“ I am a sick woman now … I have nothing to hope for … I would just like to ask … where they are … I want to give them a proper burial … then I can go away myself. ”
Habiba Hadžić, a Bosnian Muslim woman, describes her ordeal in the Serb-run Sušica camp in northeast Bosnia, and the loss of her two sons. She testified on 3 November 2003 in the case against Dragan Nikolić.
At this time they were living in Vlasenica municipality located in eastern Bosnia, close to the border with Serbia. Before the 1992 takeover of Vlasenica by Bosnian Serb forces, nearly 34,000 people lived there with almost all belonging to two ethnic groups; Muslims, the slightly larger majority, and Serbs.
“ Dragan Nikolić, commander of Sušica camp told detainees that he had absolute control over them and that they were at his mercy. He told them that he was the God, the stick, and the law. ”
On the 21 April, 1992, the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and other Serb forces took over the town of Vlasenica and quickly began to implement a policy to remove Bosnian Muslims and non-Serbs from the municipality.
By late September 1992, virtually all Bosnian Muslims had been expelled from Vlasenica; the only ones remaining in the municipality were those held in the main detention facility, Sušica camp. At Sušica, most, if not all, of the detainees were civilian, which included at times large numbers of women, babies, young children, and the elderly.
Habiba Hadžić was detained at Sušica camp for roughly two months. When she first arrived at the camp Ms. Hadžić found that, “it was jam-packed.” The camp, an old army training ground, had two warehouses. Civilians were held in the larger of the two, often referred to by witnesses as “the hangar.” “First the children were taken there, then me, my sister-in-law, her husband, and her two children.” Conditions at the camp were appalling. Usually, the number of detainees was between 300 and 500, but it fluctuated as people were transferred in and out. The detainees were packed tight against each other often having little more than about a square metre to sit in.
During her testimony, Ms. Hadžić recounted the inadequate sleeping facilities inside the camp: “I slept between my two children in the hangar. For the most part, we slept on bare concrete or wooden boards. But when he [Dragan Nikolić, the commander of Sušica camp, who the Tribunal later convicted for of crimes he committed there] would be angry, he wouldn't even allow us to lie on those wooden boards. They would be taken out. They would be removed.” Ms. Hadžić recounted leaning against fellow detainees in the cramped quarters inside the hangar: “[s]ometimes there were too many people and you had to squeeze. Sometimes you could even fall asleep.” The heat, poor ventilation, and hygienic conditions, lack of opportunity to shower, or use toilet facilities or change clothes produced an overpowering and rancid odour in the cramped hangar. Ms. Hadžić recalled how “[t]he stench was the worst possible, and you had to suffer it. In the morning and in the evening, people went to the toilet. There were buckets there by the door. People would have to go.”
No medical care was provided to sick detainees, they were not separated, and were forced to remain in the hangar in close contact with others. Detainees became ill due to lack of adequate food and the poor hygiene facilities. Ms. Hadžić told the court about the dire food situation inside the hangar: “Once a day. We got one meal a day…for the most part, it was food that had gone bad. Sometimes we would be given tins that had turned bad and we would have trouble going to the toilet.” Many of the detainees suffered from severe toothaches, head lice, and fell sick from illnesses such as dysentery. Many of those well enough were forced to work picking vegetables, harvesting crops, providing other skills or unskilled labour. Others were ordered to bury those Muslim civilians who did not survive the attacks on their villages.
“ Ms. Hadžić recounted witnessing the death of a Muslim detainee, Fadil Huremović: "… he was simply unable to stand up on his feet. His wife was abused and he was no longer able to suffer that. He just couldn't get up. He was bedridden. ”
Ms. Hadžić recalled the atmosphere of terror at the camp which was created by the JNA soldiers. Dragan Nikolić, commander of Sušica camp told detainees that he had absolute control over them and that they were at his mercy. He told them that he was the God, the stick, and the law. He brandished weapons such as an automatic gun, a pistol, a bayonet, a baton, knife, and one or more hand grenades.
Ms. Hadžić wondered whether she or a family member would be the next victim. “[Y]ou would hear things. For instance, in the evening, when a white van would come to collect people, people would be loaded inside. You would hear orders, ‘Remove this. Remove that. Take this knife away. Throw it onto the ground.’ You would hear those orders…Then they would take a full van of people and take them away, and they would never be seen or heard of again.”
Ms. Hadžić recalled how she witnessed the mistreatment of several Muslim men inside the camp. “During my stay there, at the Sušica camp, Mevludin Hatinić, Durmo, were beaten up; both died. Asim Zildzić was beaten up and once when we were lined up to go to the toilets, I saw him carried on a stretcher. His eye was knocked out.”
Most men were beaten inside the hangar at an area known as the punishment corner, and others were assaulted outside at an area known as the A-pole. Those whom survived the beatings were left to die in the “punishment corner,” inside the hangar. They were in the full view of other detainees, including Ms. Hadžić.
“He [Dragan Nikolić] would take people out and bring them back beaten up and then…he would take them out. I did not see who they were, but I heard three gunshots and the hangar was closed. And the next morning, when they lined us up at the toilet, men on one side, women on this side, and…there was a small TAM truck and they were lying dead on that truck. Now, where they drove their bodies to, I don't know.”
One day, Ms. Hadžić tried to help a severely beaten man by providing him with cookies: “It was hard and it wasn't any good really, but he was hungry and he would have appreciated whatever he could have gotten. I threw some cookies, but I did not see Jenki [Dragan Nikolić ] at the door. He [Dragan Nikolić] walked up, and he crushed the biscuits with his boot, and he ordered me to go outside to the external toilet and he slapped me once, and I didn't do anything about it. The second time, he hit me with a rifle butt, and my arm is wounded because of that. I passed out and somebody tried to help me but Jenki [Dragan Nikolić] kicked him and told him to go away. Then I came by an old lady, who was 93 years old and who was telling me, "Things will get better. Things will get better."
Other detainees simply died of fear and exhaustion. Ms. Hadžić recounted witnessing the death of Muslim detainee, Fadil Huremović: “… he was simply unable to stand up on his feet. His wife was abused and he was no longer able to suffer that. He just couldn't get up. He was bedridden.”
Ms. Hadžić was also forced to do some domestic work for the camp commander Dragan Nikolić. “I would scrub his room, and then he would stretch his feet out so that I'd wash them and put cream on them, things like that. Then I'd wash the dishes when there was this one lunch. Well, at any rate, I had to do whatever he ordered me to do. I did not dare say no.”
At one point however, Ms. Hadžić believed that Nikolić, saved her life when another Serb man called Car wanted to take her away from the camp and kill her.
In her testimony, Ms. Hadžić described the extent of the injuries she incurred as a result of beatings inside Sušica camp. “I shall remain disabled, as far as this arm is concerned. The right elbow, the one here. It's as if there were a hole in it. It hurts me. I can't take a bath on my own. Let me put it this way: It hurts really bad. Afterwards, when I left, I had a bit of high blood-sugar level but then it got much higher, so I really had this problem. I also have some heart trouble, that angina thing. Now that my children are no longer there.”
When Ms. Hadžić left Sušica camp, her sons, Enis and Bernis, were still interned there. She never saw either of them alive again. At the end of her testimony, when asked whether she believed her sons were alive, Ms. Hadžić responded:
“[My children] are not alive. Jenki [Dragan Nikolić] knows that. I just wish he knew in which mass grave they were so that their mother could give them a dignified funeral, so that their mother would know where they are buried. But I don't know. I've never found out.”
At the conclusion of her testimony, Ms. Hadžić received her answer from Dragan Nikolić. He told her that her sons had been killed and buried on 30 September 1992 at a nearby site called Debelo Brdo.