Sefik Hurko, former detainee of the Rasadnik prison camp in Rogatica, described his first encounter with Ratko Mladic on the frontline near Gorazde. The general told the detained Muslims they had to ‘be baptized if they wanted to remain in Republika Srpska’. The judges warned the accused to ‘refrain from all gestures denoting disagreement or agreement with what the witnesses say’ after Mladic ‘wagged his finger’ in court

Sefik Hurko, witness at the Ratko Mladic trialSefik Hurko, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial

‘Those who want to stay will have to be baptized; those that don’t will be moved to Alija’s state’. General Ratko Mladic said this to a group of detained Muslims from Rogatica in late April 1994. Serb soldiers used the detainees for forced labor on the frontlines.

On that day, Sefik Hurko was forced to cut down trees in the woods near Gorazde for the VRS; he was there with other prisoners from the Rasadnik prison facility. Today, he testified about his encounter with the accused general. When Mladic arrived, the soldiers approached him proudly and he congratulated them on their victory, the witness recounted. When he saw a group of civilians, Mladic asked Vinko Bojic, the commander of the Rasadnik camp, who they were. Mladic was told they were ‘loyal Muslims’. Mladic then addressed the detainees. Gesturing towards Gorazde, Mladic told them ‘it will be in Serb hands in a day or two’.

The encounter with Mladic happened on one of the many days when prisoners were forced to bring food to Serb soldiers on the frontlines or to carry back the people who had been wounded or killed in the mine fields. The witness was detained in the Rasadnik prison camp from 14 August 1992 until late April 1994. The detainees slept together in one room on floorboards and had to urinate and defecate in tin buckets in a corner of the room. They were given a small bowl of food and a slice of bread a day. Prisoners were regularly beaten and killed. In the summary of the witness’s statement that was admitted into evidence, the witness said that apart from being beaten, the detained women, men and the elderly were subject to all sorts of sexual abuse.

Today the witness described in detail one of the several beatings he and his father had been through: one night, they were beaten with thick bats in the prison warden’s office. When the witness fainted, his tormentors poured water over him to revive him. The witness also described Becir Cutaj’s murder. Cutaj’s cries could be heard from the warden’s officer. Suljo Kustura, who was ordered to bury Cutaj’s body, told the witness that Cutaj had been ‘cut to pieces’.

Prisoners were forced to work every day, doing the ‘worst jobs Serbs didn’t want to do’, such as clearing the town streets and the mosques in ruins. The detainees were forced to remove furniture, household appliances and even ‘taps’ from abandoned Muslim houses and to bring them to Serb houses, the witness recounted.

Before the break, prosecutor Groome told the judges that ‘something happened in the final ten seconds of the hearing’, advising them to watch the footage recorded by the camera trained only on the accused. After the judges returned to the courtroom, the presiding judge said they saw Mladic ‘making inappropriate gestures and wagging his finger’. The judges concluded it wasn’t necessary to take any measures and told Mladic to ‘refrain from making any gestures to denote agreement or disagreement with what the witnesses say’. Mladic saluted the Trial Chamber, signifying his approval.