Within these walls: Inside Foca Prison

4. January 2010.00:00
For the first time since war-crime trials began in Bosnia, BIRN Justice Report has filmed inside a prison in which war crime convicts serve their sentences and spoken to one of them.

This post is also available in: Bosnian

In November 2007, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina jailed Gojko Jankovic for 34 years for, among other things, raping and s

exually enslaving a girl in Foca during the 1992-5 war.

The trial lasted for just over a year. Besides numerous witnesses who were examined at the trial, the Prosecution read out a statement of the victim, who was only 12 when Jankovic first raped her. More than a decade on, she did not have the strength to face him in court.  

Witness 186 recalled that she had known her tormentor had a wife and three children, and that “one of his daughters was one year younger than me. His other children were even younger.

“I asked him how he could rape someone who was as old as his daughter. This made him very angry. I did not dare insist on getting an answer,” witness 186 told investigators in 1998.

Jankovic still does not see what he did wrong, maintaining that he was set up by people envious of his wealth. He shows no sign of regret or remorse. “I used to be a rich and powerful man… many people were jealous of me. They set all this up,” Jankovic told Justice Report, when we visited him in jail in November.  

No regrets:

Jankovic agreed to the interview on condition that he would be able to speak exclusively about his trial.  When he came to the interview he brought a notepad and two packs of cigarettes. Throughout, he browsed through his notes, saying the notepad contained records of all documents presented before the Court.

No guards were present in the room where the interview took place. The only people present were the Justice Report television team – a journalist, cameraman and sound technician. The room was so small that we almost touched each other.

“I’m telling the truth. Do I have regrets?… I regret not listening to my wife and children who told me: ‘Where are you going’? They said I was a fool. And I am one!” Jankovic said, in somewhat angry tone, smoking a cigarette.   

“Let me tell you, I certainly did not commit the crimes against civilians for which I was sentenced,” he added. “If I had done the things for which I was convicted… they could hang me by whatever part of my body they wanted!” Jankovic added.

Jankovic’s wife, Milica, was present at all hearings held during his trial. She was also allowed to testify for his defence and tried to provide him with an alibi for the dates mentioned in the indictment.
Milica Jankovic told the Court her husband had been with her in the seaside resort of Herceg Novi on all days mentioned in the indictment. During cross-examination Milica Jankovic also answered questions about her husband’s stay in Russia, where he hid for some years after the indictment against him was filed.

Jankovic was originally indicted before the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, the so-called Hague Tribunal, in 1996.

He did not surrender until March 2005. He was held in the Detention Unit in Scheveningen, near The Hague, before the ICTY referred his case to Bosnia’s State Court in Sarajevo later that year. He reached the Detention Unit in Bosnia in March 2006.

Documents available to the Prosecution, which were previously published by BIRN, suggest Milica Jankovic visited her husband in Russia to persuade him to surrender as well as to seek a divorce.  

In her cross-examination, Mrs Jankovic said she had never come across any evidence that confirmed the truth of the prosecution witnesses’ statements about Jankovic’s rape of women and girls.  

One check after another:

Jankovic is serving his sentence in the same town in eastern Bosnia where he committed his crimes.

There is no special prison where individuals sentenced before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina can serve their sentences. As a result, they are sent to prisons that meet certain criteria, such as being closed-type prisons. They are usually located in the same Bosnian Entity from which the individuals come.

The only prison in Republika Srpska that meets those requirements is in Foca. Ironically, as the Prosecution noted at the beginning of his trial, the town has become a synonym for wartime rape.  

Some of the war-crime convicts’ friends and relatives work as guards in Foca in the same sections where the convicts serve their sentences. The prison director, Sinisa Golijanin, says this is “normal”. In a small town, it is not possible to avoid such situations. “All those working here were recruited in line with the law. There is nothing we can do about it,” the director said.

Prewar Foca was an ethnically mixed town in which Bosniaks were the majority community. Driven out or killed by the Serbs amid scenes of horrifying brutality in 1992, only a few Bosniaks have since returned to this ethnically cleansed town.

Data available to the Research and Documentation Center from Sarajevo suggest about 2,800 people, mainly Bosniaks, were killed or “disappeared” during the war out of a prewar population of around 40.000. The current residents take little interest in war-crime trials.

Foca prison had the same function before the war. During the war the Bosnian Serbs turned it into a detention camp, where hundreds of civilians were detained and some were killed.  

According to the prison director, no journalists or TV crews have filmed inside the premises since the war ended. Justice Report had to obtain more than 15 items of documentation and permits to be allowed into the prison.  

Each time we submitted an application to the Ministry of Justice of the Republika Srpska, a process that began in August, we were asked to submit another application. For instance, after we obtained the first permit to film in the prison, the director asked for a separate request containing details about what exactly we intended to film. The exchange of correspondence lasted about three months.  

We had to provide details about what we were going to bring with us, what we wanted to ask, and how long the filming would last. In the end, we were allowed to spend only a couple of minutes in each room before the guards moved us on to the next. The journalist and cameraman were often separated during the visit.

On our arrival, we were searched and everything removed from our pockets for checking. We had to remove our clothes to be checked as well. “I sincerely apologize for having to ask you to do all these things,” the guard who searched the Justice Report journalist said. “But these are the rules.”       

“Nobody has ever brought a camera into these rooms,” the other guard told. “So, you have to understand us. We do not know how to respond to the situation.”
We then met Jankovic – though not in his own room, for reasons that became clearer later on.

“As far as the living conditions in the Facility are concerned, I don’t have much to say,” Jankovic said. “You can see for yourself. It’s a prison like any other prison. They’re all the same.

“But there is a huge difference between the Hague Tribunal and the Detention Unit in Sarajevo and this prison here. The conditions in those two are much better. But I do not complain about anything here,” he added.

Apartments rather than cells:

Golijanin has been the Prison Director since 2007. He was appointed after Radovan Stankovic, then serving a 20-year sentence for crimes committed in Foca, escaped in May 2007.

The guards and medical personnel who allegedly helped his escape are now on trial before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Stankovic has not been found and is thought to be hiding in Serbia.  

Golijanin says such an event will not reoccur. “The current management team has identified the mistakes, which must not be repeated,” he said.

The State Ombudsmen recently completed research on the situation in Foca prison, among others, which mentioned the issue of “misuse of official functions”.

Jasminka Dzumhur, one of the three Ombudspersons, says Foca prison represents the most flagrant example of this problem. The Ombudsmen see the building of a state prison as the only long-term solution.  

“When a person from a small town comes to a prison to serve his sentence, it often happens that the prison staff comes from the same town,” Dzumhur told Justice Report. “In most cases, they are family members or friends of those convicts. This environment is certainly convenient for misuse of functions.”

The abuse or misuse of official positions is not the only irregularity mentioned by the Ombudsmen with regards to Foca.

They also questioned the installation of new cells in Foca prison that they said resembled apartments more than cells. Dzumhur noted that Jankovic stays in one of those rooms, though it was not possible for us to film it.

“It is not clear what rules are being applied when deciding which individuals, i.e. convicts, will be accommodated in them, [the new rooms],” Dzumhur said. “We have not got an answer to this question.”   

Watch the interview with Gojko Jankovic and the reportage from Foca prison in the first release of TV Justice:

TV Justice will be broadcasted in Bosnia and Herzegovina once a month from January 4, 2010 at BH TV 1, TV Hayat, TV Kantona Sarajevo, RTV Tuzlanskog kantona, RTV Slon, TV Živinice, TV OSM, TV Slobomir, NTV IC, RTV Vogošća, NTV 101.

Dragana Erjavec is a BIRN Justice Report journalist and TV Justice Editor. [email protected] Justice Report is an online BIRN weekly publication.

This post is also available in: Bosnian