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

Serb Forces Accused of Using Human Shields

Prosecutors claim approximately 27 non-Serb civilian detainees were killed in the Doboj area.
By Julia Hawes
A witness in the Hague tribunal trial of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic told judges this week that he was used as a “human shield” by Serbian forces in 1992.



Edin Hadzovic, who was held captive in Doboj, Bosnia, told judges that after the 1990 elections, villages with a Serb minority called for the separation of the Serbian and non-Serb populations.



The pressure on the non-Serb population, he said, was “tantamount to terror”.



Stanisic and Simatovic have been charged with participating in a joint criminal enterprise, with the objective of forcibly and permanently removing non-Serbs from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina through persecution, murder and deportation of the Croat, Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat populations.



Stanisic served as the head of the Serbian State Security Service, DB, from 1991 to 1998, while Simatovic worked under the authority of Stanisic as the commander of the special operations unit of the DB.



According to the indictment, Stanisic and Simatovic established, organised and financed training centres for Serb forces, with the purpose of establishing military actions in Croatia and Bosnia.

The indictment states that Stanisic and Simatovic sent these forces to Croatia and Bosnia, where they committed crimes and took control of towns and villages in Serb-held areas in Croatia and Bosnia, forcing non-Serbs to leave the territories.



According to the indictment, Serb forces established a training centre at Mount Ozren in the municipality of Doboj, Bosnia, in 1992. On or about July 12, 1992, the indictment states, special units of Serbia’s DB used “non-Serb detainees as human shields and approximately twenty-seven of these civilians were killed”.



Hadzovic told judges that in the early 1990s, the Doboj municipality had a majority Muslim population, estimated at 42 per cent. Thirty-seven per cent of the population was Serbian, and seven to eight per cent were Croats, Hadzovic said.



When the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action, SDA, won the majority election in 1990, Hadzovic said, villages with a Serb minority began making public their wish not to live in Bosnia.



The chiefs of police and the municipality were both Bosnian Muslim, Hadzovic said. Although members of the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, were offered positions in the municipality government, they began boycotting the SDA and did not officially recognise the results of the election, Hadzovic told the judges.



There were numerous rallies, he continued, and Radovan Karadzic, founder of the SDS, was present at many of them. The rallies called for separation from the Muslim and Croat people, and obstructed the work of bodies to “which [the Serbs] should have been elected”, Hadzovic said.



Klaus Hoffman from the Office of the Prosecution asked Hadzovic to describe a meeting of the SDS board held in October 1991.



Hadzovic said the meeting, which was attended by Karadzic, resulted in a decision to form a separate assembly of the Serbian population. The document was signed by Milan Ninkovic, president of the SDS in Doboj, and was a “bombshell” for the non-Serb population of Doboj, Hadzovic said.



“At that time, the unrest started in Doboj,” he told the judges.



“Serbs no longer wanted to live together with us,” he added.



Hadzovic went on to say that after the war, eight per cent of the population was Muslim, with two to three per cent Croat, and up to 90 per cent Serb.



Hoffman asked whether Hadzovic had heard about proposals for population transfers in 1991 and 1992.



“At that time, Serbs asked for those places with majority Serb populations to be separated,” Hadzovic said, leading to what he described as an “expulsion” of the Muslim and Croat populations.



Hadzovic told the judges that cafés, bars and cars were systematically shelled in Doboj, and that a curfew was established among the Muslim and Croat populations, whose homes were broken into and robbed.



“As soon as the SDS took over, Muslims and Croats were fired from their jobs,” Hadzovic said. “People moved out spontaneously, and the arrests started… [My family and I] were arrested after the shelling of Doboj. I was put into a camp.”



In 1992, Hadzovic told judges that he was detained at a disco in Doboj alongside other Croats and Muslims from neighbouring villages that also had predominantly Croat and Muslim populations. Serbian police wearing camouflage uniforms and red berets guarded the prisoners, Hadzovic said, adding that the men were paramilitaries, although he did not know what unit they belonged to.



Members of the paramilitary units would visit detention camps, looking for hidden money, jewellery and gold, Hadzovic said.



“If they found any, that person would be set free,” Hadzovic said. “As far as I know, nobody ever was.”



Hoffman showed the court footage of the 1998 exhumation process of the site in Doboj where Hadzovic and other prisoners had been allegedly used as human shields.



Hadzovic told the court that he had been present at the exhumation, as he showed the authorities where the bodies had been hidden.



Later, Hadzovic told defence lawyer Wayne Jordash about the local guards at the disco, whom he described in his statement as selecting prisoners based on their ethnicity.



“Those guards would usually get drunk in the evening, enter the premises and beat us up,” he told the judges.



One guard kicked a Muslim man who had been brought in from the local hospital after having been operated on and given a pacemaker, Hadzovic said.



Jordash asked Hadzovic to describe the “human shield” incident, in which the Serb forces are said to have ordered the prisoners into five ranks of ten men each.



“They took us out, made us go to the church and forced us to undress,” Hadzovic said. “We lined up and [a Serb officer] killed one from the group. He shot a bullet in the back of one man’s head as an example to the others.”



The trial continues next week.



Julia Hawes is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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