Detention Camp Indictees Deny Responsibility

7. May 2008.00:00
The defence for the four men indicted over the Omarska and Keraterm camps in north-west Bosnia has denied they took part in the crimes committed there in 1992.

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As the 18-month trial for the crimes committed in the Prijedor detention camps draws to a close, Dusan Fustar – charged alongside Zeljko Mejakic, Momcilo “Ckalja” Gruban and Dusko “Duca” Knezevic with crimes against humanity – has admitted guilt.

“I express deep and sincere regrets for having participated in the events in the Keraterm detention camp in 1992, although I did not personally kill, hit or maltreat anybody,” Fustar said on April 21.

“My conscience drives me to express my deepest condolences to all those detained in Keraterm, those who were hurt, who survived any type of mental or physical maltreatment as well as to their families for all their suffering,” he added.

The former chief of the guard shift in the notorious Keraterm detention camp signed a “guilt admission” agreement with the prosecution in April.

His case was then dissociated from the “Mejakicet al” case and the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina sentenced him to nine years’ imprisonment.

The Trial Chamber found Fustar guilty of “having failed to exercise his authority” to prevent crimes against Bosniaks and Croats in Keraterm and of “having participated, by acting and failing to act, in a joint criminal enterprise”.

The prosecution still charges Mejakic, Gruban and Knezevic with the murder, rape, forcible detention and mental and physical maltreatment of Bosniaks and Croats in the Omarska and Keraterm camps in1992.

During the evidence presentation, which has lasted for five months, the defence examined 19 of 66 planned witnesses, Mejakic testifying as a defence witness.

Just before the defence presented its evidence, Gruban’s defence lawyer, Vinko Kondic, was released from duty, having been himself indicted for crimes in the Kljuc area of north-west Bosnia in the war.

Kondic, who pleaded not guilty, is awaitingtrial before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In Mejakic’s five-day testimony, he gave an exhaustive presentation of his role, the chain of responsibility and command lines in Omarska as well of as the maltreatment of detainees in the summer of 1992.

“I did not kill or hurt anyone or do anything I should be ashamed of,” he said. “For 15 years I have been waiting for an opportunity to testify because I want truth and justice for all; this motivated me to testify and surrender to the Hague Tribunal.”

In May 2006, the tribunal referred the “Mejakic et al” case back to the local courts. The trial of the four indictees before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina then started in February 2007.

According to Mejakic, Simo Drljaca, former chief of the Public Safety Station in Prijedor, was responsible for the establishment and functioning of Omarska. Drljaca was killed in 1997, while international forces were trying to arrest him.

“I was responsible for informing Drljaca as my superior about all incidents,” Mejakic said. “He was the one who made the decisions on capturing people and hiding women in the detention camp.”

Mejakic added that some femaledetainees had told him about the sexual abuse of women and had asked him forhelp. The defence tried to prove thatDrljaca – not Mejakic or Gruban – was solely responsible for the events inOmarska.

Mejakic said that, besides Drljaca, the investigators also played an important role in Omarska in deciding whether detained Bosniaks and Croats would live or not and whether they would be released.

Describing conditions in the camp as “well below any standards”, Mejakic admitted that “a group of 15 persons disappeared” from Omarska in July 1992.

Most other defence witnesses, including former guards in Omarska, denied the prosecution allegations that Mejakic was the camp commander. They said that they did not see him very often.

“Available documents suggest that Mejakic chief of the patrol sector of the Police Squad in Omarska until 1994 and he could do nothing but inform his superior about certain events,” Mile Matijevic said.

Matijevic said no one person bore full responsibility for security in Omarska.

Defence witness K053 described Mejakic as “a principal” figure in Omarska – but who ordered the guards not to maltreat the detainees.

The former guards who testified said there were three guard shifts in the detention camp but no actual guard shift chief.

“Gruban was not a guard shift chief, as there was no such function,” said Sveto Petos. This witness added that Gruban often brought the detainees food.

The prosecution charges Gruban with having been one of the three guard shift chiefs in Omarska from May 24 to August 30, 1992.

Witness K050, a former detainee in Omarska, said Gruban “used to encourage us by telling us that the things would change and we would be released.

“He executed someone else’s orders, just like all other guards who were there. We named his shift after him. It was the most sober of all shifts, as there was not much beating.”

The defence for Knezevic examined Bosko Matijas, who described the indictee as “a good person” who had helped him during the war when his relative was a detainee.

“Knezevic joined me two or three times when I visited my brother-in-law who was detained in Keraterm,” he recalled.

Knezevic’s defence also tried to prove that there had been a mix-up of identities, insisting the indictee was not the same person that witnesses had said used to come to Keraterm and participate in the maltreatment of detainees.

According to the agreement co-signed by the prosecution and Fustar, Keraterm camp existed from May 24 to August 5, 1992 and “between 1,000 and 1,500 persons were detained in it”.

The defence and prosecution are due to present their closing arguments in late May. After that, a year-and-a-half since the beginning of the trial, the court will pronounce the verdict.

Aida Alic is a journalist with BIRN – JusticeReport. [email protected]. Justice Reportis the online weekly publication of BIRN.

Aida Alić

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