of the HVO, cast doubt on the witness’s motivation for photographing the released prisoners. She claimed the photographer had taken the “worst photos” as these would be easier to sell internationally.

But Malovic replied that he had “behaved like a photographer - as somebody who wanted to document what was going on”.

His testimony was followed by that of Mustafa Hadrovic - a former reserve police officer in Mostar, Herceg-Bosna’s capital during the conflict.

The witness told judges that on April 11, 1993 he was taken to the “infamous” mechanical engineering faculty building in Mostar, where the indictment alleges HVO soldiers interrogated, beat and humiliated Muslims the following month.

“They beat me there - beat me and beat me - and I still suffer from that. Then they tied me to the radiator,” he said.

According to Hadrovic, he was then transported to the HVO-run Heliodrom camp and detained there until April 17.

Members of the HVO, the Croatian army, and the Convict’s Battalion - a paramilitary group commanded by Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic who has been convicted by the tribunal for war crimes he committed in the Mostar area - were all based at the notorious camp, he said.

“There were many units down there… They were terrible. They destroyed everything in their path,” said Hadrovic.

The former policemen went on to testify about an attack he witnessed on the Vranica building - a civilian apartment complex and local ABiH headquarters in Mostar - on May 9, 1993.

He said he awoke to loud explosions and watched from his apartment as the HVO unleashed “their military might” in a mortar attack on the building.

“When I saw what was happening I almost died. I thought the whole town was toppling,” he said.

Hadrovic said that around the building were soldiers from several factions, including the HVO, the Croatian army and Tuta’s paramilitaries. “It was a terrible sight to behold,” he said.

The trial continues next week.

Caroline Tosh is an IWPR reporter.

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