Witness 87

… All my life I will have thoughts of that and feel the pain that I felt then and still feel. That will never go away.

Witness 87 (she testified with name and identity withheld from the public) a Bosnian Muslim girl talking in court about the effects of the rape and the abuse she suffered during the nine months she was held captive by Serb soldiers. During this period she was also raped by Dragoljub Kunarac and Radomir Kovač. She testified on 4, 5 April and 23 October 2000 in the case against Dragoljub Kunarac, Zoran Vuković and Radomir Kovač.

Read her story and testimony

Up until April 1992, Witness 87, a Bosnian Muslim girl of 15, lived with her father, mother, sister and brother in the village of Trošanj, close to the town of Foča in southeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, near the border with Serbia.
Witness 87 told the Court that she did not talk about the abuses with anyone, including her mother. "I think that at that time I didn’t have the strength to, to even look her in the eyes. Not only her, but anybody, to look anybody in the eyes".

In April 1992 the war in Foča began, she remembered hearing and seeing “shooting, explosions, [and] sometimes houses set on fire”. Barricades were set up and she remembered that after school “sometimes I wasn't able to go home because of the checkpoints”.

Soon afterwards school was suspended and the Witness along with her family hid in the woods “out of fear that we would be killed”. “[W]e spent some time in the woods, and we slept with two other families there. And for a time, we came back home, we were in our house for a little while, and then we went to the woods again”. When the village was attacked by Serb forces on 3 July 1992 the Witness was with her family sleeping in a tent in the woods. They heard shots and she said that “there was panic, and the people started fleeing. Nobody knew where to go, in which direction. When the first man was hit or, rather, wounded, then we were swept by real panic”.

As the people were trying to escape, Serb soldiers in camouflage uniforms appeared, ran after them and finally surrounded them. The soldiers started beating the men, asking where they had hidden the weapons. According to the Witness “they [the soldiers] separated the men from the women and the children. “They took us out of the woods to a meadow. It wasn't far. Then they lined us up, and then they asked whether we had gold, [and] money”.

As the women and the children were moving from the meadow, they heard shots. They suspected that the men, who had previously been separated from the rest of the group, had been killed. This assumption proved correct and the Witness never saw her father again.

From the meadow the group was taken to a hotel building in Mjesaja (a mixed Serb-Muslim part of Trošanj), a place commonly known as Buk Bjela. The Serb soldiers lined them up against a wall and ordered them to wait. “They [the soldiers] came occasionally and took people off for some sort of questioning”, “[t]hey would simply come and call out the names and take them off”.

While being held there Witness 87 was also taken out, but not for interrogations. She testified that on one occasion a Serb soldier, without calling out her name, simply took her by hand and led her to a room. In the room he ordered her to take off her clothes. When she did not, the soldier took her clothes off himself and raped her. She was after taken back to the rest of the group by another soldier.

When she returned to the group she told the court that “it was as if I wasn't present, conscious of it all, what was happening to me”. A short while later, two other men called her and her 19-year old sister to go to the so called interrogations. They were taken to another smaller room “where there was a bed, a table, and a couple of chairs, and I think there were four soldiers in there, although people would be coming in and going out all the time”. One of the men was Dragan Zelenović who later pleaded guilty at the Tribunal to torture and rape he committed in Foča.

"Brena Building" in Foča where Bosnian Muslim girls and women were kept for sexual abuse.
(Defence Exhibit D157 from the Kunarac et al. case)

At first the soldiers asked Witness 87 questions about the other inhabitants of her village, where they were hiding and where they had hidden the weapons, and continued asking questions about herself and her life. “They asked me whether I was a virgin, and I answered that I was a virgin until a few moments ago, or words to that effect.” Then she was again ordered to take her clothes off, and was raped by all four men. Afterwards they loaded her on a bus where all the other detainees were sitting, except for her mother, who had refused to leave without her and was waiting for her outside the building.

Witness 87 told the Court that she did not talk about the abuses with anyone, including her mother. “I think that at that time I didn’t have the strength to, to even look her in the eyes. Not only her, but anybody, to look anybody in the eyes”. Although it was so difficult to describe her feelings, she said she was “terribly frightened, I felt ashamed in a way, and in a way I felt very, very dirty, soiled”.

The bus took the detainees to the Nikola Tesla secondary school center in the Aladža neighbourhood of Foča, the same school the Witness was attending at that time. When they arrived at the school, the Serb soldiers took them to a classroom on the first floor, “in which there were no desks and chairs. There were just sleeping mattresses lined up”.

According to the Witness, there were four or five soldiers who guarded them, and approximately every other night they would take women out to rape them. “Every time one of them would turn up, they would call out the girls by their names, or the women, and then they would take them off with them” They would take the girls from the school to apartments in town, or just from one classroom to another. On one occasion five soldiers called out the names of five girls and took them to a classroom. Among the soldiers were Dragan Zelenović and Zoran Vuković. The Witness was ordered to go into the corner where Vuković was sitting. “Vuković told me to lie down on the mattress. Then he took my clothes off and then raped me.” She did not see what happened to the other girls but she heard a soldier hitting one of them. As before, on return Witness 87 said nothing to her mother. “She never asked me, nor did I ever tell her, but I think she knew, with some certainty.”

The girls were called out by the soldiers several times each, and every time they were taken out and raped. They were detained at the school for about two weeks. During that time the Witness said that they never felt free to leave or escape because “there were soldiers there always, and at the entrance there were soldiers on guard, guarding the entrance, though there weren't too many Muslims left at the time, so it wasn't safe to go out into the street”.

After being held at the secondary school for about two weeks, Witness 87 together with all the other detainees was then taken to the Partizan Sports Hall in Foča. “First they took us there to clean up the hall, and then they transferred us there to stay”. Also other female detainees from villages surrounding Foča were later brought to the sports hall. “We slept on the gym mats. The living conditions were very difficult. There was absolutely no -- there were absolutely no hygienic conditions. The food was very bad, hygiene was poor”.

As in the previous detention facility, the Serb soldiers “would come inside looking for particular persons, girls. They would select them, as many as they wanted, and then they would take them with them”. This used to happen every night or sometimes every other night. Among those soldiers were Dragoljub Kunarac and Gojko Janković [initially indicted by the Tribunal, his case was transferred to the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina where he was sentenced to 34 years for crimes he committed in Foča].

The girls were usually taken by car to various houses in Foča, among them a house, close to the school and the Aladža mosque, and a house near the bus station. Many times, she was raped by Kunarac and other men. The Witness specifically recollected the last time she was taken to the Aladža house. Again, it was Dragoljub Kunarac who took her and other girls, including her sister witness DB, to the house. The Witness said there were also other soldiers who, judging by their accent, seemed to be from Montenegro. “Usually there would be several soldiers there. Then, of course, I should say, they would rape each one of us”. On that occasion, Witness was raped by Kunarac and two other men.

The next morning the Witness and three other girls, including her sister Witness DB, were taken to a house in Miljevina, known as Karaman’s House. “They didn't tell us where we were going or why we were going”. When they arrived the Witness said that “It seemed that at least three men lived in the house. Other soldiers used to come to the house and “[u]sually they would select one [of] the girls and take her off to the second floor”.

They stayed in the house for about two months, months in which they were regularly raped by the Serb soldiers, “I think that after a certain amount of time, that two other girls were brought in, or three, but at any rate, all of them were raped either every night or every other night”. The Witness remembered Dragan Zelenović as one of the visiting soldiers, and also told the Court about the one time when Dragoljub Kunarac came to the house. The witness described how he was wounded or injured and had a bandage on a part of his body. “[H]e took me into a room on the upper floor and he raped me there”. She wondered “how an individual who had been wounded or injured could do something like that”.

A soldier called Pero who seemed to be responsible for the house, used to tell the girls that “special people had the right to enter that house or that only those people that he allowed could enter”. He also gave them the telephone number of a hotel in Miljevina “in case somebody came. He told us that if anybody came, we should phone him up and tell him”.

The door at Karaman’s House was never locked, “it was the kind of door that you could open from the inside but not from the outside”. “At first we weren't allowed to go out of the house, although later on we were able to go out into the garden or onto the terrace”. She explained that they never left the house during their detention because “[y]ou didn't know where to go or where this would lead you, this attempt to escape. Nothing was safe. You wouldn't know where it would lead to”. She said that they also had to do housework as “cooking, washing, laundering and cleaning up”. When asked if she was able to count how many times she was raped in the house she said, “I don’t think that is possible.”

The girls were forced to stay in Karaman’s House until some time between the end of September and the beginning of October when they were taken to Foča. She said that “[f]irst of all they took us to an apartment in a settlement called Ribarsko, and the next day we were taken to Klanfa's apartment, which is located in the Brena building”.

The Witness was kept in the apartment in the Brena building with other four girls for about four months, months in which the girls were frequently raped, sometimes every night by Serb soldiers. The Witness said that the soldiers always had weapons with them, as “rifles and pistols and knives”.

The soldiers, including Radomir Kovač, also forced the girls to strip. “I do remember that he forced us to take all our clothes off and to stand there naked” and the soldiers “just sat there and watched”. She also recalled another humiliating incident when she was alone with Kovač. “[He] forced me to take my clothes off, to climb on the table, and to dance to music. He was sitting on the bed with a pistol pointed at me”. The Witness told the Court how she felt: “I was frightened. I was ashamed”. She was not able to control what was happening to her, and she felt as if Radomir Kovač owned her.

Another time the girls were forced to take their clothes off while they were in an apartment in Gornje Polje. Witness 87 said that Radomir Kovač “forced us to strip and to stand on the table, and when he said that he would take us through the town naked and take us to the river where he would kill us”. One day, he did order them to go with him to the river, and the Witness thought this would be the end of her life. “I just know I was terribly frightened, and I just kept thinking how they were going to do that, in what way. I know that shortly after that, he took us back to his apartment”.

The Witness told the Court how she felt: "I was frightened. I was ashamed". She was not able to control what was happening to her, and she felt as if Radomir Kovač owned her.

The Witness also described the few times Radomir Kovač and some other soldiers took the girls out of the apartment. She said that they could not leave the apartment alone, because they were locked in. “I remember once they took us to an apartment in Donje Polje; once they took us to another apartment, which I can't really remember; and several times they took us out to cafes and pubs”. When the soldiers took them out, the girls had to dress, “[u]sually they would force us to put on some hats or something with the signs of their army”. Then they would go to a coffee bar “sit and then come back”.

The girls, during the months they were kept by the Serb soldiers, were subjected to mistreatment and various threats. “I remember, once. Once he [the soldier] threatened with a knife, that he would cut up my face”. “There were a couple of times when they threatened that they would kill us, slit our throats”. She told the court that the effects of the threats was visible in the other girls, especially in one, Witness AB, who was 12 at the time, and “sometimes behaved strangely”, she had difficulties going to sleep and when she did sleep, she had nightmares.

When asked if the situation was better in the apartment than when she was held in the detention facilities Witness 87 stated, “It was the same situation, because rape is something that draws a certain equality between Partizan and Karaman’s house and that flat. That is how I look at those three situations. To me, they are the same. And if you want me to say that in a certain respect the situation in Klanfa's flat was better, well, in a way it could be so, because there is a difference between being raped by one or two individuals and being raped by 20, or who knows how many.

Witness 87 finally left the apartment around mid-February 1993, when two soldiers came from Montenegro to negotiate with the Serb soldiers and bought her and another girl for 500 German Marks. They were taken to another apartment in the Brena building, where the Montenegrins soldiers were staying. “I think we spent the night there, one night, and that they then took us to another apartment at Brod, and I think we had to wait there for those Montenegrins to take us across the border to Montenegro”.

After waiting in the apartment in Brod the girls were taken by car across the border to Nikšić in Montenegro. “I think that they were purchasing weapons on that occasion as well, because they were hiding the weapons in the car, under the seat, in the boot, and so on. And they told us that when we reached the border of Bosnia and Montenegro, that we should say that we were Serb, and they gave us names that we should use, and that we should say we had no ID documents, that they had been destroyed, or something to that effect. When we reached the border, there weren't too many problems over this. We spent maybe 15 minutes there and then they took us to Nikšić.”

When they arrived in Nikšić, the girls lived in the apartment of one of the Montenegrins, and were also regularly raped. After a few days they were forced to work as waitresses in a coffee bar. “They never paid us for that work” but the girls managed to “earn a small sum of money from tips left by customers”. “We did that the whole time, until we were taken to Podgorica”, the capital of Montenegro.

In Podgorica the soldiers left them in an apartment with another Montenegrin man who “was only in the apartment for three or four hours during the afternoon” because he worked. Witness 87 said that at around three in the afternoon nobody used to be in the apartment and the door was usually never locked, so they were able to go outside. The first time she said they were very scared, “[w]e wondered who we would meet in the street”, but the second time was easier. She said that they felt relieved because the town at the time was not in a state of war and the people “behaved normally”.

They tried to get out of the house and on one occasion they managed to find a bus stop. “[W]e looked at the timetable and how much the tickets cost, and we decided to leave one day, quite simply, to leave there”. Around 5 April the two girls left Podgorica for Rožaje, a town in northeastern Montenegro. Witness 87 told the Court that although her ordeal was over, the pain and suffering is still present. “I think that I have decided to try and leave many of those things behind me somewhere, although within me, I still have and there will always be traces of everything that happened to me. I think that for the whole of my life, all my life I will have thoughts of that and feel the pain that I felt then and still feel. That will never go away.

Witness 87 testified 4, 5 April and 23 October 2000 in the case against Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovač and Zoran Vuković. All three men were found guilty for committing crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war and were sentenced to 28, 20 and 12 years respectively. Both Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovač were found guilty of personally raping Witness 87. Part of Kovač defence was that witness 87 was in a love relationship with him. The Judges rejected this outright and classified the relationship between them as “one of cruel opportunism on Kovač’s part, of constant abuses and domination over a girl who, at the relevant time, was only about 15 years old.”

> Read Witness 87’s full testimony

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