Legacy website of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

Since the ICTY’s closure on 31 December 2017, the Mechanism maintains this website as part of its mission to preserve and promote the legacy of the UN International Criminal Tribunals.

 Visit the Mechanism's website.

Emil Čakalić

… He started speaking to us: ‘Listen you guys, we are going … to burn you all.’

Emil Čakalić, a Croat from Vukovar, relating what he heard a soldier say to him and other prisoners at the Vukovar military barracks in 1991, after he narrowly escaped execution at Ovčara. He testified on 5 February 1998 in the case against Slavko Dokmanović, on 13 and 14 March 2006 in the case against Yugoslav People’s Army officers Veselin Šljivančanin, Mile Mrkšić and Miroslav Radić and on 16 July 2003 in the case against Slobodan Milošević.

Read his story and testimony

Emil Čakalić was working as a sanitary inspector in Vukovar, in eastern Croatia, in 1991 as the country descended into war. In his testimony before the Tribunal, Mr. Čakalić related how barricades were put up in some villages around Vukovar after several Croatian policemen were killed in the nearby town of Borovo Selo in early 1991. As a result of this, Mr. Čakalić said that “[a] rather strained psychological relation developed among the population of Vukovar. After that, the shooting started. People were out of their wits. Some people had one set of information, other people had a different set. I think that psychologically the situation was very grave.”

Mr. Čakalić said that during the summer of 1991, members of the Yugoslav army (JNA) and paramilitary units started shelling Vukovar, and many people left the city out of fear. Mr. Čakalić volunteered with Vukovar’s Secretariat of National Defence to ensure safe drinking water and food for the population and the army.

I was beaten, I fell down, but I got up too, because those who fell down, they never got up again.

On 17 November 1991, he and his wife left their home to seek refuge in the Vukovar hospital, after they found out that Yugoslav army and paramilitary units had put inhabitants of Vukovar onto personnel carriers and taken them away.

“The situation in the hospital was terrible,” said Mr. Čakalić. “First of all… the actual yard outside the building… was crammed full of people. The hospital itself was in a very poor condition in terms of hygiene. There was a shortage of water, and it seem[ed] to me that the sewage was also blocked” recalled Mr. Čakalić during his testimony. He and his wife spent the next two nights in the Vukovar hospital.

Mr. Čakalić said that he first saw the JNA after midnight on 19 November 1991. The next morning, all the medical centre’s employees were called to a meeting. Everyone else was asked to leave the hospital premises through the door of the emergency ward. About 250 people were gathered together and asked to take everything they had out of their pockets and bags and to show it to the JNA soldiers. Anything considered dangerous, such as knives or razor blades, was taken away from them.

Emil Čakalić and the other detainees were boarded onto buses and were first driven to the JNA military barracks in Vukovar. He told the court how the soldiers mistreated them psychologically. “They were pointing at various people saying, ‘I am going to slaughter you’… ‘I am going to cut your throat.’” One of them gestured to Mr. Čakalić that he would slit his throat.

A few hours later, the buses drove to Ovčara, a nearby plant that was part of Vukovar’s agricultural complex, where the detainees got off the buses and were forced to run between two lines of soldiers who beat them as they passed. Just before entering the hangar to which the JNA soldiers directed them, Emil Čakalić heard his name being called out. It was ICTY accused Slavko Dokmanović.

Mr. Čakalić had first met Slavko Dokmanović about 15 years earlier. The two men had worked together in the administration of Vukovar’s municipal assembly when Dokmanović was councillor to the agriculture committee’s president. He described his contacts with him as having been friendly. When Slavko Dokmanović saw Mr. Čakalić at Ovčara, he called him “inspector” (“look at our inspector,” he said). Mr. Čakalić said that the people beating him probably thought that he was a police inspector when they heard him addressed like that, and then beat him more intensely.

I was saved by a man… who remembered that I had done him a favour before the war… Everyone of the seven of us who were saved at Ovčara, we all had our saviours.

Inside the hangar, Emil Čakalić saw Slavko Dokmanović kicking one Croat soldier in his wounded legs. Mr. Čakalić himself was badly beaten: “I was beaten, I fell down, but I got up too, because those who fell down, they never got up again.” Emil Čakalić described how the prisoners were all covered in blood. “They beat them as much as they wanted and as much as they could…” Emil Čakalić was told to sit on a pile of hay from where he saw one man being thrown on the ground. “They were jumping on his back. They caught him by the hair, and he hit his head against the concrete. Then they turned him around, they jumped on his stomach. He was bleeding through the nose and the mouth and he died.”

Emil Čakalić was saved from Ovčara together with six other detainees. He told the court how a man dressed in Yugoslav army clothes pointed at him and ordered him to come outside and stand next to the entrance of the hangar. At the end of his testimony, Emil Čakalić said: “I was saved by a man… who remembered that I had done him a favour before the war… Everyone of the seven of us who were saved at Ovčara, we all had our saviours.”

Whilst the seven released men were waiting outside the hangar, Emil Čakalić saw a vehicle stop in front of its door. He described how 10 or 15 people wearing Yugoslav army uniforms, with helmets and carrying baseball bats, came out of the vehicle and went into the hangar. Mr. Čakalić said that there was a colonel inside, and when he blew his whistle about half of them beat the prisoners. When he blew his whistle again, those who were resting took the other group’s place. “This was terrible,” said Mr. Čakalić. “The screams. I dream them, you know, sometimes. I wake up with them and I go to sleep with them.”

From the hangar at Ovčara, Emil Čakalić and the six other men were driven to the Velepromet warehouse, and later escorted to the Modateks textile factory, which was a collection centre for prisoners. There, they were searched and everything was taken away from them. From Mr. Čakalić they took his money, his ID, his savings account book, and other documents. They were then taken to a room, which Emil Čakalić said they called “the room of death.” Mr. Čakalić testified how several people went out and never came back.

Whilst they were in this room, a captain from the counter-intelligence service arrived and told them he had come to save them and to take them back to the Vukovar military barracks. Once in the military barracks, Emil Čakalić and the other six men were treated fairly and were given water, food and blankets. They thought they would be able to get some rest. However, Mr. Čakalić related how, as the morning was progressing, more and more policemen would come in and beat some detainees. He recounted how “a young man’s hands were tied behind his back with a wire. His hands were injured. They made him swallow two or three bullets.” He further described how a soldier walked in and said: “Serbs to the one side and everybody else to the other side.” There were women among them too. Emil Čakalić told the court about one woman who said: “What am I going to do? I am a Croat and my husband is a Serb!” upon which a soldier replied, “To the right-hand side!” Mr. Čakalić added: “So the Serbs were on one side and we were on the other side. And then he turned to us, Croats, and he started speaking to us. ‘Listen you guys, we are going to kill all of you. We are going to burn you all. We are going to throw your ashes into the Danube, to destroy your Croat seed.’ I remember exactly that sentence and I shall never forget it,” Mr. Čakalić told the court.

From the Vukovar military barracks, the seven men were taken to Sremska Mitrovica, in Serbia. “We were beaten there,” said Mr. Čakalić. “We had to lie on our backs first and then on our stomachs, and they beat us.” On 7 February 1992, he was exchanged and transported back to Croatia.

When asked by the Defence whether back then he was able to conclude anything on Slavko Dokmanović’s relationship to the JNA, Emil Čakalić answered: “I was extremely astonished and it affected me.” He added: “I was sorry. I felt embarrassed, in fact, that I had seen him there and I would have been happy today not to have seen him there because I was thinking how can an intellectual, a person with whom I had often talked in his office, who knew those people, I was asking myself how could he do that? If he had saved a single one, I would be supporting him today. I have heard that the man who saved me was an indictee. If I was in court I would testify in such a way to beg the court to forgive him. If Mr. Slavko had saved a single man, I would appeal to the court to forgive Mr. Dokmanović, to pardon him.”

Emil Čakalić testified on 5 February 1998 in the case against Slavko Dokmanović, the President of the Vukovar Municipality. Proceedings against Slavko Dokmanović terminated on 15 July 1998 following his suicide in custody on 29 June 1998. Emil Čakalić later testified about the same events in the case against former Yugoslav People’s Army Officers Veselin Šljivančanin, Mile Mrkšić and Miroslav Radić on 13 and 14 March 2006. He also testified in the case against Slobodan Milošević, former President of Serbia, on 16 July 2003.

> Read Emil Čakalić’s full testimony in the Dokmanović case and in the case against Šljivančanin, Mrkšić and Radić

<  Back