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.”
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.