Yesterday marked the 22 anniversary of the killings of Bosniaks in the Rogatica area in eastern Bosnia. Rogatica sits between Srebenica Visegrad and Gorazde about 60 km from Sarajevo nestled on Romanija Mountain. The anniversary of the killings and torture was marked by a commemoration as former prisoners as well as families of the dead vsited the former detention facilities in “Veljko Vlahovic” school building and “Rasadnik” building where most of the beatings and killings took place. According to Bakira Hasecic, President of the “Women, Victims of War” Association: Women and men were held in those locations and were brutally abused and tortured and some were killed.
Some of the methods for torturing Bosniak prisoners were disclosed during the on-going trial of Radovan Karadzic, Karadzic is currently on trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In September 2011 one of those who survived the camps in Rogatica testified about the abuse he saw. Sefik Hurko a former resident of Rogatica described the cruel abuse he suffered together with his father and uncle after their arrest in mid-August 1992. According to Hurko he was arrested together with his father mother and uncle by Serb troops, they were first held prisoner in a garage belonging to a Serb man in the village of Kosovo. According to Hurko they were abused by Serb soldiers who Hurko could name, including Rajko Krsmanovic, Stojan Perkovic as well as other Serb soldiers under the command of Rajko Kusic. Kusic had introduced himself as the commander of Serb forces in Rogatica. Hurko reacounted how Rajko Krsmanovic approached his father ordered him to stick out his tounge like he meant to cut it off and the took out his knife and strated cutting Sefik Hurko´s father´s ears. Hurko´s father fell to the ground, covered in blood. Then Krsmanovic told Sefik to eat three or four rounds from his pistol and started stabbing Sefik´s hands with a knife and beating him.
According to Sefik Hurko, Krsmanovic and Perkovic took his uncle Abdulah Hurko out to the yard and beat him too. He never saw his uncle again. Rajko Kusic was also present while several other members of Hurko´s family were beaten up. Hurko was later taken with his father to a high school that served as a detention camp and then transferred to Rasadnik prison camp. Accodring to Hurko; Rajko Kusic appointed a certain Vinko Bojic as camp warden who “humiliated and abused the detained men and women. They were beaten, tortured and sexually assaulted.”
Aside from testifying at the trial of Radovan Karadzic, Sefik Hurko testified at the trial of Ratko Mladic as well in September 2012, it was Hurko´s second encounter with Ratko Mladic. (Mladic is alongside Karadzic on trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide ) Hurko had first meet Ratko Mladic in 1994 on the front lines outside Gorazde; Serb soldiers had used imprisoned Bosniak civilians from Rogatica as forced labor on the front lines. On the day he meet Mladic, Hurko was forced to cut down trees in the woods near Gorazde with other Bosniak prisoners from Rasadnik prison camp. Mladic was there with the prison warden, Vinko Bojic, the commander of the Rasadnik prison camp, when Mladic asked Bojic who the men cutting wood were; Bojic responded that; they were “loyal Muslims” after which Ratko Mladic spoke to the Bosniak prisoners, pointing at Gorazde he said that “in a day or two it will be in Serb hands” and that those who wish to stay; will have to be baptized; those that don’t will be moved to Alija’s state”.
In his testimony against Ratko Mladic in September 2012 Hurko also described how the Bosniak prisoners from Rasadnik were forced to work every day, doing the jobs that Serbs didn´t want to do. Clearing the streets, and the ruins of the Mosques that had been destroyed, according to Hurko; they were also forced to “remove furniture, household appliances from abandoned Bosniak homes and bring them to Serb houses”.
Hurko also described the beatings he and his father received while at Rasadnik, including beaing beaten with thick bats in the prison warden Vinko Bojic´s office. At one point Hurko fainted from the beating he had received, only to have water poured on him to wake him up. Hurko talked about the murder of one of the prisoners, a Becir Cutaj, who´s cries according to Hurko could be heard from the warden’s office, and the man that was ordered to bury Cutaj, another Bosniak prisoner told Hurko that Cutaj had been “cut to pieces”
Another survivor from Rogatica recounted his own painful experiences during the trial of Radovan Karadzic; he did not use his name and acted as a protected witness, talking about how it was to be a father to two children, who had both been raped by Serb forces in Rogatica. The daughter was seven-and-a-half year´s old and the son 13 years old when they were raped. The witness said that Serb soldiers raped him too, but that “he had got through it somehow” while it was difficult to come to terms with the fact that his young children were sexually assaulted. He had yet to ask his wife if she had been raped as well, he simply lacked the strength to do it. “I got seriously ill. I have been in treatment for the past 16 years and I have tried to forget at least some of it, but I can’t. To this day I haven’t asked my wife if she was raped, too. I lack strength to do it”
The witness was haunted by the fact that the people who did these things were his former neighbors and people he knew. According to the witness before the war Rogatica was a little town full of life, people celebrated Bosniak, Catholic and Orthodox holidays. Life was good. All that ended when Serb forces together with Rajko Kusic men came, according to the witness “Rogatica was first shelled brutally from the local hills before Serb forces entered and “cleansed” it ruthlessly not caring if if their victims were children, invalids or the sick”.
During the on-going trial of Ratko Mladic another protected witness, witness RM 81 talked about the arrests, beatings, rape and murders that took place in Rogatica after the Serb takeover of the town. According to the witness most of this took place in Veljko Vlahovic Secondary School, and that Rajko Kusic was firmly in command of the prison camp. The witness went on to say that, one time, in late June or early July Kusic visited the school and complained about the fact that “people refuse to cooperate” and that was giving him problems. According to the witness Kusic said that he had been given a “deadline” for the “cleansing” of Rogatica and that he “had to report to Pale” The witness also stated that a man named Danko Neric took part in the destruction of Arnaudija Mosque, one of two Mosques in Rogatica to be destroyed by Serb forces, the other one was; Carsijska Mosque. Neric wore “an olive drab military uniform of the former JNA”.
In 2012 the anniversary of the crimes committed in Rogatica was held for the first time. Edvin Kanka Ćudić spoke to some of the witnesses and survivors about what they saw and experienced in Rasadnik. Few of the survivors told Cudic about the abuse and murders they saw and heard about while in the prison camps:
Almost everyone who was there was a victim of a crime, from the old and disabled to young. They beat us with everything, everything they could get hold of. They forced us to do manual labor; they raped the women and girls. It was unbearable, what they did to us. We didn´t have any kind of conditions, no decent food we slept on pallets. Once the warden got drunk, whoever he could get hold of first, he took with him. We all returned blooded and brused, Vinko Bojic personally knocked out two of my teeth, once they abused us they called us various derogatory names, it was horrible for everyone who was there. For me the hardest part was the murder of Sefjo Mirvic.
Sejfo Mirvic and Alija Omerhodzic from Gorazde were killed in Rasadnik, Alija Omerhodzic was killed with a chainsaw and Sejfo Mirvic hacked to death with an axe according to one of the survivors. But while Sejfo Mirvic was buried, Alija Omerhodzic was thrown down into the sewage system. “I personally saw and will never forget. Vinko Bojic personally abused the prisoners” said one of the survivors, the survivor also named several of those involved, a man he called Ljubinac from Seljani,(Radisav Ljubinac, sentenced to 10 years in 2007) as well as Rajko Kusic, Goran Kanastravac, Slavisa Vukovic, according to the survivor Rajko Kusic personally killed around 20 Bosniaks, while Slavko and Simo Lubarda killed his brother´s children on the door step of their house.
2012 was also the first time families of the victims and survivors were able to pay respect to the victims and lay flowers in front of a the secondary school and near the Rasadnik camp which served as prison camps for Bosniaks during the war. It was pointed out during the commemoration that from 1992-1995 women were subjected to mass rape in these camps and that those most responsible from that crime of war, including Rajko Kusic have not been arrested.
Bakira Hasecic who spoke at yesterday´s commemoration also spoke in 2012. According to her: “In Visegrad, Foca and Rogatica, institutions of learning were turned into mass prison camps were Bosniaks and Croats were murdered. In the pogroms, the killings, and sexual violence that took place there, aside from the local unit assembled by Rajko Kusic, members of Arkans Tigers, Seselj`s Volunteers, the Bosnian Serb Army, (VRS) as well as the JNA (Yugoslav People´s Army) also participated.”
In May 2006 Dragoje Paunovic, leader of a Serb military formation of the Rogatica Battalion was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for crimes against humanity, for the murder of 24 civilians that were taken from Rasadnik Prison Camp and used as human shields by Serb forces in a battle against the Army of Bosnia And Herzegovina. Altogether 27 prisoners were taken from the camp by Radislav Ljubinac and driven to a place called Jacen in Rogatica, later that day Paunovic lined up the prisoners and ordered his men to shot the prisoners, the verdict said Paunovic took part in the killings at Jacen. So far Bosnian State Court has sentenced three men; Radisav Ljubinac, Dragoje Paunovic and Stojan Perkovic for the crimes committed against the civilian population of Rogatica. The three men have been sentenced to 42 years imprisonment totally, however as Bakira Hasecic pointed out on Friday, that is not nearly enough and that those most responsible are still at large, and that the victims request faster processing of these crimes. Hasecic was referring to men like Rajko Kusic who according to Bakira Hasecic lives in Serbia. She hopes that that Bosnian State Prosecutor´s Office would conclude an agreement with Serbia about the processing of those crimes, given that according to Hasecic it is known that most of the suspects now live in Serbia.
This post has been edited and updated 18/08/2014