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Witness VV

They continued to beat me until a policeman on duty entered and said: ‘Leave the man alone. He's not going to survive.’

Witness VV (he testified with his name and identity withheld from the public), a Bosnian army prisoner of war, speaking about the beatings he suffered in 1993 in the Široki Brijeg prison, near Mostar, southern Bosnia and Herzegovina. He testified on 4 and 5 December 2001 in the case against Mladen Naletilić and Vinko Martinović (“Tuta and Štela”).

Read his story and testimony

Witness VV was born in 1967 in the Mostar municipality in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the former Yugoslav republic declared independence in March 1992, armed conflict broke out, including in the Mostar muncipality. In April 1992, Witness VV was mobilised to serve in the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ABiH), which fought together with Bosnian Croat forces, called the Croatian Defence Council (HVO), against Serb forces.
We received food every two or three days, and that would be a quarter of a loaf of bread and a small 100-gram tin of pate, no water at all, so that we rinsed our mouths with urine.

At the time, Witness VV recalled that relations between the ABiH and HVO soldiers were “quite all right.” As Witness VV said, “[t]hey jointly went together to man the front lines facing the Serb aggressors and there were no problems between the HVO and the army.”

However, tensions started to develop between the HVO and the ABiH in central Bosnia in early 1993, and by mid-April they turned into a full-scale conflict. Witness VV said that HVO police stopped ABiH members at checkpoints and frequently provoked them without any reason. “[T]hen the sniping provocation started,” Witness VV said, “first, against the members of the ABiH and later against civilians too.” Also at that time, Witness VV said that families of ABiH members were taken from their apartments to a former army barracks called the Heliodrome, which became the HVO’s main detention center.

In the early hours of 9 May 1993, the HVO carried out an attack against the east side of Mostar using artillery, heavy weapons, mortars and small arms.

“I heard an announcement,” said Witness VV “that the white flags should be hoisted and we should surrender and no one would be harmed.”

In his testimony before the Tribunal, Witness VV described fighting between ABiH and HVO troops in Mostar that occurred in the next several months. On 23 September 1993, Witness VV was in the village of Raštani, located north of the town of Mostar on the west bank of the Neretva River, to get food and ammunition for the ABiH when the HVO attacked. After the shelling, which Witness VV described as perhaps the most intensive in the Mostar area in 1993, a group of 10 to 15 soldiers of the HVO’s Convicts Battalion ordered him and another ABiH soldier to surrender. The HVO soldiers kicked and punched Witness VV and his fellow soldier, hit them with their rifle butts and cursed them.

Among the soldiers were two whom Witness VV recognised. One of them, called Kolobara, doused him with gasoline. “My hands were tied behind my back and he sprinkled my face with petrol,” said Witness VV. Kolobara acted as if he were about to torch Witness VV when somebody called him on the Motorola. He then stepped back, and told his soldiers that “the old man” had ordered that the prisoners had to be taken alive to Široki Brijeg. Witness VV later found out that “the old man” was ICTY accused Mladen Naletelić, also known as Tuta, who was at the time the commander of the HVO’s Convicts Battalion.

There were some personal insults. They also were demanding that I should pray in their manner, and then they would laugh at that.

In the early evening that same day, Witness VV and his fellow soldier were transported to Široki Brijeg, near Mostar. Here they walked into a building, which Witness VV was not able to identify exactly. He remembered that he was taken into an office, beaten and abused.

“We were already bloodied, and we had swellings. Our eyes were already swollen and closing, getting shut from all the beatings that we had received. So we were not in a good shape,” said Witness VV.

They were then taken to a civilian prison in Široki Brijeg, where they were locked up individually.

Witness VV recalled that during the night, five or six soldiers from the HVO Convicts Battalion entered his cell and started to insult and provoke him. Then “one of the soldiers threw a lighter down on the floor of the cell and told me to pick it up. When I bent to pick it up, he hit me. He actually kicked me. And then the rest of the soldiers started beating me, and I fell down. They continued to beat me.” And the beating went on until a policeman entered and said, “Leave the man alone. He's not going to survive.”

After that, the soldiers left him, entered the cell of his colleague and beat and mistreated him as well. Witness VV remembered that for half an hour he could “hear moans coming from the other room.”

The following morning, Witness VV was taken to see Mladen Naletilić in his office. Naletelić asked Witness VV who beat him. Witness VV shrugged his shoulders because he did not know the person’s name, and because he was too afraid to speak out. Naletelić promised him that nobody will harm him again because now Witness VV was “his prisoner.”

However, after this conversation with Mladen Naletilić, soldiers entered Witness VV’s cell several times a day and beat him with their boots, belts and fists. Witness VV said that one soldier beat him with a crutch.

Witness VV testified that there were more prisoners in Široki Brijeg apart from him and his colleague, who were also beaten, and that the conditions of their detention were very poor.

“We received food every two or three days, and that would be a quarter of a loaf of bread and a small 100-gram tin of pate, no water at all, so that we rinsed our mouths with urine,” said Witness VV.

Some twelve days later, Witness VV said that two members of the Convicts Battalion took him to an office where, “[t]hey put me at a desk … and put wires from an induction telephone, and they fixed them to my fingers and then turned the handle of the telephone so as to pass the current from my fingers to my toes, and it lasted between half an hour and an hour.”

They switched on the electricity, and asked questions. “There were some military [questions]. There were some personal insults. They also were demanding that I should pray in their manner, and then they would laugh at that,” said Witness VV.

On 16 November, the witness and his colleague were transferred to the Ljubuski prison, located southwest of Mostar. They were kept in a cell without any blankets or mattresses and they were given food every second day until the Red Cross came and registered them.

In the Ljubuski prison, HVO prisoners were held in addition to Muslim prisoners. The cells of HVO prisoners were open, so that in daytime they could walk around the prison compound. One of them had the keys to the Muslim prisoners’ cells. Witness VV said that he ill-treated and beat him on a number of occasions.

Another of the Croat prisoners was Kolobara, who had been among those who captured Witness VV. When Witness VV saw him at lunch one day, he kept his head down. However, Witness VV said that Kolobara “recognised us, too, and approached and spilled our lunch, took us back to the cell and there he ill-treated and beat us.”

Witness VV was released from Ljubuski prison on 19 March 1994.

Witness VV testified on 4 December 2001 in the case against Mladen Naletilić, the commander of the Croatian Defence Council’s Convicts Battalion, and Vinko Martinović, commander of a unit within the Convicts Battalion. The Tribunal convicted Naletilić and Martinović of a number of crimes against Bosnian Muslims in the Mostar area from April 1993 to January 1994, and sentenced them to 20 and 18 years’ imprisonment, respectively.

> Read Witness VV’s full testimony

 

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