“ … It was lawlessness … If they had some verbal disputes, if people hated someone, they would come to Omarska and they would kill them. ”
Emir Beganović, a Bosnian Muslim man, was severely beaten and held under horrific conditions at the Serb-run Omarska detention camp, located just outside Prijedor, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He testified on 19 July 1996 in the case against Duško Tadić and on 4 and 5 May 2000 in the case against Kvočka et al.
“ Because of lack of basic hygiene, "there was a terrible stench in all the premises, in all parts of the camp. We all had lice. We were unshaven, hungry. We were like skeletons. ”
After the 1990 general elections, antagonism began to grow in Prijedor between the Serbs and the non-Serbs, both Muslims and Croats. Tensions quickly escalated when the ethnic conflict broke out between the Croats and the Serbs in neighbouring Croatia. Serbs from Bosnia joined the JNA, Yugoslav People’s Army, and supported their kinsmen in the war. Prijedor became increasingly militarised, including the presence of armed Serb soldiers from the conflict in Croatia. Weapons, including old JNA rifles and hand grenades, were sold on the streets and ordinary citizens armed themselves for protection. As Mr. Beganović recalled during the testimony: “An automatic rifle would cost up to 1,500 German marks, for example, and hand grenades were at the beginning between 20 and 30 German marks, and at the end they would sell for 10 German marks…”
In March 1992, large numbers of people, primarily Muslims and Croats, fled Prijedor. Mr. Beganović recalled that they all had a sense of foreboding, a feeling that “something would happen”. Concerned by the mounting tensions, he sent his wife and son to stay with relatives in a peaceful area in Croatia, while he remained behind in Prijedor. However, he was afraid to live alone as the sense of anarchy set in and some Serbs would take revenge on Muslims for personal reasons. He decided to move in with his friend, Dr. Esad Sadiković.
On 30 April 1992, the Serbs officially took power in Prijedor. From that day on, Mr. Beganović remembers, “the tension mounted with every hour.” The Serbs hoisted Serbian flags all over the town, and set up checkpoints where they harassed Muslims and Croats, while the Serbs could go unstopped. “So life changed overnight, within 24 hours. People moved around town less and less, so that after some 15 or 20 days, people stopped going out altogether.” The town looked deserted. By 20 May, Mr. Beganović closed all his businesses.
On 30 May 1992, the Serb forces began to ethnically cleanse Prijedor of its non-Serbian residents. Radio broadcasts instructed Muslims not to leave their homes and later told them to hang white sheets outside of their houses, so that they could be identified as Muslim.
As Mr. Beganović and his friend Dr. Esad Sadiković climbed the stairs to hang out the sheets, they saw the Old Town, a Muslim area, on fire. Another friend, Asif Kapetanović, who was also staying at Sadiković’s, saw his house in flames. He screamed: “My mother’s inside. She must be burning.” He and Mr. Beganović set out towards his house. On the street, a Serb soldier confronted them, ordering them to stop. Terrified, Mr. Beganović ran away and jumped over a hedge; from behind him, he could hear the soldier firing shots at him. He took shelter in the house of a Muslim neighbour.
Detainee in the Serb-run Omarska Camp in 1992. Many people died there of beatings, starvation and ll-treatment.
(Prosecution Exhibit P3/232 from the case Kvočka et al.)
Very soon after arriving there a radio broadcast instructed Muslims to put white ribbons around their arms, go outside, form columns and head towards the main square. Mr. Beganović and the others did as they were instructed. On his way into the town center, Mr. Beganović saw the bodies of several dead civilians piled up on the side of the road. He could not recognise any of the people, as they were mutilated by machine-gun fire.
Arriving at the centre of town Mr. Beganović joined some two thousand people already gathered there. Buses were already waiting for them. Serb soldiers divided the Muslim civilians: women and children on one side, and all the men aged over 15 on the other side. Along with the other men, Mr. Beganović boarded one of the buses. Towards evening, the buses finally arrived at a place that Mr. Beganović would later learn was the Omarska camp. He was to spend more than two months there.
When he got off the bus, Mr. Beganović was forced to empty his pockets. By chance, he had some old firecrackers in his jacket pocket from a New Year’s celebration. When the guard searching him saw the firecrackers, he shouted: “You can execute this one because he used these to try and confuse our army.” Mr. Beganović was then taken aside. Later, a Serb policeman brought him to a large room where some 600 other men were held. He advised Mr. Beganović: “Just go there and hide. Don’t answer when they call you. If you answer, you will be killed..” Mr. Beganović did as he was told.
The detainees at Omarska were mostly Muslim men, with some Croats, and a small group of about 35 women. The conditions at Omarska camp were horrendous. Detainees were often held in cramped, unventilated rooms, they slept on the floor, often on one side as there was not enough space to lie flat.
There was no medical care. Mr. Beganović remembers that after the beatings “people walked around bleeding. Their wounds were festering. They had litres of pus on their backs. … Fifty percent of the people had dysentery. The hygiene was not non-existent. It was a disaster.” Because of lack of basic hygiene, “there was a terrible stench in all the premises, in all parts of the camp. We all had lice. We were unshaven, hungry. We were like skeletons.”
One of the methods of persecution at Omarska was starvation: for the first six days, Mr. Beganović received no food, and later the detainees were fed once a day in the camp’s canteen. As he recalled: “We had three minutes to run to the restaurant, to eat the food and leave the restaurant.” Going to eat was always a risk, as it was connected with severe beatings.
“In 90 per cent of the cases, when we went to eat, we would be beaten, both on the way to the restaurant and back. Very often while we were in the corridor…they would pour water on the floor and they would throw things on the floor so people would trip over, and then they took the opportunity to beat us.”
Beatings in Omarska took place constantly. Mr. Beganović explained that the guards would beat their prisoners while they interrogated them during the days, trying to force them to confess to political misconduct. Conditions were appalling. “We were beaten, psychologically abused, starved, left without drinks,” Mr. Beganović explained, “Simply, it is impossible to describe.” Sometimes guards would go into a room full of detainees and indiscriminately beat up whoever was closest. Mr. Beganović said such assaults were conducted, “for no reason. We didn't know why we had been beaten. They just felt like it.”
“ We were beaten, psychologically abused, starved, left without drinks," Mr. Beganović explained, "Simply, it is impossible to describe." Sometimes guards would go into a room full of detainees and indiscriminately beat up whoever was closest. ”
The official guards stopped beating and interrogating inmates by around five in the afternoon. But the beatings did not stop then. Afterwards, any person could enter the camp to beat anyone they choose. Mr. Beganović testified in court that “then there were private visits by Serbian soldiers, guards, civilians. Whoever wanted to go there, go in, did so and looked for inmates, calling their names surnames or nicknames. We were even taken by people who had never met us before. We lay down on our stomachs in the pista. They would simply come, "Give me two, give me three", "Here, take five, if you like".”
In addition to these general beatings, Mr. Beganović was also singled out for brutal individual beatings on three occasions.
The first time he was called out from the room where he was held by a local uniformed man the witness identified as “Dragan”, who took him to a group of Serbs. One of them was Nikica Janjić, a Serb man from Prijedor, with whom Mr. Beganović had had a dispute the year before the war broke out. When Janjić saw Mr. Beganović, he sneered: “See how times have changed? Tonight I am going to cut your throat.” Shortly afterwards Dragan picked him up again and began to beat Mr. Beganović as he led him towards the so called white house in the camp. “At the exit of the building [from where the witness was taken] Dragan started beating me with the baton on the head, on the neck, on the back, the upper part of my back. He kept hitting me in that area as we went to the white house.”
When they arrived at the white house Mr. Beganović saw that three other successful Muslim businessmen from Prijedor had already been placed in one of the rooms there. Mr. Beganović was taken to a room on the other side, and as he entered “they [Dragan and Nikica Janjić] started beating me immediately…They beat me, both of them. Dragan was hitting me with a baton. Nikica kicked me. I do not remember whether he used an object, whether he used an object to hit me, but he mostly kicked me.” Other Serb came in and out and took their turn beating him. They carried various devices for beating. “They also had some cables, electric cables, and with a ball on top of it welded on to the cable.”
Mr. Beganović recognized some of the assailants. One was the ICTY convicted Zoran Žigić, another one was a handball player from Prijedor Mr. Beganović referred to as Šaponja. Mr. Beganović considered him a friend, as Šaponja’s parents were very close with his parents. “Their wedding took place in my house, because they had just moved to Prijedor, they had not found a dwelling place yet. So his father and my father were very good friends. His mother borrowed my mother's dress to get married in.”
The beating went on for about half and hour, which for Mr. Beganović felt like an eternity. At one point, Mr. Beganović remembers, he found himself sitting in a chair, with his left arm stretched out across the desk in front of him. He testified that, at this point, “Nikica [Janjić] took out a knife about this size. I thought, because he had told me that he would cut my throat, that he had taken the knife in order to cut my throat. Almost automatically I started to lift my arm and I felt at that moment that a knife stabbed my hand and I still have the scar. The blood spurted out of the wound, spurted. At that point I lost consciousness.”
When Mr. Beganović regained consciousness he was taken outside with the other prisoners who had been beaten in the room next door. Mr. Beganović testified that Zoran Žigić “told us to bend down and to drink the water next to the kerb like dogs, and we should behave like dogs and drink the water like dogs. We drank the water which we were glad to do because my throat was dry. At that moment those bad words had no meaning to me.”
Mr. Beganović was then held in the white house, in a room he knew “was assigned for so-called Muslim extremists who had attacked Prijedor, and we also knew that nobody would come alive out of that room.” But Mr. Beganović was lucky. He was helped by a Serb guard whose first name was Radenko. He came in once and said to the detainees: “"You say you did not attack Prijedor, look, look in your group, there is even a black man", and he had a flash light on and I knew that it was trained at me.” Radenko could not believe that Mr. Beganović’s face looked all black because of the beating. He took pity on him and managed to get him out of the notorious room.
About two days after this first beating Mr. Beganović saw the deputy camp commander Miroslav Kvočka give Nikica Janjić a piece of paper. Shortly afterwards Mr. Janjić came over and called Mr. Beganović out for a second beating in the white house. A camp guard with an automatic rifle blocked the door while Janjić began to beat Mr. Beganović. Janjić repeatedly kicked Mr. Beganović and hit him on the head with his pistol handle, fracturing his skull in several places and causing the wounds from Mr. Beganović’s first beating to reopen and bleed profusely. Mr. Beganović remembers that the beating “went on for a long time, 20 minutes perhaps. [Mr. Janjić] was already tired.…. His shirt was wet with sweat and he was sweating all over.”
Mr. Beganović begged him to either kill him or cease beating him, as any grudge between them must have been extinguished by now. To his surprise, Mr. Janjić showed Mr. Beganović a piece of paper that Mr. Kvočka, deputy commander of the camp, had given him. It had “Emir Beganović, kop 2” written on it. Mr. Beganović believed that “kop 2” referred to one of the pits at Omarska where the bodies of dead prisoners were being thrown. But now Mr. Janijić said he had changed his mind, and would let him live. “He [Janjić] said: thank my mother because she told me not to kill you. She made me swear that I would not kill you because you are an only son and she had an only son.” Mr. Janijić gave him some cigarettes and shook hand with him when he left. He never came back again to beat Mr. Beganović.
A further two days later, the third beating occurred. Mr. Beganović was again called out of the room where he was being held. When he got out, he saw Dragan standing in the hallway. Mr. Beganović’s head wounds had been clumsily bandaged with an old t-shirt by some of his fellow prisoners. When Dragan saw this, he laughed and, mocking him for wearing the bandage as if it were a turban, asked “What do you need that on your head for? You are not a hodža [Muslim cleric].” Then, Dragan began to beat Mr. Beganović with his baton again, pushing him into the hangar building in the camp. Inside the hangar, Mr. Beganović saw that there was a group of 7-10 Serb soldiers wearing various uniforms. Mr. Beganović recognized one of the soldiers as Duško Tadić, whom he had known before the war as a trouble-maker.
The moment he entered the hangar, the soldiers began to beat Mr. Beganović with sticks, metal rods and cables and to kick him with their military boots. Despite the pain, Mr. Beganović remembers that he was determined not to lose consciousness; he told the Tribunal: “I realised that if I fainted I would never wake up again because they simply killed.” At one point, the soldiers hung Mr. Beganović upside down, tying his feet up with an old cable. Eventually his feet slipped out of the cable and he fell to the ground. At this point, Dragan came up and asked if Mr. Beganović knew who he was. Mr. Beganović swore he did not know him because, as he later explained to the Tribunal, “it was a fact in the camp, it was common fact in the camp that they never left alive those witnesses who might possibly recognize those guards who killed and tortured. Simply, they left no witnesses behind.”
Dragan then ordered the guards to take Mr. Beganović back upstairs and send him another detainee. As he reached the staircase, however, the soldiers told Mr. Beganović to go back to fetch his sneakers, which had come off when he was hanging. He had no choice but to go back into the hangar, where Dragan immediately began to beat him again. When Mr. Beganović was finally allowed to return to his holding room, he collapsed and fainted in the corner. When he regained consciousness some minutes later, he could hear the screams of another prisoner being beaten downstairs. He told the Tribunal: “Until I arrived in that camp I had never heard such cries, such screams. They were human, but I could never imitate them.”
Mr. Beganović was severely injured from his beatings, but there were no medical supplies provided for the prisoners except what Dr. Sadiković, Mr. Beganović’s friend from Prijedor, occasionally managed to smuggle after he had treated wounded Serb soldiers. So, like many other prisoners’, his wounds became infected. Mr. Beganović testified: “The worst were head injuries, because that cloth, the bandage I had, it was on my head for about a month and it was all rotting and there were worms.”
Mr. Beganović left Omarska camp on 6 August 1992, a short time before the entire camp was shut down after the international media drew attention to it. The prisoners were placed on buses and told to keep their heads down. As they traveled, the guards beat them and at one point forced them to crawl underneath their seats. Mr. Beganović and the other men spent the night underneath their bus seats. The next day, they were transported to Manjača camp. When he arrived in Manjača and was weighed for the first time since his detention began, he discovered that he weighed only 49 kilo’s; when he had first entered Omarska, he had weighed 75 kilo’s. He remembers: “I was like a skeleton, only skin and bones.”
On 13 December 1992, Mr. Beganović was moved from Manjača camp to Batković camp where he was held until 4 March 1993. On that day, he was swapped in a prisoner exchange. Mr. Beganović still suffers physically and psychologically from the abuse he received in Omarska camp. “I have fractures on my head, my head was all pierced, was all in holes. My hand is injured. I cannot really use it and I think it is even thinner than my right one. Then my spine is hurt. My kidneys are injured, my leg.” Eventually, Mr. Beganović and his family settled down and he slowly rebuilt his life abroad, later opening a flower shop. Prijedor became part of Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. When Mr. Beganović testified in 2000, he said that he had not received his business premises back from the authorities there, nor any compensation for their loss.
Mr. Beganović also testified on 4 and 5 May 2000 in the case against Kvočka et al. Miroslav Kvočka, Milojica Kos, Mladjo Radić, Zoran Žigić and Dragoljub Prcać, were all convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes for their involvement in the abuse of detainees at the Omarska camp and for their failure to prevent or stop such abuse. Mr. Kvočka, a professional policeman and deputy camp commander of the Omarska camp, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for persecution, murder, and torture. Mr. Kos (aka Krle), a reserve policeman and camp shift commander at Omarska, was sentenced to six years imprisonment for persecution, murder, and torture. Mr. Radić (aka Krkan), a professional policeman and shift commander at Omarska, was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment for persecution, murder, and torture. Mr. Žigić, a civilian who visited the Omarska, Keraterm, and Trnopolje camps to abuse detainees, was sentenced to twenty-five years imprisonment for murder, torture, cruel treatment, and persecution. Mr. Prcać, a camp official at Omarska, was sentenced to six years imprisonment for persecution, murder, and torture.