Paklenik Massacre

Paklenik massacre exhumation 31.8.2000

On 29th of October Bosnian State Court in Sarajevo found Predrag Milisavljević and Miloš Pantelić, two members of the Reserve Police within the Public Security Station in Višegrad guilty of murder. The two men were sentenced to 20 years in prison for the execution of 48 Bosniak civilians from Višegrad in June 1992.

According to the  indictment against the two men and a third one, Ljubomir Tasić (who was acquitted) they took part in a systematic attack by VRS (Army of the Republika Srpska), Bosnian Serb police forces and paramilitary formations directed against the Bosniak civilian population of Višegrad from April to June of 1992. The indictment said that during that period the men accused took part in the persecution of the Muslim (Bosniak) population of Višegrad; “on ethnic and religious grounds by way of undertaking: killings, forcible transfer of population, imprisonment, torture, coercing another by force or by attack against limb of life to engage in any form of sexual violence, enforced disappearance of persons and other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to physical or mental health.”

Those executed were part of convoy that left Višegrad for Bosnian government-controlled Olovo on June 14th. Local Serb nationalists in Višegrad close to the Serb Democratic Party-led (SDS) Višegrad Municipality organized the deportation of several hundred Bosniak civilians from t Višegrad to Olovo, but on route to Olovo the convoy was stopped by Serb soldiers near Rogatica and all the men were taken out of the buses.

After that they were separated from the other prisoners they were first taken to Rogatica where they spent the night and then taken to the Paklenik pit (translates to roughly; Hell or Hell pit) where they were either shot or beaten to death by Serb police and soldiers. Bodies of the Bosniak civilians were then thrown into the pit; they were exhumed eight years later. The only survivor of the massacre, Ferid Spahić testified in the trial, implicating Predrag Milisavljević in the killings that took place at Paklenik. The convictions were also based on the testimony of bus drivers from the convoy, who said that Milisavljević and  Miloš Pantelić were part of the group that took the men to the Paklenik pit.

Ferid Spahić, the only survivor of the massacre has recounted his experience of that day during several trials as well as in interviews with journalists and filmmakers. According to Spahić; Paklenik was located between Rogatica and Sokolac, he and rest of the men taken from the buses were brought there on June 15 with their hands tied behind their backs, it was the first time Ferid had been there, and then the executions started; “first they killed a group of ten people, and you stand there waiting in line waiting for your turn. I don´t know how to describe it all-you know you´re going to die, you are 29 years old, and yet you are in this situation, and you say to yourself; fine, excecution, it´s the end, is there a way out of this? And then almighty god, who is that I don´t know, but there is some force-someone or something simply gave me the strength to think, to fight and I all of a sudden I found myself running thru the woods, that´s when the massive shooting began, bullets are whizzing past my head but they’re not hitting me. During all that running I somehow managed to avoid all the Serb villages’ without thinking about it, I didn´t fall into their hands, instead I found myself in the village of Mrčići. Execution was around noon, and I managed to get to the village around four-thirty- five o´clock. I had to hide for a while in the bushes, with my hands tied behind my back, my pants had fallen of, I was dirty and bruised. When I came to the village they couldn´t believe that this was happening here, it was peaceful there, the ethnic cleansing started in Višegrad, Rogatica came later”

Ferid found refuge in the house of then 58 year old Mina Jahić, Mina is now 81 years old living in Hrasnica, a Sarajevo suburb one of many “displaced persons” who found a home in Sarajevo or somewhere else after they were “cleansed” in order to make room for an ethnically pure Greater Serbia. Her husband Arif died from cancer in 2002, her youngest son; Muzafer was killed by Serb forces, he was 23 at the time while her other son; Meho was taken to a prison camp in Serbia where his health deteriorated, Meho died in 2005. She still has two sons that are alive, Atif who lives in Germany and Mustafa who lives in Sarajevo and can´t find work as well as daughter; Minka who now lives in Go­ražde. However despite all that Mina found the strength to make the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) back in 2007. Back in 2011 & 2012 when she was interviewed she lived alone in her apartment in Hrasnica.

Mina & Ferid
Mina & Ferid

Most of Mina´s family was killed in 1941 by Chetniks, she recalls what life was like before the war; “I worked for 52 years, got married in 1951 and by the time war started had everything I ever wanted or needed, I had land, a house, a mower, a chainsaw, we had everything, everything got destroyed, burned down, I lost two sons and my husband. I can´t tell anybody the troubles´ I´ve seen, god gives me strength, I turn to him and I never stop praying, I´ve always struggled and I continue to struggle. I gave birth to five children without ever having to go to the doctor, me and my husband had 10 hectares of land which we both worked on, tell that to somebody now and they´ll say; you´re lying.”

Mina also went alone to search for the remains of her son Muzafer who was killed by Serb forces; she found his remains and informed the commission for missing persons about the whereabouts of the remains. Later she traveled to the identification center in Visoko for the confirmation proceedings.

Mina Jahić and Ferid Spahić`s story was turned into a documentary short film by Velma Šarić and Mirko Pincelli from the Post Conflict Research Center in 2013, called; Oridinary Heroes: Mina & Ferid. Mina´s testimony, one of many, was documented by the Post Conflict Research Center:

I was in the field when I heard gunshots from afar. When I went home, my neighbor Pemba came over in a hurry and said that someone had escaped an execution and had come to her door. She said that she had left him in her garden. I told her that we must save the man and that she should bring him to my house during the night. We were afraid because we knew that the Serbs were most likely looking for him. A few hours later, a Serb neighbor came by, claiming that he was trying to find lost sheep. I knew he was checking to see if there was anyone or anything unusual in the village. Ferid, the man we rescued, was in terrible shape. His face and body were completely purple and covered with blood from the beating. I will always remember his mustache. It was totally covered in dried blood. I knew that some neighbors (Bosniaks) could tell the Serbs that I am keeping Ferid in my house. I couldn’t afford to take him out of my house because I knew that my family would also be hurt. I lived with my husband and four sons. I decided to hide him in the attic. He had to remain still and silent because any movement could be heard on the first floor. Why did I save him? I knew that the same fate could befall my children, my sons, and it was completely normal to help a man in trouble. I didn’t separate him from my own children.

For Ferid it felt like being born again, he remembers Mina bringing food to his bedside since he was immobile for a good 10-12 days, after those 10-12 days once he had recovered from the worst of it, the nightmares came as it settled what had happened, he remembers that Mina noticed that he wasn´t eating and drinking again. Eventually Ferid had to run again and made his way to Go­ražde, he was later reunited with his wife in Visoko.

The reason for the attention Mina deservedly got was that in 2011 US State Department honoured her and a number of other people at ceremony held in Washington honouring their heroic efforts in protecting refugees around the world “amid great stress and conflict” the ceremony also commemorated the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, an international agreement that defines the rights of refugees and the legal obligation of nations to protect them. Mina wasn´t the only person with linkes to Bosnia and Herzegovina that was honoured, the other one was Larry Hollingsworth, head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees operation in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War. Others honoured at the ceremony (posthumously) were Harriet Tubman and Raoul Wallenberg.

Names of the victims at Paklenik via Višegrad Genocide Memories

  1. ABAZ HAMID
  2. AHMETSPAHIĆ ABID
  3. AHMETSPAHIĆ HAMED
  4. ČELIK HILMO
  5. ČELIK MUŠAN
  6. DELIBAŠIĆ HAŠIM
  7. HAJDAREVIĆ ISMET
  8. HALILOVIĆ AHMO
  9. IBIŠEVIĆ OSMAN
  10. JAŠAREVIĆ KASIM
  11. KARAMAN ESAD
  12. KARAMAN FIKRET
  13. KARAMAN HAMED
  14. KARAMAN HASAN
  15. KARAMAN IZET
  16. KARAMAN MIRSAD
  17. KARAMAN SABIT
  18. KARAMAN SAFET
  19. KARAMAN ZARIF
  20. KARIŠIK DŽEMAL
  21. KARIŠIK NESIB
  22. KASAPOVIĆ ADIL
  23. KASAPOVIĆ ZAIM
  24. KUSTURA DŽEMAL
  25. KUSTURA ENES
  26. KUSTURA ESAD
  27. KUSTURA HAMDIJA
  28. KUSTURA HUSO
  29. KUSTURA ISMET
  30. KUSTURA MEDO
  31. KUSTURA MUHAMED
  32. KUSTURA SMAJO
  33. KUSTURA SUVAD
  34. KUSTURA ZAIM
  35. LOŠIĆ IBRAHIM
  36. LOŠIĆ JUSUF
  37. LEMEZAN ISMET
  38. MENZILOVIĆ OMER
  39. MUNIKOZA IBRAHIM
  40. OMEROVIĆ MEHO
  41. OMEROVIĆ MENSUR
  42. OMEROVIĆ MUSTAFA
  43. OMEROVIĆ SALKO
  44. OMEROVIĆ SMAIL
  45. OMEROVIĆ ŠEVAL
  46. SPAHIĆ EŠREF
  47. ZUKIĆ MUHAREM
  48. ZUKIĆ SMAJIL