Analysis – Avdovic and Vintila: Former Guard and Cook Accused of War Crimes
This post is also available in: Bosnian
The trial has lasted for four years and the verdict is scheduled for Friday, February 26.
Avdovic and Vintila have been charged with participating in the abuse of Bosnian Serb prisoners in the central prison of Sarajevo and the Viktor Bubanj barracks. Their defense teams had seven witnesses, including medical and military experts, testify. Avdovic and Vintila also testified in their own defense.
When Avdovic served as a guard and Vintila as a cook in the prison and barracks, Bosnian Serb civilians were allegedly abused and tortured.
After the Bosnian state prosecution finished the evidence hearing, BIRN published an analysis titled “Abuse and Horrible Conditions in Viktor Bubanj.”
The defense didn’t dispute the testimony of prosecution witnesses. They argued that Avdovic wasn’t a guard commander and that he didn’t agree with imprisoning civilians. His attorney, Mirza Kovac, said no witness or document indicated that he did.
“Avdovic was simply a guard and nothing else,” Kovac said.
The defense also said Avdovic never worked in the prison. According to the charges against Avdovic, he brought prisoner Dragomir Pejovic to the fifth floor of the prison and hit him in the leg when he refused to answer questions.
I don’t believe he didn’t know that I was being abused. They called him the boss,” Pejovic said.
Pejovic said he didn’t know Avdovic personally, but saw him in Foca before the war and learned his name from others. The defense said Pejovic’s testimony was flawed since he couldn’t recognize Avdovic in the courtroom.
The defense invited Miralem Sarija, the former police lieutenant in the prison, to testify at the trial. Sarija said he knew that detainees and convicts were held on the fifth floor of the prison, which he never entered. He also said he never saw Avdovic in the prison.
Avdovic’s defense didn’t dispute that he was in the Viktor Bubanj barracks, however.
During his testimony, Avdovic said he came to Sarajevo in 1992. He said he was stationed at the barracks, where he was told he would be a guard.
“Besim told me what to do, he said I should write down the names of people in cells,” Avdovic said.
Besim Muderizovic, the former warden of the fifth floor of the prison and the Viktor Bubanj barracks, was also charged in the case. He died eight months into the trial.
Avdovic said he brought food and water to the prisoners and also took them to the doctor.
Senad Rozajac, who was a detainee in the Viktor Bubanj barracks, said he saw Avdovic in the barracks several times.
“He stood by the trucks, where we poured water and once I saw him when we gave away soup,” Rozajac said.
The defense disputed that Avdovic received prisoners in the barracks.
The defense presented documents indicating that a court in Sarajevo knew about Serb prisoners who were detained in the Viktor Bubanj barracks and charged them with assisting enemy forces.
“We want to prove that citizens from Sarajevo were arrested and the court sometimes ordered their custody because they had explosive devices and weapons,” Kovac said.
Kovac also presented decisions signed by Bosnian Army commander Ismet Bajramovic to detain certain individuals.
Avdovic has been accused of not stopping the abuse of prisoners and taking them to locations where they performed forced labor.
While describing the different positions in the Viktor Bubanj barracks, military expert Nehru Ganic said Avdovic didn’t have a senior role.
“Avdovic was a guard and nothing else,” Ganic said.
Vintila, a former cook in the barracks, has been charged with beating two prisoners.
“When I was going to get washed, I was hit by the guy who was first a cook and then a guard,” said witness Milorad Sekara during the investigation phase of the case.
Prosecutor Dzevad Muratbegovic read a statement by Sekara, who has since died. Vintila’s defense said they would have liked to ask Sekara a lot of questions about the person who beat him, because his statement was unclear about whether he was referring to Vintila.
Slobodan Gutaj said Vintila, who everyone addressed as a cook, beat him up in one of the cells. He said another prisoner told him Vintila was the name of the man who abused him.
Defense attorney Vlado Adamovic asked Gutaj if it was possible that he mistook Vintila for someone else. Gutaj said “anything is possible.”
Testifying in his own defense, Vintila said he worked as a cook in the Viktor Bubanj military barracks during the second half of 1992 and was forbidden to interact with prisoners. He said he became a guard during the autumn of 1992.
Former prisoner Zeljko Kljajic also testified against Vintila.
Kljajic said Vintila beat him once and made him wash a toilet with his bare hands in November 1992.
“I don’t feel guilty, since I did nothing,” Vintila said. He said he couldn’t understand why the witnesses were claiming he was guilty.
Emina Maksic said she was a cook in the Viktor Bubanj barracks but never heard that Vintila abused prisoners.
“I only remember him in the kitchen and in a white uniform. I never saw him wearing boots,” Maksic said.
Defense attorney Adamovic said it’s clear that the witnesses were abused.
“However, none of them can be sure that Vintila was guilty,” Adamovic said.
During the trial, Adamovic also showed documentation indicating that international organizations praised Vintila’s work in providing security for international officials. One of the documents included a photograph of Vintila with former United States president Bill Clinton.
“Vintila passed the test of the US secret service. This is a service which has access to all resources and capacities,” Adamovic said.
During the trial, the defense insisted that the prosecution originally investigated other individuals for the same crimes. The defense alleged that the prosecution didn’t indict them, but invited them to testify as prosecution witnesses.
Kovac said that this decision was difficult to explain.
“If it wasn’t funny it would be sad,” he said.
Adamovic said that the prosecution should be given a chance to “one day charge those who actually participated in those crimes.”