“ … I was once beaten up so badly, I spent the next four days in a coma. I was thrown out onto a heap of corpses, and found there by one of my comrades. ”
Ante Tomić, a Bosnian Croat speaking about his experiences in 1992 while being held at the Omarska camp in Prijedor, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He testified on 5 and 6 April 2001 in the case against Duško Sikirica, Damir Došen and Dragan Kolundžija.
“ Mr. Tomić said that in the Omarska camp they were treated in "a beastly manner. No rules applied whatsoever. There was no human dignity at all. They killed us. They did whatever they pleased." ”
On the evening of 30 April 1992, Mr. Tomić was in Ljubija in a cafe when around 10:00 that night police officers came in. They said that the cafe should close and everyone should leave because there was a curfew. This is how Mr. Tomić came to learn that the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) had taken power in Prijedor.
Mr. Tomić told the court that he did not observe the curfew. He described how every night a group of about 20 to 30 citizens from Ljubija gathered spontaneously at the cafe and went on walks lasting 30 to 45 minutes, or until the police dispersed them.
On the evening of 24 May 1992, Mr. Tomić was again in the cafe when a man from Donja Ljubija (Lower Ljubija) came and said that the military was getting ready to attack. Mr. Tomić said that he put on his military uniform and with several others, including Serbs, Croats and Muslims, started out for Donja Ljubija. Halfway there, members of the Territorial Defence barred their way.
By the middle of June, one could not leave Ljubija: the phones lines were cut, they had no communications with Prijedor, buses were not running—they could not go anywhere. “We were completely isolated,” said Mr. Tomić.
In the night of 13 to 14 June 1992, two Serb soldiers, both of whom were his neighbours, came to his apartment and arrested him. They took Mr. Tomić to a van where there were about a dozen people who had also been detained the same night. They were all Muslims or Croats, and all men between 16 and 60 years old. One of them had been beaten up and was barefoot; another was in his pyjamas. They were all taken to the Keraterm camp, a former ceramics factory located on the outskirts of Prijedor. As Mr. Tomić would later learn, 115 men from his town would be detained at the Keraterm camp.
The camp consisted of one large building with two floors, of which the four rooms on the ground floor, referred to as Rooms 1, 2, 3 and 4, were used to hold prisoners. Mr. Tomić spent almost three weeks together with some 400 people in Room 2, a space which was about 15 to 20 metres wide, 18 to 20 metres long and had a cold concrete floor.
Several hours after his arrival, all of a sudden there was some commotion. Everybody, including those who were new to the camp, ran into the rooms, and Mr. Tomić heard people say, “there’s Duća.” ICTY accused Dušan (Duško) Knežević, nicknamed Duća, was a Serb soldier who often visited the camp, and each time he came, Mr. Tomić said people would be beaten and killed. Knežević and another soldier came to Room 2 looking for a man who had allegedly raped some Serb women. When Knežević and the other soldier found him, they beat him.
When they were finished, they started beating another inmate, Emsud Bahonjić, whom they called “Sniper” or “Singaporac.” Bahonjić was lying in a corner of Room 2. “We could only smell the stench coming from him,” said Mr. Tomić. “He hadn’t moved for days. He was badly beaten up but still alive.” Knežević ordered Bahonjić to stand up. But, Mr. Tomić said, he could not move. Knežević kicked him several times and a day or two later he died.
This was not to be the only time that Mr. Tomić saw or heard prisoners being beaten in the few weeks that he was at the Keraterm camp. Mr. Tomić told the court that an Albanian boy of 17 called Jusufi, and two Albanian pastry shop owners were called out and beaten. He told the court that Jovan Radocaj, a Serb inmate was taken out and beaten right outside the building. Mr. Tomić said that Radocaj had allegedly voted for the Muslim-dominated Party of Democratic Action (SDA), and had SDA posters in his house. As Radocaj left the room, Mr. Tomić heard him say, “It’s all over.” He was killed that night.
In the several weeks that Mr. Tomić was at the Keraterm camp, he saw new prisoners arriving on a daily basis. Most often, a man named Milan Čurguz, known as Krivi, would bring them. However, he also helped the prisoners while they were inside. Once when he brought Mr. Tomić food, he told him that helping the prisoners will cost him his life. “It was highly unpopular to help the inmates,” said Mr. Tomić. Milan Čurguz was indeed killed, and Mr. Tomić believes that the main reason was indeed that he had helped the prisoners.
“ The worst night that Mr. Tomić had in the Omarska camp, a guard called Kvočka, began beating him. Then another few men joined him, then another few, and finally there were eight of them beating him. ”
Later, on 6 August 1992, the day Mr. Tomić arrived in the Trnopolje camp, Milan Čurguz’ brother Pero, who worked for the Red Cross, told Mr. Tomić that he was positive that it was Serbs, members of the unit with which Milan was on mission, who had killed him. However, Mr. Tomić said that half an hour later Banja Luka television arrived and Pero Čurguz said on camera that balijas [a derogatory term for Muslims] had killed his brother, and not only that they killed him, but that they also cut his head off. “So that was a different story from the one that he told us,” said Mr. Tomić.
Mr. Tomić said that other policemen from Ljubija also brought prisoners to the camp, and mentioned Drago Tokmadžić [a Croat] and Esad Islamović. One day, Mr. Tomić said, the two of them came to the camp together again. “We thought they had brought new inmates,” said Mr. Tomić, “but on that day [it] was them who were brought as detainees.” One night they were taken out of Room 4 and Mr. Tomić could hear that they were beaten. Among the voices he recognised were Duško Knežević’s, and ICTY convict Zoran Žigić, another visitor to the camp whom Mr. Tomić knew by sight [and whom the Tribunal later convicted of crimes he committed in both the Keraterm and Omarska camps]. Mr. Tomić said that Drago Tokmadžić succumbed to his injuries that night, while Esad Islamović, survived and was later taken to hospital.
During the time that he was at Keraterm, on one occasion guards asked for five to six inmates to volunteer for some work outside the camp. For an entire day, the inmates carried and sorted goods in a warehouse. They told Mr. Tomić that the goods—which included television sets, household appliances, furniture, and tractors—were stolen from villages that had been torched. When asked in court why someone would volunteer for such work duty, Mr. Tomić said, “Perhaps the most important reason for anyone to do any sort of work was their expectation that they would get something extra to eat.”
In the almost three weeks that Mr. Tomić was held at the Keraterm camp, he was never questioned or interrogated, nor was he ever given a reason why he was detained.
On 4 July 1992, Mr. Tomić and the other 115 prisoners from his town were transferred to the Omarska camp. Mr. Tomić said that in the Omarska camp they were treated in “a beastly manner. No rules applied whatsoever. There was no human dignity at all. They killed us. They did whatever they pleased.” In the three weeks that he was held in the Keraterm camp, Mr. Tomić said that about ten people were killed, while at Omarska at least ten or fifteen inmates were killed every day, if not more.
The guards and visitors, all of whom were in uniform, beat prisoners at Omarska any time of the day or night, and Mr. Tomić said that many of them beat him. “[D]aily beatings were so regular,” said Mr. Tomić, “that they didn’t even represent anything special anymore. I was once beaten up so badly, I spen[t] the next four days in a coma. I was thrown out onto a heap of corpses, and I was found there by one of my comrades who brought me back to the world of the living.”
The worst night that Mr. Tomić had in the Omarska camp, a guard called Kvočka, began beating him. Then another few men joined him, then another few, and finally there were eight of them beating him. Mr. Tomić said that Kvočka was the brother of one of the camp’s commanders, Miroslav Kvočka [whom the Tribunal convicted of crimes he committed at Omarska].
Mr. Tomić said that one day in the middle of July, the Omarska detainees were being prepared to sing songs because a delegation was to come from Banja Luka, and they were to welcome them. When the delegation came by helicopter, they sang Serb nationalist songs with their hands raised in the three-finger Serb salute. Up to about ten members of the delegation, among them the President of the Banja Luka municipality, toured the camp, including the rooms where the prisoners were detained.
Mr. Tomić stayed in the Omarska camp until 6 August when he was transferred to the Trnopolje camp.
During cross-examination, defence counsel asked Mr. Tomić whether the emergence of national parties disrupted relationships among people that had been harmonious until then. Mr. Tomic replied, “In my case, no. I have remained friends with my friends.”