Witness Describes Manjaca as Death Camp

Former inmate said none of the detainees during the first months of their stay believed they would survive.

Witness Describes Manjaca as Death Camp

Former inmate said none of the detainees during the first months of their stay believed they would survive.

Sunday, 6 December, 2009

A witness in the Hague tribunal trial of two former Bosnian Serb police commanders testified this week about the abuse and torture he said he suffered while detained in the Manjaca detention camp.

Adil Draganovi, the former chief judge of the Sanski Most district court, appeared as a witness in the trial of Stojan Zupljanin, the former head of the regional security services centre in Banja Luka, and Mico Stanisic, who was appointed minister in charge of the newly-founded Bosnian Serb ministry of internal affairs in April 1992.

Zupljanin, who became an adviser to the Bosnian Serb president and Hague indictee Radovan Karadzic in 1994, is accused of the extermination, murder, persecution, and deportation of non-Serbs in north-western Bosnia between April and December 1992.

Stanisic is charged with the murder, torture and cruel treatment of non-Serb civilians, as well as for his failure to prevent or punish crimes committed by his subordinates.

Stanisic and Zupljanin are alleged to have participated in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at the permanent removal of non-Serbs from the territory of an intended Serbian state. They are accused of crimes committed between April 1 and December 31, 1992, in municipalities throughout Bosnia and Hercegovina, including Sanski Most.

They are also charged with responsibility for the unlawful detention of civilians in camps in Bosnia as well as for “the establishment and perpetuation of inhumane living conditions in these camps”, the indictment says.

Both defendants – whose indictments were joined together in September 2008 – have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Draganovic had previously testified in the trial of Radoslav Brdjanin, the former head of the Banja Luka crisis staff of the Autonomous Region of Krajina. In April 2007, Brdjanin was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment on appeal at the Hague tribunal for crimes committed against non-Serbs in Krajina.

The witness claimed Serb police held imprisoned Muslims and Croats from Sanski Most in inhumane conditions and tortured them regularly.

"I was arrested on May 25 1992, two weeks after the Serb crisis staff removed me from the office of chief judge in Sanski Most,” the witness recounted. “I spent almost an entire month imprisoned in horrendous conditions in a wet cell at the Sanski Most public security station, with eight more persons, in a space which could at maximum have held one human being.

"The sole source of fresh air was a few holes in the tin covering of the window. We had to take turns standing next to it in order to have air at all.

“During my stay in police detention, the prisoners who were taken to questioning would come back with visible injuries over their entire bodies, faces and soles. The other prisoners would listen to cries all day long, cries of prisoners detained at the garage of the Betonirka plant, some fifty metres away from the police station.”

According to the indictment against Stanisic and Zupljanin, at Betonirka factory garage, between June and July 1992, “numerous detainees were forced into 3 x 5 metre cells with no ventilation, no toilet facilities, no beds, no running water and with insufficient room to sleep.

“Detainees were forced to eat tainted food causing severe abdominal pain and dehydration. Detainees were forced to line up and beat other detainees severely. Some detainees were forced to assume a praying position and were beaten severely with wooden chair legs.”

The witness said that, after a month spent detained at the police station in Sanski Most, he was transferred to Manjaca camp in mid-June.

“I was given over to the military police which ran the camp with a group of other prisoners. The camp itself was run by the army but its security personnel also included police personnel. Police from Kljuc were particularly notorious for their cruelty in beating up prisoners,” he said.

Describing the conditions at Manjaca, the witness stated that "all prisoners at the Manjaca concentration camp had lost up to 30 kilo of their bodyweight because of malnourishment and regular abuse. At the Manjaca stables, the prisoners were strictly prohibited from moving, and the only permitted activity was forced labour, which also included the construction of an Orthodox church."

The indictment against Stanisic and Zupljanin states that between May and the end of December 1992, detainees at Manjaca camp “were subjected to regular beatings in areas throughout the camp, including outside the make-shift medical clinic, stables and other buildings.

“Beatings were inflicted by fists, feet, batons, wooden poles, rifle butts and electric cables. In some cases, the beatings were so severe as to result in permanent serious injury and deaths.”

Draganovic said Zupljanin visited the Manjaca camp during his period of detention in late June 1992, "I even spoke to Zupljanin at that occasion, since I knew him back from high school."

Draganovic also identified photographs of various buildings in Sanski Most which, according to the indictment, served as places of detention. He added that, to the best of his knowledge, the police secured and managed all places of detention in the town.

In cross-examination, the defence for Zupljanin claimed that Draganovic was exaggerating when he described Manjaca as a "death camp".

The lawyer Igor Pantelic said, “Manjaca camp was not built to destroy someone, it was not a place where people were being burnt or executed en masse. Death camps, in my view, are Nazi camps from World War II where people were destroyed en masse.”

Addressing the witness, Pantelic continued, “I think you are exaggerating and should not be making such a comparison, because such a statement from you is like putting salt on a wound."

"I am not a poet,” Draganovic responded. "I am just a witness of what I saw."

He added that none of the detainees during the first months of their stay in the camp believed they would survive the daily beatings, maltreatment and food shortages.

“What was that than a plan for our destruction?" asked Draganovic.

"I can accept that it was not as horrible as the Omarska or Keraterm camps, near Prijedor, because there people were indeed killed en masse and on a daily basis, but in my view, Manjaca too was a death camp.

"Let me give an example of what I am saying. Just two days ago my wife told me professor Ilijas Avdic had died prematurely at age 54. He was a prisoner at Manjaca. A day doesn't pass by without someone who was imprisoned at Manjaca passing away. Last year, the doctor Muhamed Derviskadic also died. He healed prisoners while imprisoned at Manjaca. He, too, was aged 50 at death.

"More than 500 former Manjaca inmates have surely died. That is why I say this was a death camp, because the suffering and ultimately the death of all who have been through it was its prime consequence.”

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trainee in Sarajevo.

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