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.

Ljubica Došen

… I would forgive them, perhaps, if my husband had taken up arms … but to kill the wounded that cannot defend themselves, who have no arms, is terrible.

Ljubica Došen, a Croat woman, describing how her husband was taken from Vukovar hospital and never seen alive again. She testified on 6 February 1998 in the case against Slavko Dokmanović.

Read her story and testimony

Ljubica Došen had lived her whole life in Vukovar, a town in eastern Croatia. In 1991, she was 42 years old and worked with her husband, Martin Došen, who was a 39 year-old fisherman, in their restaurant. They had a 14 year-old daughter Tanja and both had other children from previous marriages.
… The people around us were very arrogant, they were celebrating (…) One of them was so brazen as to lick a knife, threatening to slaughter Croats, that is terrible, that is something I never thought would happen. At least I did not expect it from people I grew up with …

In 1991, the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and other Serb forces laid siege to Vukovar. Mrs. Došen’s husband was a member of the main Croatian political party (HDZ) and was involved in the defence of the town. “[T]he shelling had already started then,” said Mrs. Došen, and he simply wanted to protect his family.” Mrs. Došen said that their house had also been shelled.

Mrs. Došen’s husband was taken to Vukovar hospital on 16 November 1991 after badly hurting his back in a fall from a third floor balcony. Because he was immobile and because the hospital staff were very busy with other patients, Ljubica Došen and her daughter joined him there on 18 November.

During her testimony, Ljubica Došen recounted the situation inside the hospital:

“It was terrible for me. First of all, there were very many wounded people, there was no water, there was no food, there was not any medicine. The shelling was very frequent. Civilians were coming in because they had nowhere else to go, because of all the shelling. You could feel blood everywhere.… There were people who were dying, they could not be buried because no one could go out because of the shelling. All of these people, really tormented. They did not have any cigarettes. They were hungry. They got some kind of food aid packages... They were exhausted. They were in pain.”

Ljubica Došen recalled how awful her husband’s state was on their last night in the hospital. “He was terribly afraid,” she said. “He was a sportsman and his work also kept him very active, and he simply could not reconcile himself to immobility and depending on someone else and he cried a lot.” Mrs. Došen slept on his bed by his feet so that she could be near him to give him water or whatever else he needed.

Mrs. Došen told the court that the JNA arrived at the hospital on the night of 19 November 1991 and they were told they would be evacuated the next day. On the morning of 20 November, Mrs. Došen saw ICTY accused Veselin Šljivančanin, who presented himself as “Major Šljivančanin,” and announced that he was now in command. “We are now going to read out a list of names to you,” Mrs. Došen heard him say, “and please, as we call out your name, get out of the hospital.”

Two soldiers were standing next to him and they read out the list of names. Ljubica Došen’s husband was the first on the list, followed by his two brothers, Tadija and Ivan Došen. Two soldiers carried her husband on a stretcher out the hospital’s back exit, with Mrs. Došen and her daughter walking behind.

Mrs. Došen saw four buses parked outside, three of which were civilian and one was military. The soldiers carrying her husband’s stretcher set it down next to the military bus. She told the court how unusual she found the fact that her husband was carried precisely to the military bus, and wondered why, if they were all supposed to be evacuated, he was not being put on a civilian bus. The presence of armed soldiers next to and inside the bus, together with the fact that no other wives or children were there, surprised Ljubica Došen even more. “I do not understand this,” she said to her husband. “I do not understand it too,” he replied. “Something strange is going on here.”

Ljubica Došen testified how her husband’s younger brother was pushed hard towards the fence of the hospital by a soldier. The soldier ordered him to take everything out of his pockets and said: “You Ustasha [derogatory term for Croats referring to the World War II Nazi-allied Croatian state], now we are going to show you.” Both Mrs. Došen’s husband and daughter started crying after they witnessed this scene.

Ljubica Došen recalled how helpless she felt. “[D]o something! Take my child away from here!” exclaimed her husband. “[H]ow do you think I’m going to do that?” she asked. “I have a Kalashnikov pointed at my back[.]” Her husband replied, “I do not know what you are going to do, but do something. Take my chain off my neck and take my ring and take off my watch and I promised my ring to my son.”

Just before he was carried away, she covered him with a blanket, stroked his face, and told him to “take care.” She never saw her husband again, nor any of those who had boarded the military bus.

Mrs. Došen also described how her husband’s relative, Ružica Markobašić, who was five months pregnant, was pulled by her coat and her handbag and how the soldiers were cursing her: “You whore, you Ustasha whore, where are your pictures, where are your pictures of your husband cutting off children’s finger[s] and making necklaces out of them?”

A young soldier led Ms. Markobašić onto the bus, and as he did so, he took Mrs. Došen’s hand and squeezed it. When she opened her hand, she found 2000 Yugoslav dinars. She asked the young man what she needed this for. “[M]adam,” he replied, “you might need this, but she certainly will not any more.’”

In her testimony, Ljubica Došen described the behaviour of the Serb soldiers outside the hospital: “…The people around us were very arrogant, they were celebrating (…) One of them was so brazen as to lick a knife, threatening to slaughter Croats, that is terrible, that is something I never thought would happen. At least I did not expect it from people I grew up with, I went to school with, with whom I went out, that I went to weddings to, and that they should behave in that way was now terrible.”

Mrs. Došen appealed to a Serb soldier named Darko Vuk, who was from Vukovar. He was a friend of her husband’s and they sat together in their restaurant on the Danube. “Darko, could you save any one of mine, my family?” she asked. Mrs. Došen said that he looked at her ironically and replied, “you Došens have done a lot of harm so you just keep quiet.”

When she realised that she would not get any help from her local people from Vukovar, she went to ICTY accused Veselin Šljivančanin. She asked him what she and her daughter were doing there and whether she could give her husband some extra clothes. She told the court how surprised she was when Major Šljivančanin asked her what her husband would need clothes for. Probably realising that he had indicated that her husband would no longer need anything, he corrected himself and instead asked who would carry them.

Whilst Mrs. Došen and her daughter went to join the other women and children, her husband was put on a military truck with the other immobile patients. Just before he was carried away, she covered him with a blanket, stroked his face, and told him to “take care.” She never saw her husband again, nor any of those who had boarded the military bus.

“Only now at Ovčara have they been found where that terrible massacre was carried out,” said Mrs. Došen at the end of her testimony, “and this is disgraceful. I would forgive them, perhaps, if my husband had taken up arms [against a Serb], and if that same Serb had a weapon, and if they had shot at one another, but to kill the wounded that cannot defend themselves who have no arms, is terrible. It is a crime that has to be punished, and I appeal to you on behalf of my husband, my mother, and the children, that they be punished.”

Ljubica Došen testified on 6 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. Ljubica Došen later testified on 6 and 7 February 2006 about the same events in the case against former Yugoslav People’s Army Officers Veselin Šljivančanin, Mile Mrkšić and Miroslav Radić.

> Read Ljubica Došen’s full testimony in the Dokmanović case

 

<  Back