Nataša Kandić: Scare Tactics Used by The Prosecutor´s Office

Background : Last November former protected witness Slobodan Stojanović, former member of 37th Division of Special Units Of the Police or PJP (Posebnih jedinica policije) accused Serbia´s Head War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukčević, his deputy Bruno Vekarić and prosecutor Dragoljub Stanković of trying to cover up for those police officers suspected of committing war crimes against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in October 1998. Stojanović went on to say that many of those responsible for committing war crimes in Kosovo were now charged with protecting the witnesses. Stojanović´s statement about the Prosecutor´s Office was denied by deputy prosecutor, Bruno Vekarić saying that Stojanović had left by his own free will and that though he had in the beginning acted like a model witness and everything was working fine, he later started asking for various favors. Vekarić´s statement was however discredited by Nataša Kandić, founder of Humanitarian Law Fund, who in an article for RSE 13.11.2014 supported Stojanović´s claims backed by her own experience.

This article appeared on Radio Free Europe 13 11 2014

Nataša Kandić
Nataša Kandić

In light of statements given by the deputy prosecutor Bruno Vekarić that police officer Slobodan Stojanović had by his own free will decided to leave the witness protection program in which he was enrolled in by the War Crimes Prosecutors Office in connection with the investigation against then commander of 37th Division of Special Unit Of the Police or PJP (Posebnih jedinica policije) part of Serbian MUP (Ministry of the Interior) one Radoslav Mitrović and 16 more members of the PJP. I can personally assure you it is not true. In agreement with the prosecution, witness protection unit had 29.10.2009 without any prior notification, entered the apartment of one protected witness, ordered him to collect his things, his wife and child because they would be sent back to Leskovac, he was briefly notified that his status as a protected witness had been cancelled.

Given that I was representing the victims in that particular case, during the investigation against Mitrovic and others I became familiar with the techniques used by the Prosecutors Office to deter witness Stojanović  and three more police officers, all former members of the PJP and under the command of Radoslav Mitrović from testifying about war crimes carried out in Kosovo. To this day, I still haven’t understood why the prosecutor Stanković, initiated criminal proceedings against those who had been accused by the Humanitarian Law Fund only to a few months later completely change his position and jeopardizing the position of the protected witnesses and police witness’s willingness to talk about war crimes.

In this case, I am, after seven years of representing the families of the victims in all cases of war crimes, subjected to insult by defense attorneys for the defendants in the presence of the investigating judge and the prosecutor, who spoke about me in a language that can be heard in a brothel. In order to get me, as well as the protected witnesses, as far away from the proceedings as possible the investigating judge and the prosecutor went so far as to have agreed with defense counsel that there were grounds for suspecting that I had falsified power of attorney families of the victims, which led to my exclusion from the proceedings. After that, the prosecutor, the investigating judge and individual defenders got drunk on the premises of the Prosecutors Office calling witness Stojanovic to join them.

Vladimir Vukčević and Bruno Vekarić
Vladimir Vukčević and Bruno Vekarić

The fate of protected witness B.Z. was just as horrible. He had spent more than two years in the witness protection program, waiting for someone from the Prosecutors Office to come and take his statement. Members of the unit for protection of witnesses had brought him to the point of complete disorientation using their techniques. He left the program by his own free will because he could no longer stand the mental torture. I was aware of his situation, and I suggested to him to seek political asylum in a European country. Had he remained under the protection of the Prosecutor´s Office and the witness protection unit, he’d be a seriously ill person.

The result of the process against witnesses – insiders and me personally meant freedom for Police General Radoslav Mitrovic but it seriously compromised the Prosecutor´s Office and Witness Protection Units, all of which is exceedingly documented in the report by the Humanitarian Law Fund regarding illegalities in the prosecution of war crimes and numerous appeals of protected witnesses.

The continued humiliation and mistreatment of genocide survivors

Hatidža Mehmedović
Hatidža Mehmedović

This article appeared on Al Jazeera Balkans 14/04/ 2014

President of the Victims Association “Mothers of Srebrenica” Hatidža Mehmedović received a letter today demanding that she show up at the local police station in Srebrenica on today, Tuesday because she entered the premises of the Agricultural Cooperative in the village of Kravica on July 13 last year together with other members of the association in order to pay respect to the victims of genocide.

According to Mehmedović: “The letter says that what I did was a criminal offence, and that they need me to come to the station and make a statement. That is the very height of arrogance, the way victims are being treated. They killed everyone I had and I am guilty because I survived and bear witness to what happened. If it´s a crime to lay flowers on a scene of a crime, then I don´t know what a crime is”

She also feels that the Office of the Prosecutor and the courts are to blame for rewarding criminals and criminals and punishing the victims. “We victims are punished while we live,” she added, stating that “if need be, I´ll to go to jail,”

“I´ll always fight for the truth, for justice and equality as no mother should need to go from execution site to execution site to mark the anniversary of the suffering of their loved ones. I have nothing left to lose, many more mothers have nothing to lose and will fight for truth and justice. We will not give up,”

Mehmedović has already been questioned by the police once before, where she was held for three hours. Members of several victims associations entered the cooperative in Kravica last year in order to mark the anniversary of the murder of over 1000 Bosniaks from Srebrenica. They were executed in Kravica. They did however not receive permission from the owners. The local police tried, as they have done in previous years to stop the members from entering but were not successful

After members from various associations entered the cooperative, the entity judiciary said that they had broken into private property and initiated proceedings against the members.

“The war criminals have all the rights they need; they are even rewarded, while the victims are humiliated. It´s a bigger crime to go to the scene of the war crime then it is to commit one. This is worrying because we have been sending the requests so that we can peacefully mark the anniversary of the executions. According to law, we have that right, yet we constantly encounter various obstacles.”

Aside from Hatidža Mehmedović, who lost her sons husband and about ten relatives in the Srebrenica genocide, Aiša Omerović will also be questioned by the police. The hanger in the cooperative in Kravica was one of the biggest execution sites after the fall of Srebrenica. Accoriding to testimony of survivors in July 1995 members of Bosnian Serb military and police forces killed over 1000 Bosniak men and boys.

Bodies of the murdered Bosniaks in Kravica were caught on film by cameraman  Zoran Petrovic
Bodies of the murdered Bosniaks in Kravica were caught on film by cameraman Zoran Petrovic

My Note:  On december 12th 2012 the ICTY convicted Zdravko Tolimir for genocide in Srebrenica, Tolimir was assistant Commander of Intelligence and Security for the Bosnian Serb army and reported directly to the commander, General Ratko Mladic. He was Mladic right hand man. The judgement mentioned the massacre in Kravica:

 

In the late afternoon of 13 July, hundreds of Bosnian Muslim men were transported from a meadow in Sandići by bus, and some directed by foot, to a one storey building known as the Kravica Warehouse, in the Bratunac area. When the warehouse was packed full, Bosnian Serb Forces started firing at the men inside, using machineguns as well as hand and rocket propelled grenades. They fired for hours, with intermittent lulls in the shooting in which the wounded moaned and called out names. These executions continued into the morning of 14 July. The Accused’s immediate subordinate, Beara, was directly involved in the burial operation of between 600 and 1,000 Bosnian Muslim men who the Chamber found had been murdered at the warehouse between 13 and 14 July 1995.

On the evening of 13, and morning of 14 July, hundreds of Bosnian Muslim men were transported by bus to a school in Grbavci located near Orahovac. There, they were crammed into the gymnasium of the school building. In the afternoon of 14 July, they were transported by bus to two separate killings sites nearby. Upon disembarking, they were shot by Bosnian Serb Forces. Some of the wounded prisoners were cursed, and left to suffer in agony before they were finally killed. One of the groups of prisoners included a boy of approximately five to six years old, who, after being shot at, stood up from the pile of bodies and called out for his father. Up to 2,500 Bosnian Muslim men were murdered at Grbavci school on this day. They, too, were buried in a mass grave.

 

Prior to the Zdravko Tolimir verdict, Ljubisa Beara who had been Tolimir´s direct subordinate and was present during the executions in Kravica was found guilty by the Trial Chamber, on the basis of individual criminal responsibility, of genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of laws or customs of war and was convicted to life imprisonment. Beara was sentenced togheter with Vujadin Popović, the Chief of Security of the Drina Corps, Drago Nikolić, the Chief of Security in the Zvornik Brigade who was found guilty of aiding and abetting genocide, extermination, murder and persecution. Ljubomir Borovčanin, Deputy Commander of the Special Police Brigade of the police forces was convicted of aiding and abetting extermination, murder, persecution and forcible transfer. The men were tried togheter with three other high ranking Bosnian Serb officers: Radivoje Miletić, Milan Gvero, and Vinko Pandurević. The trial was known as :The Srebrenica Seven.

Hava Tatarevic´s husband and six sons

 

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Last September members of Bosnian Institute for Missing Persons and ICMP confirmed that they had discovered what was believed to be the biggest mass grave in Bosnia and Herzegovina. So far 435 bodies have been exhumed from the mass grave in Tomasica and the slow and painstaking identification process has begun. Amongst those recently identified were the remains of Hava Tatarevic´s two sons. They went missing along with their father in the summer of 1992 and only now 22 years later have their remains been found. Hava lost six sons, all taken away at the same time with their father. Forensics experts now believe that all six have been found along with their father. Confirmation is expected in the coming days or weeks.

The men were killed by Bosnian Serb forces on 23d of July 1992 in the village Zecovi in the Prijedor municipality. According to Mujo Begic, from the Bosnian Institute for Missing Persons, DNA analysis confirms that two of Hava´s sons were found in the mass grave in Tomasica so far.

“In the coming days we expect to have DNA confirmation for all the members of the Tatarevic family. We believe that mother Hava will finally have the chance to bury her husband and six sons.”

Hava´s youngest son; Nishad was eighteen when he was killed; the oldest one Senad was 31. According to Begic, “the first DNA confirmation was for the two brothers, one of those was Senad Tatarevc who was married so the analysts were able to get a positive id-match directly along with the other brother.” Begic believes that all of the brothers and their father are there; in part due to some other findings on the scene. In the coming days we will get the results for the other brothers as well. “Mother Hava will most definitely be able to give her sons a proper burial this year, 22 years after they were killed. The brothers and their father were found at the very bottom of the second part of the mass grave, which most likely means that they were among the first to be killed in the village.”

Hava Tatarevic testimony was written down in a book by Salih Smajlovic, (Kad bi kosti mogle govoriti 2011 / If Bones Could Speak 2011 / Testimones about crimes and genocide against Bosniaks 1992-1995 ) Her sons were taken away in July 1992 during the “ethnic cleansing” of the Brdo area near Prijedor. Sead, Senad, Nihad, Zilhad, Zijad and Nishad along with their father Muharem. They were taken away along with others from the village by the brother-in-law of one Milan Bojic, originally from Montenegro.

“I don´t have anyone, people don´t come around to visit, I live of my husband´s pension which 150 KM (about 80 euros) I am sick, I have nothing to remember my sons by. All I have are the two foundations of their destroyed houses so I try to clean the foundation by picking away the weeds, hoping that one day my sons will return. But as time goes by, hope that I will ever see them again fades.

I begged anyone who could give me some information about their fate. I wonder how they were killed, did they call on their mother, and did they look for me. Pero Rivic told me that he saw that they were killed by the garbage site. He saw the body of my husband and one son. Maybe he saw them all, but does not have the heart to say. I wish I could find their remains so I could bury them and pray for them.”

According to her testimony; nowdays Hava doesn´t remember how old her sons were when they were taken away. “The Chetniks drove us away; they forced us out of our houses and on to buses crammed with people”

At the time of the interview Hava lived of 150KM, her husband´s pension, didn´t not receive any benefits from the state” She went to the municipality building in Prijedor but they turned her down. “She´s sick, she frequently has to visit the doctor’s office, especially psychiatrists. Sometimes she goes for four days without sleep. On a table in her living room we saw a sack full of medicine, she lives alone, and her house doesn´t have any wall coating on her house, which means that she freezes during wintertime.”

Hava Tatarevic
Hava Tatarevic

Smajlovic points to how it´s strange and humiliating it is that  nobody cares about this woman, this heroine. That goes for the Bosniak politicians in Republika Srpska as well as members of the Bosnian Assembly who just a few days ago voted to give themselves a raise, and now have a salary of 6000KM not including all the benefits. “On the other side of the country, in Zvornik, Naiza Beganovic, is in a similar situation as Hava. Instead of being treated like heroines, and given all kinds of awards and all the help we can give them, they are alone, nobody visits them, at least once a year so that they don´t feel completely alone and forgotten.”

Hava´s only surviving son, Sudo asked Pero Rivic, a Croat man who married a Serb woman if he knew anything about his father and brothes. Rivic told him that his father was killed and then hugged him and started crying. “There are more dead but I only recognized Muharem and Ziko” (Zijad) said Rivic.

According to Hava, on the day they came for her husband and sons she didn´t dare leave the house and didn´t see them get killed. Afterwards the Serb soldiers came back and ordered everyone to leave their houses in ten minutes. One of the soldiers asked Hava where her son was. She replied that, they should know, they took them away. To which he replied that he did indeed know. According to Hava, the Serb soldiers played music as they rounded up the villagers; they cursed at them and told them they would never come back to their homes. 34 people were killed in the village that time, the dead bodies thrown up on a huge pile, later a bus came to take Hava and the rest away, the bus was crammed with people.

In 2012 her testimony was included in a documentary about Prijedor. Called Genocid u Prijedoru or “Genocide In Prijedor”  Her statement can be seen from 12:00 min.

The crimes that took place in and around the Prijedor and Kozarac were just as well organized as the mass executions and pogroms that took place throughout towns and hamlets in eastern Bosnia. As well as the mass executions that took place after the fall of Srebrenica.

In April 2002 the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) charged the former mayor of Prijedor Milomir Stakic with genocide, complicity in genocide, murder as a crime against humanity, extermination, murder as a violation of the laws or customs of war, persecutions deportation and inhumane acts. The court found him guilty of extermination, murder, a violation of the laws and customs of war, persecutions, incorporating murder, and deportation, and gave him life imprisonment, later through the appeals process his sentance was reduced to forty years.

According to the judgment against Stakic he had played; “a significant role in the planning and coordinating the forcible takeover of power on 30 April 1992, set the agenda for and presided over meetings of the Crisis Staff, and took part in ordering attacks against non-Serbs. Together with his co-perpetrators, Dr. Stakic established the Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje camps

The 290 page verdict against Milomir Stakic offers some fascinating reading; it lists many of the crimes commited in and around Prijedor, Kozarac, Brdo area, Omarska, Trnopolje, and Keraterm and describes them in painful detail. On July 24 in Keraterm a massacre took place. The details around the massacre were recounted by several witnesses one of whom had survived the executions. According to the witness Room 3 which had previously held prisoners from the town of Kozarac was emptied and filled again with prisoners from Brdo area, Brdo comprises the villages of Biscani, Rizvanovci, Rakovcani, Hambarine, Carakovo and Zecovi. For the first few days, according to the witnesses; “the detainees were denied food as well as being subjected to beatings and abuse”

On the day of the massacre, witnesses observed the arrival of a large number of armed persons in the camp, wearing military uniforms and red berets. According to the witness:

A machine-gun was placed in front of Room 3. That night, bursts of shooting and moans could be heard coming from Room 3. A man in Room 1 was wounded by a stray bullet. The machine gun started firing. The next morning there was blood on the walls in Room 3. There were piles of bodies and wounded people. The guards opened the door and said: “Look at these foolish ‘balijas’ ( A derogatory term for Bosniaks) – they have killed each other”. Some of the detainees saw bodies laid out on the grass outside Room 3, and the area outside Room 3 was covered with blood. A truck arrived and one man from Room 1 volunteered to assist with loading the bodies onto the truck. Soon after, the truck with all the bodies left the compound. The volunteer from Room 1 reported that there were 128 dead bodies on the truck. As the truck left, blood could be seen dripping from it. Later that day, a fire engine arrived to clean Room 3 and the surrounding area.

On that same month (July) more than 100 prisoners were killed in Omarska. According to the evidence and testimonies some 200 people from the village of Hambarine were transported to the camp in late July and placed in a structure called the “White House” Early in the morning of 17th of July the killings began, around 01:00-02:00 and lasted until dawn. According to the witnesses dead bodies could be seen in front of the White House. One of those who participated in the killings was a guard named Zivko Marmat, according to the witnesses he was shooting “extra rounds” into the dead bodies. “Everyone was given an extra bullet that was shot in their head” The bodies of the dead were then loaded on to a truck and taken away. There were about 180 bodies in total.

Around the same time, in late July 44 people were taken out of Omarska and by bus, there were to be taken to a prisoner exchange in Bosanska Krupa. They were never seen or heard from again. Years later during the exhumation of Jama Lisac 56 bodies were found. It was determend that most of those found at Jama Lisac died from gunshot wounds. DNA analasys confirmed the identieties of Sureta Medunjanin, wife to Becir Medunjanin whose body was also identified, as well as Ekrem Alic and Smail Alic. All former inmates at Omarska.

A month later, on 5 August 1992 some 120 prisoners were killed at Omarska. According to the verdict one Radovan Vokic who had served as driver to Simo Drljaca asked some of the guards at the camp to bring around the buses which had the previous day brought more prisoners from Keraterm to Omarska. He had with him a list of detainees, the list had been compiled by Simo Drljaca. Those called out were herded on to the buses and driven away in the direction of Kozarac. Their corpses were later discovered during the exhumations at Hristova Glava. 126 bodies from the list were found in that area, according to forensics reports 121 died from gunshot wounds. On august 6 1992 six to eight men were taken by bus from Omarska to Manjaca, according to witnesses; as the men disembarked from the bus two of them were escorted away by the guards and had their throats slit. That was just few examples of the atrocities committed  in the camps. Killings, beatings, sexual abuse were commonplace in the camps.

So far 16 Bosnian Serbs have been convicted for crimes committed in and around Prijedor and Kozarac. Including Milomir Stakic, Dusan Tadic, Radoslav Brdjanin, Dusko Sikirica, Predrag Banovic, Zeljko Mejakic, Momcilo Gruban and others. Simo Drljaca was killed by  SFOR troops on 10 July 1997 in a attempt to arrest him. Milan Kovacvic, the Vice President of the Prijedor crisis staff died of natural causes on 1 August 1998 as well as Momir Talic, Talic was arrested in 1999 and transferred to Hague. He was charged with: genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of the laws or customs of war and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Convention. he died on 28 May 2003. So far 131 mass graves have been discovered in north west Bosnia, 61 in and around Prijedor.

Crimes before the ICTY: Prijedor depicts the discovery of the camps and the subsequent process that led to establishment of the first international criminal Tribunal since WWII.

 

This post has been edited and updated 5 & 6 April 2014.