“ As long as he had any breath left he had to sing [Chetnik songs] and they continued beating him and kicking him, I imagine, until he died. ”
Witness B (he testified with name and identity withheld from the public), a Croat man from Vukovar in eastern Croatia, speaking about the beatings that Croat victims suffered at the Ovčara farm before they were executed. He testified on 5 February 1998 in the case against Slavko Dokmanović.
“ …[The soldiers] were grabbing everything away from these people, everything that they had on them, their personal belongings, anything of value, jackets, whatever. They were grabbing it and then they started mistreating them. People were forced to pile up their personal belongings on a big heap… ”
Witness B’s wife and children left the Vukovar region on 7 August 1991, but he stayed to continue working on their house that was under construction. In September 1991, he attended a meeting at the municipal assembly during which he was assigned to participate in the defence of Vukovar. Witness B commanded a unit of engineers and his task was to lay mines where necessary.
From September to November, Witness B said that “the psychological and physical conditions were extremely difficult, and it was all a matter of survival.” Many of Vukovar’s citizens left the city.
By mid-November a number of Vukovar’s lines of defence had fallen. When on 15 or 16 November Witness B found no one but a few lost individuals in the defence forces’ headquarters, he disbanded his unit and returned home to his parents. They had heard that the evacuation of the citizens was being prepared within the grounds of Vukovar’s hospital, so around 19 November 1991 they went there.
In his testimony, Witness B related how upon his arrival at Vukovar hospital, he visited his men who had been wounded. He told the court that later the same day some military or paramilitary forces, including a Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) major, entered the hospital grounds.
The next morning, they were called out with shouts and were forced to leave through the emergency door. They were made to line up in two rows and soldiers searched them for weapons, grenades and knives. He and the other detainees were then boarded onto buses, where they were guarded by an armed soldier. Witness B said that he “had his gun pointed at us […] and he was looking at us with a threatening look.”
The buses first took the detainees to the JNA military barracks. There, according to Witness B, “crowds of people […] were circling around the buses, some of them were threatening, some of them were shouting […] we stayed there for quite some time, listening to curses, threats, insults.” The convoy eventually left the barracks and transported them to Ovčara, an agricultural cooperative for rearing pigs.
Witness B testified to what happened to the detainees once they had disembarked at Ovčara: “…[The soldiers] were grabbing everything away from these people, everything that they had on them, their personal belongings, anything of value, jackets, whatever. They were grabbing it and then they started mistreating them. People were forced to pile up their personal belongings on a big heap…”
“ “They had shovels, they had iron bars, they had weapons, they used their hands and arms and legs, whatever they could.” Witness B himself received several blows including one with an iron bar to his head. ”
Witness B recalled how the prisoners were forced to run the gauntlet from the buses into a hangar located on the farm. As they passed between the two rows of soldiers, they beat them with all sorts of things: “They had shovels, they had iron bars, they had weapons, they used their hands and arms and legs, whatever they could.” Witness B himself received several blows including one with an iron bar to his head.
Witness B said that the torture and mistreatment continued in the hangar. “They really mistreated some people and other people a bit less but it was hell out there,” he said. He described how ten to twenty soldiers would go around in circles and question detainee after detainee, torturing and beating them, using all the implements they had available: “…They would use a rifle butt to hit people. They even had baseball bats. They had some wooden sticks, not to mention that they used their hands and arms and feet and legs, military boots.”
Witness B said that many people were hurt very badly. “One of them,” he said, “was very close to me and I imagine that he was killed as a result of the injuries sustained because he was even forced to sing the song ‘Sindjelic’ and other Chetnik songs. As long as he had any breath left he had to sing and they continued beating him and kicking him, I imagine, until he died.” They beat another of the prisoners with his own crutches.
Presiding over this scene was a man who Witness B described as very big, with a moustache and wearing an olive green/grey former JNA uniform. He used a whistle to communicate with his subordinates who were mistreating the detainees, telling them to stop or continue. Another soldier, who Witness B said was “neat and tidy,” had a moustache and short hair, and was also wearing an olive green/grey uniform, made a list of the detainees.
After night fell, about every fifteen minutes, armed soldiers made the detainees go out in groups of ten to fifteen. Witness B was in the third, fourth or fifth group to be called out. He and the others in his group boarded a military vehicle with a canvas cover. The detainees were told that they were merely being transported to another hangar.
“It was night,” said Witness B. “But there was a moon so it was not pitch dark. The skies … after all, were lit.”
Witness B described for the court the route that the vehicle took. At one point in the journey, one of the prisoners on the vehicle thought of jumping off, but was persuaded not to do so by another prisoner. “He was hesitant, and finally he gave up,” said Witness B. It is then that he took the opportunity to escape: “At that moment I decided. I crawled through the space between the steps and jumped off through the back […] I jumped off the truck. I turned around to see whether anyone was following me, and I headed towards Vukovar (…) I heard a short burst of fire, and a couple of individual shots. That was the last I heard, and I continued moving away, at times running, at times walking, or rather fleeing, in the direction of Vukovar.”
After walking for a long time, Witness B found a shelter. Reservists, probably from the JNA, were there and captured him. In the morning he was driven to the reservists’ headquarters where Witness B said they would hit him now and again. He was then transported to another headquarters in the town of Stari Jankovci, near Vukovar. Other prisoners from Vukovar were there, and they were all beaten. Witness B was interrogated about his activities during the war and he spent a night there, handcuffed to a radiator.
The following night, he was taken to the police station in Šid, in northern Serbia. During another interrogation, Witness B was asked about Ovčara: “They asked what I knew about Ovčara, how many people had been killed and whether anyone had been killed. I simply did not want to discuss that matter with that man… My impression was that he was looking for information, whether anything was known about Ovčara…”
Afterwards, some men came to take him and the other detainees out and after beating them, they put them back onto a truck and transported them to the prison in Sremska Mitrovica, also in northern Serbia. He was held there from about 22 November 1991 until 4 February 1992. However, on 15 January 1992, following an interrogation and military court judgement, Witness B was put in isolation.
On 4 February 1992, he was transferred to the military investigative prison in Belgrade. He was charged with armed revolt and a crime against the civilian population. When asked before the ICTY whether he had come to learn of any evidence used against him in relation to these charges, Witness B answered: “There were no arguments nor was there any evidence.”
When his wife and relatives found out about what was happening to him, they informed the international community. A hearing in his case was postponed after an Amnesty International representative attended it. His case never came to conclusion, and he was eventually exchanged on 14 August 1992.