Living in Fear in Foca

4. December 2007.00:00
The Prosecution of BiH has completed its seven-month long presentation of evidence against Mitar Rasevic and Savo Todovic, which included testimonies of former detainees in the Correctional Facility in Foca.

This post is also available in: Bosnian

After it examined 36 witnesses and presented its material evidence, the Prosecution of BiH has completed the first phase of its evidence presentation at the trial of Mitar Rasevic and Savo Todovic. Prosecutor Vesna Ilic has announced the examination of one more witness, which will take place in January 2008. This will mark the completion of the evidence presentation process.

Only four witnesses, including two court experts and the president of the Federal Commission for Missing Persons, have testified without any protective measures. Others gave their testimonies under pseudonyms, behind curtains or from separate rooms.

The indictment, which contains five counts, charges Todovic and Rasevic with having committed crimes against civilians detained in the Correctional Facility in Foca (KP), “which had all characteristics of a detention camp”. It was located on the territory controlled by the Serbian Republic of BiH authorities.

The Prosecution considers that Rasevic and Todovic participated in the establishment and management of the punishment and maltreatment system, which affected at least 700 prisoners in Foca. According to the indictment, Rasevic was commander of guards in the facility, while Todovic was its deputy manager. The two men are charged on the basis of their command and individual responsibility.

In January this year, the Court confirmed the indictment against them, after it was amended according to local legislation following the transfer of the case from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague to Sarajevo in October 2006.

The Prosecution witnesses, whose examination began in April 2007, said that they were brought to the detention camp in order to give statements. Most of them remained in detention for more than two years.

“They said they would keep me for 20 minutes, but I stayed there for 900 days,” said witness B.

Testifying in the courtroom, the witnesses said they considered “the management team” guilty of what happened to them in the detention camp. The indictment alleges that the management team consisted of manager Milorad Krnojelac, his deputy Savo Todovic and commander of guards Mitar Rasevic. The ICTY has sentenced Krnojelac to 15 years’ imprisonment for his involvement in these crimes.

The witnesses, who testified in Sarajevo, pointed to the different roles of Mitar Rasevic and Savo Todovic. Speaking about Rasevic, some of them said that he behaved in “a correct manner”, while others claimed he had saved their lives.

“When people were taken for exchange, I begged Rasevic to put me on the list, but he said ‘The time has not come yet’,” said witness FWS 139, adding that, later on they discovered that the exchanges were fake and that those people disappeared.

According to witness FWS 85, Todovic was “strict and cruel”, while FWS 139 said that the indictee locked him in an isolated cell on several occasions.

“I would not say he is a human being at all. He is not a man, but a beast,” said this witness.

The witnesses also said that prisoners were taken away and killed in the detention camp in Foca every day. Prisoners were taken away for different reasons – some were told they were going to be exchanged, some were taken to perform forced works or pick plums, and many never came back.

“Some people were found in mass graves in a coal mine near Foca, others were found in graves in Ustikolina or in the tunnel on the way between Foca and Miljevina and ‘Buk bijela’ tunnel,” said witness FWS 138.

Amor Masovic, president of the Federal Commission for Missing Persons, said that, on the basis of information provided by victims, more than 1,100 prisoners were detained in Foca detention camp at some stage.

“Out of this number, 266 people have disappeared. This means that one in four prisoners did not survive,” explained Masovic.

Witness FWS 113 told the Court that, in mid August 1992 “they started taking more and more people away” and that, at that time, the prisoners thought that “the detention camp was going to be dismissed”.

“Without knowing what was going on, we felt sorry for not being among those who were taken away. When we got out of the camp, we found out that those people were missing,” explained FWS 113.

The indictment alleges that, at the end of August 1992, Todovic “personally saw off 55 prisoners” to a destination in Montenegro, but members of the army returned them to the facility. The indictment further alleges that, the following day a group of 35 old and sick prisoners was taken to Montenegro, while the remaining 20 prisoners “were taken in an unknown direction”. It is still not known what happened to them.

Some witnesses recalled that, in September 1992, a group of 35 prisoners was taken away “to pick plums” and they never came back. Witness FWS 250 said that Todovic selected five people in that group.

“You, Savo Todovic, you led those people. Everybody was afraid of you in the detention camp, and you know it. We used to hide and run away from you,” said this witness to the indictee in the courtroom.

The indictment alleges that, in mid 1992, guards led by Rasevic, as well as policemen and soldiers who “who entered the facility with Todovic’s and Rasevic’s permission”, used to take prisoners out and beat them up. After that, they wrapped them in blankets and took them away. One of the witnesses claimed that, on that occasion, 36 prisoners were killed.

“The guards took them away one by one and beat them. Nurko Nisic was the first one. After beating him up, they put him in a blanket and dragged him out of the room. Others waited for the same thing to happen to them. And it did happen in the end,” said FWS 71.

The witnesses said that Nurko Nisic, Dr Aziz Torlak, Halim Konjo, Munib and Zulfo Veiz, and Nail Hodzic were some of those who were taken away and never came back.

“The guards would take some people away after dinner. They never returned and we could hear them beating those men. As long as I live I shall never forget those screams,” said witness FWS 03.

The witnesses claim that some prisoners died due to the poor conditions in the camp. Enes Hodzic was one of them. The indictment charges Todovic and Rasevic with having killed him.

“He had appendicitis, but nobody wanted to take him to a hospital, so he died,” witness FWS 138 recalled.

The Prosecution considers Rasevic and Todovic responsible for hiding prisoners during visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). This was confirmed by the prisoners who were taken away from the facility in the course of these visits.

“When the Red Cross visited the facility for the first time, 12 of us were transferred to the basement of the city bakery, where we stayed until the evening,” said witness FWS 142.

The civilians detained in Foca detention camp participated in the “working squad” and performed forced labour on a daily basis. Witnesses claim that the working squad was established by Todovic.

“Savo Todovic established the squad and, every time, the guards would take people away to perform forced work, they would say that he had made the list of people who should be taken away,” protected witness FWS 82 pointed out.

The indictment alleges that the prisoners detained in Foca were forced to perform hard labour, including mining and cleaning of debris, while witness FWS 141 worked as “minesweeper”.

“I drove a truck over a dangerous terrain, while buses, full of Serbian soldiers, would drive behind me. They would tie my leg to the clutch, so I could not run away,” said the witness, who considers Todovic and Rasevic guilty of what happened in that detention camp.

Ekrem Zekovic was the only prisoner who tried to escape from the facility, but he was soon caught. During his testimony, he said that after his attempted escape, Todovic locked him in an isolated cell and then sent him away to perform forced labour in a mine.

Other prisoners suffered the consequences of his escape. Some witnesses said that, after that, Todovic reduced their meals.

“Our meals were cut in half. The cooks used to laugh when we came to collect the food,” said witness FWS 85.

The Prosecution charged Momcilo Mandic, former Minister of Justice in the Government of the former Serbian Republic of BiH, with having established the Correctional Facility in Foca. He was acquitted of the charges by a first instance verdict.

Mitar Rasevic Defence will start presenting its evidence at the at the next hearing. Rasevic’s Defence attorney SlavisaProdanovic announced that he was planning to present evidence for threedays and that he intended to begin the evidence presentation byexamining the indictee.

Merima Husejnovic is BIRN – Justice Report journalist. [email protected]

Merima Husejnović

This post is also available in: Bosnian