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Reserach project Genocide in Prijedor

Research project: Genocide in Prijedor

Professor Emir Ramic, mr. sc

Director Institute for Resaerch Genocide, Canada

 The Abstract:

 The Prijedor municipality, in the North-western part of Bosnia, with 112.543 residents according to 1991 census (of which 49.351 Bosniacs, 47.581 Serbs, 6.316 Croats, 6.459 Yugoslavs, and 2.836 Others), is one of the geographic areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina of special interest for the Serbian great state project. According to their intentions, objectives, mode of commission, forms and extent of crime against humanity and international law, committed in other parts of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and their collaborationists committed in Prijedor from 1992 to 1995 in addition to crimes against peace and safety of mankind, other grave and massive crimes against civilians, including genocide against Bosniacs. This was also reflected in the organized, individual and massive killing; arrests, deportation, and incarceration in the concentration camps {Omarska, Keraterm, Trnopolje and others, prisons, and other places of imprisonment; forcible transfer and expulsion; systematic and massive rapes sexual abuse of women (elderly ladies, women, and young girls); attacks and devastation of civilian objects; planned and selective plundering of private property, forcible disappearance, mass graves, etc.

Targeted topics:

-          Municipality Prijedor in the Serbian great state project;

-          Planning, preparation, and commission of genocide and other forms of crimes against humanity and international law in Prijedor;

-          Main actors and accomplices in genocide in Prijedor;

-          Forcible takeover of (legitimate) authorities by the Serbian forces;

-          Massive unlawful dismissal from jobs;

-          Armed formations of the Great Serbian aggressor in Prijedor municipality;

-          Armed attack against civilian objects in municipality Prijedor;

-          Forcible expulsion of civilians;

-          Concentration camps, prisons and other places of imprisonment;

-          Systematic massive and individual killings;

-          Forms and manners of commission of crimes;

-          Unlawful means, manners and methods of warfare;

-          Mass and individual graves;

-          Devastation and destruction of villages and settlements, confessional and other objects;

-          Planned plundering of property;

-          Systematic and mass rapes and sexual abuse;

-          Infliction of grave physical and mental harm;

-          Execution of Bosniac elite;

-          Destruction of return of those forcible expelled;

-          Exhumation and the identification of the killed;

-          Genocide and other forms of crimes in municipality Prijedor in court proceedings (ICTY, Court of BiH and other);

-          Results of the research of genocide in the municipality of Prijedor.

The Commission of Experts of the Human rights watch determined that the systematic destruction of the Bosniak community in the Prijedor area met the definition of genocide

The Prijedor opstina, or administrative district, includes at least seventy-one smaller towns and villages.(1) The names of some are now familiar due to the atrocities which took place there; among them are Kozarac, Omarska, and Trnopolje. While the towns and villages within the wider Prijedor district have their own officials, they are governed by the opstina. Thus, the Prijedor authorities wield influence over a considerable area. Prijedor was considered a strategically important town by the Bosnian Serbs, who wanted to create a corridor between Serbia proper and the Croatian Krajina, which was until 1995 controlled by rebel Serbs in Croatia. As early as 1991, the Serbs organized a Serb-only alternative administration in Opstina Prijedor, under the guidance of a central administration in Banja Luka. The designated Serb "mayor" was Milomir Stakic, a medical doctor who functioned as deputy mayor under the duly elected Bosniak mayor of the town, Muhamed Cehajic.

After the Serbs took power on April 30, 1992, they opened at least four detention camps in the Prijedor opstina. Two of the concentration camps, Omarska and Keraterm, were places where killings, torture, and brutal interrogations were carried out. The third, Trnopolje, had another purpose; it functioned as a staging area for massive deportations of mostly women, children, and elderly men, and killings and rapes (2) also occurred there. The fourth, Manjaca, was referred to by the Bosnian Serbs as a "prisoner of war camp," although most if not all detainees were civilians.(3)

"Despite the absence of a real non-Serbian threat, the main objective of the concentration camps, especially Omarska but also Keraterm, seems to have been to eliminate the non-Serb leadership," the U.N. Commission of Experts found. "From the time when the Serbs took power in the district of Prijedor, non-Serbs in reality became outlaws. At times, non-Serbs were instructed to wear white arm bands to identify themselves...According to Serbianregulations, those leaving the district had to sign over their property rights and accept never to return, being told their names would simultaneously be deleted from the census." (4)

According to Ed Vulliamy (5), the first journalist to report from the Omarska camp, "Omarska was a monstrosity: an inferno of murder, torture and rape. It was a stain upon our century." (6)

During the period when many persons were interned in the concentration camps, family members sometimes tried to obtain information from the police station in town. "Instead of receiving information concerning the whereabouts of their family members, they were in some cases offered the alternative of paying for an "exit visa" for the family at large.(7) In order to receive an "exit visa," sums of money had to be paid to various municipal authorities and to the local "Red Cross," run by the Bosnian Serb authorities, and real property had to be signed over to the municipality.

The Commission of Experts determined that the systematic destruction of the Bosniak community in the Prijedor area met the definition of genocide. (8)

The persecution of non-Serbs in Prijedor did not ease after international pressure succeeded in forcing the Bosnian Serbs to close the concentration camps in 1992, as evidenced by the ICRC's attempt to evacuate all remaining non-Serbs from Opstina Prijedor in March 1994. (9)

As documented by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, a final wave of mass expulsions of non-Serbs from Prijedor and many other towns in Serb-controlled territory occurred in September and October 1995, when the infamous Zeljko "Arkan" Raznatovic joined local forces to conduct "ethnic cleansing" operations. (10) Forced expulsions in Prijedor began on October 5 during which those expelled were again forced to finance their own "ethnic cleansing" by paying transportation fees to the local "Red Cross" and were harassed, robbed, and threatened while waiting for the buses which would later dump them at the confrontation line. (11)

One woman told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki during a 1995 investigation of the expulsions, "All the Muslims from the city [Prijedor] were expelled. We went to the [local] Red Cross, gave them seventy DM for each family member and got on the buses. . .There were thirteen buses in the convoy leaving from Prijedor for Teslic. Men were taken off my bus. . . My husband was taken off the bus in Blatnica, a Serbian village in the woods." She had not seen her husband since. (12)

Many draft-age males were separated from their families during round-ups in other Bosnian Serb-controlled areas, and transferred to Prijedor, where they were interned at the "Autoprevoz" facility or other local detention centers. Following the official closing of the camps in 1992, and until the present, rumors have abounded about the reopening of the Omarska, Manjaca and Keraterm camps, but Human Rights Watch/Helsinki has been unable to confirm them. Prisoners released from "Autoprevoz" in an exchange told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki that when the International Committee of the Red Cross tried to visit them, they were moved by bus onto the Kozara mountain and hidden until the visitors had gone away. (13)

Oppression of the now-minority Bosniak and Bosnian Croat populations throughout Republika Srpska continues today through restrictions on freedom of movement; evictions and expulsions; arbitrary arrest and detention; ethnically motivated harassment and direct physical attack; denial of employment, humanitarian assistance, medical care, and social insurance; discrimination in access to education; and restrictions on religious freedom.


* * * * *


(1) According to the 1991 census, Opstina (administrative district) Prijedor had a total population of 112,470 people, of whom 44 percent were Muslims, 42.5 percent Serbs, 5.6 percent Croats, 5.7 percent "Yugoslavs," and 2.2 percent others (Ukrainians, Russians, and Italians). In April 1992, the total population was approximately 120,000 people, augmented, inter alia, by an influx of people who had fled the destruction of their villages in the west of Opstina Prijedor. United Nations, Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts, established pursuant to Security Council resolution 780, (New York: United Nations, 1992), S/1994674/Add.2 (Vol.), December 28, 1994, Annex V, Part 2, Section II, Subsection B.


(2) The U.N. Commission of Experts and many journalists and witnesses have reported extensively on the rape of women by Bosnian Serb forces. The commission, which conducted a special investigation of rape during the war, concluded: "Rape is prevalent in the camps. . .Captors have killed women who resisted being raped, often in front of other prisoners. Rapes were also committed in the presence of other prisoners. Women are frequently selected at random during the night. These rapes are done in a way that instills terror in the women prisoner population. The commission has information indicating that girls as young as seven years old and women as old as sixty-five have been raped while in captivity.. .Mothers of young children are often raped in front of their children and are threatened with the death of their children if they do not submit to being raped. Sometimes young women are separated from older women and taken to separate camps where they are raped several times a day, for many days, often by more than one man. Many of these women disappear, or after they have been raped and brutalized to the point where they are traumatized, they are returned to the camps and are replaced by other young women. There have also been instances of sexual abuse of men as well as castration and mutilation of male sexual organs. Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts, Annex V, Part 2, Section IV.

(3) As of June 23, 1993, according to the United Nations Commission of Experts, which conducted an extensive review of war crimes committed in Prijedor municipality, the total number of killed and deported persons was 52,811 (including limited numbers of refugees and people missing). Camps located in or around Prijedor included Omarska, Manjaca, Keraterm, and Trnopolje. See Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts, for a detailed description of events around Prijedor in 1992 and throughout the war.


(4) Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts, Annex V, Part 2, Section IV.


(5) Ed Vulliamy of The Guardian and Roy Gutman of Newsday were among the first to uncover and gain access to the concentration camps in the Prijedor area in 1992. Vulliamy accompanied non-Serbs as they were being "ethnically cleansed" from the territory, posing as a deaf mute. The two conducted extensive interviews over many months with Bosnian Serb officials, representatives of international organizations including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and with survivors of the camps. Roy Gutman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his work, and Vulliamy has also been honored. Both Gutman's and Vulliamy's findings have been utilized in war crimes investigations by the ICTY.


(6) Ed Vulliamy, "Yugoslavia: Horror Hidden Beneath Ice and Lies", The Guardian, London, February 19, 1996, p. 9.


(7) Final Report of the U.N. Commission of Experts, Annex V, Part 2, Section IX, Subsection D.


(8) Ibid.


(9) The ICRC's plans to evacuate all non-Serb residents of the town was abandoned after Karadzic refused to grant safe passage for convoys out.


(10) A person who in 1994 left Prijedor told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki that "I hid for two years. People were being killed on the road and I wouldn't have been caught dead walking outside. I stayed in my house from the day I was released from the Keraterm concentration camp on August 13, 1992 until I came here [to Bosnian government-controlled territory] on Saturday [September 17, 1994]. See Human Rights Watch/Helsinki report, "Bosnia-Hercegovina: "Ethnic Cleansing" Continues in Northern Bosnia,"A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 6, no. 16, November 1994. Numerous similar stories have been related to Human Rights Watch/Helsinki representatives.


(11) Ibid.


(12) Ibid.


(13) The information on the expulsion of non-Serbs from Prijedor comes in part from a report of a human rights fact-finding mission which included staff from UNPF-HQ, United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), and the U.N. Center for Human Rights. The report is titled "Human Rights Abuses in Northwestern Bosnia: Report on Forced Expulsions from 5-12 October 1995." For a detailed description of how the forced expulsions were conducted, see Human Rights Watch/Helsinki's report titled "Northwestern Bosnia: Human Rights Abuses during a Cease-Fire and Peace Negotiations," Vol. 8, No. 1 (D), February 1996.

Genocide in Prijedor is a black spot on the conscience of the international community and on the conscience of those who committed the crime

Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are accused of orchestrating genocide in Prijedor

On 6 December 1992 The New York Times described a May 1992 attack in Prijedor “When the attack began, Serbs from the village guided the tanks to the homes of certain Muslims…and the inhabitants were asked to come out and show their identity cards. Many of those who did were summarily executed…The bodies of the dead were carried away by trucks, which left a trail of blood. Those not killed on the spot were transferred to a convoy heading toward Omarska, a Serb concentration camp.”

The Trial Chamber found that the takeover of Prijedor was an illegal coup d’état

As the Trial Chamber found in its decision, the Serb takeover in Prijedor was accompanied by and accomplished through the commission of atrocities on a massive scale, including the establishment of internment camps at Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje. These atrocities include frequent killings, rapes and sexual assaults. Moreover, thousands of individuals were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, including routine beatings and torture. The cleansing of Prijedor also resulted in the expulsion of Bosniaks from their homes as well as their deportation in huge numbers, often in convoys organized and supervised by Serb authorities. According to the Trial Chamber, more than 20,000 civilians were victims of the expulsion campaign and more than 1,500 were killed in massacres carried out by Serbs during the takeover. Others have reported that the death toll from the internment camps was equally high – according to one source, nearly 2000 Bosniaks died at Omarska alone. We first heard of Omarska in the summer of 1992. That is when Roy Gutman, a foreign correspondent working for Newsday, reported on the existence, at a mining complex, of a camp run by Bosnian Serb militants that held several thousand non-Serb prisoners, primarily Bosniaks but also Croats. Based on the later reports of the detainees who survived their ordeal at Omarska, Gutman called it a ‘‘death camp’’ and reported on the appalling conditions and the rape, torture and execution of detainees. International reporting, especially by British journalists Ed Vulliamy, Penny Marshall and Ian Williams, exposed the horrors of Omarska and ultimately forced the camp to close. After Omarska, it became clear to many people that, in Bosnia, we were dealing with evil on such a scale that can neither be explained away nor ignored. Eventually, the internationally community organized an international tribunal to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the former Yugoslavia. The tribunal convicted several of the camp guards, commandants and associated others for crimes committed at Omarska.

The municipality of Prijedor is located in the north-western region of Bosnia and Herzegovina known as the Bosanska Krajina. The town of Prijedor is the largest settlement in the municipality. According to the 1991 census, out of a total population of 112,543, 43,9% regarded themselves as Bosniaks, 42.3% as Serbs, 5.7% as Yugoslavs, 5.6% as Croats and 2.5% as “others”. The census, for the first time, identified the Bosniaks as the largest ethnic group in the municipality of Prijedor. The shifting demographic balance in favour of the Muslim population was considered a challenge by the Serbs and became one of the central issues in the municipality’s political life during 1991 and 1992.

During the war in Croatia, the tension increased between the Serbs and the communities of Bosniaks and Croats. There was a huge influx of Serb refugees from Slovenia and Croatia into the municipality. At the same time, Bosniaks and Croats began to leave the municipality because of a growing sense of insecurity and fear amongst the population.

Pro-Serb propaganda became increasingly visible. The Serb media propagandised the idea that the Serbs had to arm themselves in order to avoid a situation similar to that which happened during World War II when the Serbs were massacred. As a result of the takeover of the transmitter station on Mount Kozara in August 1991 by the Serbian paramilitary unit the “Wolves of Vučjak”, TV Sarajevo was cut off. It was replaced by broadcasts from Belgrade and Banja Luka with interviews from Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) politicians who argued that, while Serbs sought to preserve Yugoslavia, the Bosniaks and Croats wanted to destroy the country.

At the meeting of the Prijedor Municipal Board of the SDS on 27 December 1991 it was decided to overthrow the existing authorities in the town, replace legitimate central authorities with SDS or SDS-loyal personnel, and form independent Serb bodies. At the session on 7 January 1992, the Serbian members of the Prijedor Municipal Assembly and the presidents of the local Municipal Boards of the SDS proclaimed the Assembly of the Serbian People of the Municipality of Prijedor. Milomir Stakić was elected President of this Assembly.

By the end of April 1992, a number of clandestine Serb police stations were created in the municipality and more than 1,500 armed men were ready to take part in the takeover. In the night of the 29 to 30 April 1992, the takeover of power took place “without a single bullet fired”.

Employees of the public security station and reserve police gathered in ÄŒirkin Polje, part of the town of Prijedor. They were broadly divided into five groups. One group was responsible for the Municipal Assembly building, one for the SUP building, one for the courts, one for the bank and the last for the postoffice.

The Trial Chamber found that the takeover of Prijedor was an illegal coup d’état which had been planned and coordinated for months and which had as its final goal the creation of a Serbian municipality eventually to form part of an envisaged pure Serbian state. After the takeover, Milomir Stakić became, amongst other things, President of the Municipal Assembly and President of the Prijedor Municipal Peoples’ (National) Defence Council. From May 1992, he served as President of the Prijedor Municipal Crisis Staff. The Trial Chamber established that Milomir Stakić was the leading political figure in Prijedor municipality in 1992.

A comprehensive pattern of atrocities amounting to a campaign of a persecutorial nature was proved to have been committed against non-Serbs in Prijedor municipality in 1992. This included killings on a massive scale in the Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje camps, in Bosniak towns and villages throughout the municipality, and, finally, on Mount Vlašić.

The takeover of Prijedor, deportation of civilian from Prijedor and the operation of capturing, detention, and execution of Bosniacs are the acts of genocide, well planned, envisaged, efficiently organized, widespread, ordered from the top political and military leadership, and executed systematically according to the plan.

Number of the killed and execution, quick formation of mass graves, quick burials in mass graves, dislocation of mortal remains to secondary and tertiary mass graves suggest that the political, military, administrative, and police potential of the Serb forces supported by a large number of disciplined perpetrators took part in the plan, preparation, execution and the cover up of genocide.

Perpetrators of crime took all the steps, including the systematic digging, transfer, and reburial of the victims’ bodies, so as to cover up the genocide and prevent the justice, which constitutes yet another systematic form of crime committed against the killed, which has not been known in history. This speaks of the perpetrators as being aware of the criminal character of their actions, and there is no dilemma related to their subjective accountability and liability and/or firm intention related to the perpetration of this graves form of crime.

Mass graves of the genocide victims in Prijedor are apparent evidence of the planned and organized system of crimes, which resulted in genocide – the worst form of crimes against humanity and international law. Simultaneously, they are also one of the ways of concealing and destruction of clues of crimes. Unfortunately, International Court of Justice in The Hague in the case Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), did not mention at all the mass graves of the genocide victims in Prijedor.

The massive crime against Bosniacs of Islamic religion was committed in Prijedor. That crime is an act of genocide against Muslims. The area were the crimes were committed, speed of execution of several thousands of people, territory in which the bodies were buried, multiple transfer of mortal remains, and the number of individuals who took part in the execution and the covering of the crime absolutely indicate that the crimes were known to a large number of people and that they were persistently concealed.

Genocide against Bosniacs of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Prijedor was committed before the eyes of the world public. This was a part of direct preparation for the Dayton Accord following the traditional manner of placing everyone before the final act whiles securing strategically important border area to Serbia. This crime of genocide is only a tip of the iceberg within the crimes against humanity and international law committed continuously in the period of four years in the territory of three quarters of the state territory of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina – in all the occupied places and towns under the siege.

There is a lot of evidence to prove that crimes against humanity and war crimes had been committed in Prijedor, Bosnia and Herzegovina such as widespread killings, the siege of town, mass rapes, torture, deportation to camps and detention centers.

Conclusions of the Final Prijedor Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts established pursuant to security council resolution 780 (1992)  “It is unquestionable that the events in Opstina Prijedor since 30 April 1992 qualifies as crimes against humanity. Furthermore, it is likely to be confirmed in court under due process of law that these events constitute genocide”