Warcrimes In Kalinovik

Honoring the dead in Kalinovik (photo: Anadolu Agency)
Honoring the dead in Kalinovik (photo: Anadolu Agency)

Nesteled in the Eastern Bosnian mountains, some 70 kilometres from Sarajevo lies Kalinovik, a small hamlet with a population of 2,500, a drop from the 4,657 it had after the 1991 census, the settlements Bosniaks and Croats forced out of their homes and a large number brutally murdered during the wave of “ethnic cleansing” that swept over large parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the spring and summer of 1992. Some have returned, but the war has decimated Kalinovik´s population. Bosnian courts have by now handed out sentences in total of 71 years’ jail time for crimes committed during the war.

As Bosnian media reported on Sunday 26th of June a commemoration was held for the people killed, raped and tortured by Serb forces in various location around Kalinovik. The commemoration also served as a platform for the survivors and the grieving to point out that that Bosnian courts, prosecutors and investigators had failed to find out the whereabouts of some of the mass graves that contain the as of yet undiscovered remains of 48 victims. The survivors also complained about what they characterized as the irresponsible behaviour of the BiH Prosecutor´s Office when it comes to processing and arresting those suspected for crimes committed in Kalinovik.

During the commemoration the survivors and family members of the killed payed their respects to the dead in front of the primary school in Kalinovik, the school was turned into a detention centre for Bosniaks and other non-Serbs, over 1,000 women, children and men were “processed” through the detention centre. 14 people were killed, 30 women were raped, humiliated and tortured in the school. The survivors and family members also paid their respect to 87 men that were killed in another detention centre called Barutni magacin as well as a barn called Tuzlaka in the village of Ratina where 25 men were executed and then set on fire. According to The Reaserch and Documentation Centre in Sarajevo, 117 Bosniak civilians were murdered in Kalinovik, 89 men and 28 women.

As Faktor.ba reports; this year a memorial plaque to those Bosniaks killed in Tuzlaka barn was also unveiled as a way of remembering the victims. According to the members of a local family and survivor association “Istina – Kalinovik 92” the unveiling of the plaque represents a first step towards finally discovering the full truth and marking all the places in that particular area where crimes were committed against Bosniak civilians during the Bosnian genocide of the 1990´s.

In 1993, veteran British journalist Robert Fisk heard the story of several Bosniak women from Kalinovik, then living in East Mostar, expelled from their homes in Eastern Bosnia about the horrors they endured in Kalinovik and neighbouring Gacko at the hands of Bosnian Serb paramilitaries, and  the “White Eagles”, led by self-proclamied Chetnik Duke (Vojvoda) Vojislav Šešelj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party. The women Fisk talked to described how one day about a dozen drunk Serb militiamen stormed into a school gymnasium in which she and more than 100 other young Bosniak women were being held along with their children. “They came in with guns and grenades and they screamed at us,” said one of the women to Fisk. “They (The Chetniks) shouted at us: “Look at how many children you can have. Now you are going to have our children. You are going to have our little Chetniks.”

According to Fisk the women told them that Serbs were not interested in women excepting babies because they could not make them pregnant. One of the women remembered how her two children clinged to her as she was forced to leave, they thought that she was going to be killed. The woman, named Ziba along with 11 other young women, the youngest, Sanela only 16 were taken to Kalinovik´s only hotel, five of the women, including Ziba were from Gacko while rest of the women were from Kalinovik itself. While Fisk rightly points out that the ordeal faced by the women imprisoned in Kalinovik was one shared by thousands of Bosniak, and non-Serb women in Bosnia at the hands of Serb military and para-military units, what makes the ordeal of the women from Kalinovik so important is the extraordinary detail of their mistreatment. A gynaecologist from Gacko, who had performed seven abortions on the survivors at the time of the story compiled a complete list of names and ages of the women raped, including five girls that were taken away by the Serbs and forced to work as prostitutes. They were never heard from again. The survivors, then living in shell-damaged buildings in Jablanica and Mostar, at the time under HVO-siege, compiled a list of names of the young men who were murdered in their presence, and of at least 71 other women who were machine-gunned by Serb forces in a neighbouring village.

According to Fisk at least one of the women kept a secret diary where she recorded the daily abuse of Bosniak women by Serb soldiers. The women have also been able to name some of their tormentors, all of whom they say belonged to the White Eagles paramilitary unit. The women´s children were traumatised by their experience. Several of the children were held to a table while knives were placed at their throats in an effort to persuade their mother to part with jewellery and money.

As Fisk writes, the horrors of the Bosnian war began for those women in early June and July when Serb forces started rounding up men in the area of Gacko. The women saw the arrests and the murders of several of those taken by Serb forces. According to their testimony one day 120 young men were arrested, 10 were murdered openly, one of the men whom they identified as Šerif Kapetanović, a 70-year-old who had his throat cut. According to the women´s testimonies over a 100 people were killed in Gacko, mostly men and some women and children, ( according to Mirsad Tokača´s Reaserch and Documentation Centre 179 Bosniak civilans were killed in Gacko, 73 of those killed were women.)  the rest were sent to a detention camp in nearby Bileća. As the word of the killings spread to nearby villages thousands of Bosniaks in the surrounding villages fled into the woods of Zelengora mountains. Many were rounded up, the Bosnian Serbs employing the usual procedure of separating the men and women. According to Fisk the men were never seen again, (also not uncommon) while the women were put on buses to Kosovo capital Prishtina  (then under Serbian control) and then to the Macedonian capital Skopje where they were freed by the local authorities and sent back to Bosnian government-controlled territory via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. According to Fisk; 200 women were rescued by the International Red Cross as they were being driven by Bosnian Serb forces to an alleged mass grave.

As Fisk points out, these women were the lucky ones. Those still hiding in the woods tried to make it to Bosnian government-controlled territory, and places like Stolac and Konjic, with their children but were caught by Serb forces who took them to Kalinovik.  There was 209 people in total hiding in the woods, among them 24 old men. The Serbs separated the men from the women, the men never to be seen again. 185 women and children were put on six open trucks in the rain and taken to Kalinovik where they were housed in the town´s school gymnasium guarded by men with guns. At first they were treated well by the Serb guards and even brought food and milk smuggled in to them by a Serb girl, but everything changed on August 2d when the old guards were replaced by Šešelj´s men, who were filthy and shouted obscenities at the women. Soon after the sexual violence started.

One of the women Fisk interviewed, Emira, who was one of the 10 women that escaped being raped by telling the Serbs that she had a two-month old baby recalls that the rapists were both cruel and systematic. The girls were dragged out of the room, crying and screaming but there was nothing anybody could do. The other women could hear the shrieks. The children would cry and shriek when their mothers were taken from them.

On February 22d 2001 in what was  then called a “landmark” verdict, the ICTY ( International Criminal Court for former Yugoslavia ) sentenced three Bosnian Serbs for their treatment of women at a rape camp run by Serb forces in the town of Foča in eastern Bosnia. Foča is located some 53 kilometres from Kalinovik. During the massacres and “ethnic cleansing” in the spring and summer of 1992, Serb forces murdered close to 2000 Bosniak civilians in Foča according to the Reaserch and Documentation Centre. The three men, Dragoljub Kunarac, were to sentenced to 28 years in prison, Radomir Kovač 20 years and Zoran Vuković  12 years. The men were charged with torture, rape, and enslavement. During the trial of the three men, the Trial Chamber heard from sixty-three witnesses, sixteen of them had been held captive by Serb soldiers as slaves and subjected to gang rapes by the three men accused and other Serb soldiers and paramilitaries. The women and girls from the Foča area captured by Serb forces were held in various locations before being transferred to Foča Secondary School. Some of the girls were later taken to other places around Foča, houses, apartments and most notably the Partizan Sports Hall. According to the verdict, the conditions in these places were horrible, there was a lack of hygiene facilities and a lack of food. According to the verdcit, it was established that aside from his sexual abuse of women in Foča, Kunarac had also visited the school gymnasium in Kalinovik where the women, girls and and their children were held. It was established that several of his victims had been held in the Kalinovik school gymnasium as well. The verdict also establsihed that there was a widespread and systematic attack on the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) civilian population of the area.

A 2011 PBS (American Public Broadcasting Services) documentary, I Came to Testify highlighted the plight of the thousands of women that had been systematically raped as a tactic of ethnic cleansing. Above all it told the story of 16 brave women who had been imprisoned by Serb forces in Foča and had decided to break the silence and testifty of what had been done to them. The documentary, focused on among other things the Kunarac, Kovač and  Vuković trial.

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