With 90 people still missing since the conflict and the abuse of wartime prisoners largely unpunished, victims’ families in the town of Hadzici say they’re losing hope of seeing justice.
After seizing the small town of Hadzici near Sarajevo 22 years ago, Bosnian Serb forces started rounding up hundreds of Bosniaks on May 15, 1992, and imprisoning them in improvised jails and detention centres. Some were never seen again and many of the perpetrators have not been prosecuted.
Among those arrested was Miralem Sehic, who was locked up in the local sports hall, which became the town’s biggest detention facility. Here he and others suffered terrible abuse at the hands of their captors. His son, who was detained alongside him, was also beaten several times.
“A single day could not pass without some group [of people] coming and abusing us,” Sehic told BIRN at a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary start of the conflict in the town.
He said that detainees were physically and psychologically tortured and held in inhumane conditions, without enough food.
“The worst beatings were after Eid. On the second day of Eid, they brought in large groups [of detainees], covered with blood… Three or four men from the village of Zunovnica were brought in with crosses carved on their faces; they were beaten up,” he said.
Sehic recalled that one day a woman arrived with a group of Serb fighters and ordered some of the detainees to have sex with each other in public.
“She first chose the younger people, three or four of them, and the oldest ones. The younger ones had to do it orally to these elderly people. It was in the hall in front of all the detainees,” he recalled.
After a month, the prisoners were transported to a military barracks in Lukavica, closer to Sarajevo.
Among them was Redjo Basic, who recalled how he was beaten up during the journey.
“The doors of the bus opened. Two or three police officers entered from the front, while three or four entered from the back of the bus, and they were beating everyone they could…They beat us until they ran out of strength,” he said.
During the three days they were held at the barracks in Lukavica, they were assaulted constantly, Basic said.
“When they came in, they first went to beat up the young people. They beat those young people as much as they could. When they got tired, they left. Then the next ones were coming and continuing to do the same thing,” he said.
Forty-six Bosniak prisoners were taken away from the barracks and have not been seen since. The Association for Prisoners and Missing Persons from Hadzici said that it has searched for their remains in two different places, but has found nothing, although new information about the possible location of a mass grave has raised fresh hopes.
So far, the remains of 160 murdered people from the town have been found in several mass graves around East Sarajevo, Hadzici and Mount Igman. A total of 90 remain missing, however.
So far just four former Bosnian Serb soldiers have been convicted of war crimes in Hadzici.
Rade Veselinovic, a former military police officer, was jailed for seven and a half years for the illegal detentions, torture, forced disappearances and murders in the town.
Meanwhile Nemanja Jovicic was jailed for ten years for rapes, inhumane treatment and robberies of non-Serbs, Vlastimir Pusara was sentenced to seven years for participating in the unlawful arrest and torture of civilians during an attack on the village of Musici, and Boro Krsmanovic was sentenced to three years for intimidation, threats and the looting of Bosniaks’ property.
Former prisoners have expressed anger because no senior figure has yet been prosecuted for the crimes that were committed in the detention centres in Hadzici.
The Bosnian state prosecution insisted however that cases were underway.
“Some of the cases are under investigation; in other words, the order to start an investigation against the suspects has been given. In order to protect the investigation, we cannot give more information about these cases,” said prosecution spokesman Boris Grubesic.
But the families of some of the victims have now filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasboug, arguing that it represents their last hope of finding the missing and winning compensation.
“I do not expect much,” said Ferida Nisic, who has been searching for his lost brother for 22 years. “But I would most love to find out the truth about our missing ones.”