bosnia report
New Series No: 42 October - December 2004
Moments of Truth at the Site of the Crime
by Dženana Karup-Druško

Esma S., born in 1976, was only 15 when the war came to Foča. On 7 April1992 she gave birth in the Foča hospital. Three months later Serb soldiers came for her. The child was left in the hospital, while Esma was mistreated for the next year and a half. She was raped frequently and the criminals who abused her include Dragoljub Kunarac and Dragan Zelenović. She was asked to testify against Kunarac at The Hague, but refused. She did not have the strength to confront him.

Esma was separated from her child for four years. It was only in 1994 that the International Red Cross removed the girl from the Foča hospital to the territory controlled by the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina and handed her over to Esma’s sister. In 1996 Esma returned from Serbia, where she had spent two and a half years after escaping from the Foča hell. She lives today in Sarajevo with her twelve-year-old daughter. Her husband died in the war. On 9 October [2004] she was present at a conference in Foča. She sat listening about the crimes.

Without Embellishment

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska, working together with the Outreach Programme of the International Criminal Court for Former Yugoslavia, had organised the conference in Foča on the crimes committed there during the war. It was evident that few of the Serbs present expected that day to hear what the organisers had prepared: the testimony given at The Hague by the victims; the presentation of the evidence used in the trials conducted against the Foča war criminals; and the latter’s own statements. Silence reigned in the conference hall, with faces displaying disbelief and shock.

After more than a decade, it took just a few hours in Foča for the unvarnished truth to be told about the events that had occurred at the start of the war, when all Bosniaks were deported, killed or imprisoned. It was heard by representatives of the local parties, police, courts and prosecutors, and by members of NGOs.

‘The mother stood next to the bus screaming: "Give my child back to me! Give my child back to me!" Her twelve-year-old daughter had been snatched from her arms - she would never see her again. The girl was raped countless times. They walked her through the streets of Foča and rented her out to the troops. Jasko Gazdić sold her in the end for DM 200 to some Serbian soldiers. She was never heard of again’, recounted the victims, Bosniak women. There was mention of the Partizan building, where for several months dozens of Bosniak girls and women were raped, aged 12, 14, 15, 24, 25, 34. According to one woman prisoner, a Serb soldier approached a woman sleeping next to her ten-year-old child in this torture chamber and raped her. She pressed her lips together and remained silent, fearing to wake up her child. Some women managed to escape from Partizan and beg for help at the nearby police station. They were handed back to the criminals.

Rape as a war crime was one of the themes of the conference in Foča. ‘Two girls were raped several times on one night in Foča, then taken to Miljevina and sold to Pero Elez. One was 17, the other 15. They ended up in Karaman’s house, where they were visited daily by Serb soldiers, who would select girls and take them upstairs, where they did what they wanted with them.’ ‘Like other girls I too was raped every night or every other night. It is impossible to tell by how many of them.’ ‘After he had raped me, Zoran Vukanović sat down, lit a cigarette and told me: "I could do much worse things to you. Anything I wish. But I won’t, since you’re the same age as my daughter".’ Such were the accounts of women who had survived the transformation of Foča into Srbinje.

Insufficient Time for Justice

During the first days of the war, the Bosniaks of Foča were kept in the KP hall. At the conference of 9 October they talked of torture; of being questioned; of the night when Zulfo Veiz was killed - the fall of his body into the Drina was heard in all the cells; of forced labour; of prisoners who were used as mine-sweepers; of hungry volunteers who enrolled to pick fruit and never returned...

Among those involved in war crimes in Foča were: Dragoljub Kunarac, Zoran Vuković, Milorad Krnojelac, Mitar Rašević, Milenko Burilo, Zoran Matović, Radomir Kovač, Dragan Gagović, Janko Janjić, Radovan Stanković,

Savo Todović, Gojko Janković, Dragan Zelenović...

The Tribunal representatives spoke in Foča about the trials already held, and about those where they had sufficient evidence - they named the criminals - but would not be able to hold them quite simply because there was not enough time. They repeated several times that local courts should take up these cases, and that they were ready to hand over the relevant incriminating evidence collected during the past years.

The End

As it turned out no one was quite satisfied with the Foča gathering. The Bosniaks did not hide their belief that too few criminals have been convicted, and that in regard to the trials already completed the prosecutors had no right to amnesty the criminals from some of their other deeds. (During the conference the Tribunal representatives said that the group charged with rapes was not charged with murder and other acts they had committed, simply in order to avoid prolonging the cases or watering them down). The Serbs wished to know why none of Foča’s Bosniaks have been tried for crimes committed against Serbs. They asked about the village of Jošane, where according to them 49 civilians were killed in 1993. The representatives gave a clear answer: ‘We have gathered all evidence connected with this case, but none of the local Serbs agreed to cooperate with us. This charge will not be raised at The Hague, since we no longer have the time.’

After the conference ended, the Serbs remained in Foča and the Bosniaks returned to their [new] homes in Sarajevo. Asked whether she would ever return to Foča, Esma S. said: ‘Never! Never!’


Interview with Slobodanka Gačinović, chief prosecutor for the district of Trebinje.

‘We shall prosecute the criminals’

Dani: The Tribunal representatives stated repeatedly that the local authorities should continue prosecuting war criminals, and have even cited several names, stressing they have enough evidence against them. What are you going to do about it?

Gačinović: We are already investigating several such cases. I heard today that we have two verdicts regarding Foča, and that they refer to individuals mentioned who have not been convicted but whom we can try on the basis of the Tribunal’s evidence.

Dani: Do you mean that you didn’t know about these verdicts before now?

Gačinović: I knew that some verdicts had been passed, but I didn’t know that they also included evidence against people who hadn’t been tried by the Tribunal, and that we can prosecute them. This is enough for us to proceed.




Interview with Branko Todorović, president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Republika Srpska

‘It was shocking to hear about rapes of twelve-year-old girls’

Dani: What is the aim of this conference?

Todorović: There are several, but one of the basic ones is to show to the local community what the International War Crimes Tribunal has done in concrete cases. Local communities have developed ways of forgetting, in an effort to falsify and relativise the crimes that have been committed. But facts, arguments and the very thorough work of the Tribunal investigators present the crime and the criminals in their true light. We saw today that during the first couple of hours there was complete silence in the room. People were shocked by the scope of the crimes, of which some of them may indeed not have been aware. It was shocking to hear about rapes of twelve-year-old girls, about killings, bestial acts, terrible crimes. This in my view signals that people are beginning to face up to the truth about the crimes committed.

Dani: Those invited to the conference included many members of the police, public prosecution service and courts. Do you think that this will lead to concrete results?

Todorović: What interests us in particular in regard to these conferences is the reaction of state institutions, in this case of district prosecutors in Republika Srpska, since they have conducted very few trials. Yet they know the names of the individuals involved, the time and place of their crimes, the names of the victims, and one must ask oneself why the judiciary of Republika Srpska has failed to do its public duty. What is particularly unacceptable is that the reform of the judiciary in Republika Srpska has failed, despite the initial trumpeted promises, given that the judiciary remains completely uninterested in prosecuting war criminals.

These texts have been translated from Dani (Sarajevo), 15 October 2004


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