BABIES AND CHILDREN – PRISONERS OF WAR
Protected witness VS-1052 recounts at the trial of Vojislav Seselj how he was detained and tortured in mid-1992: he was thirteen years old. Some members of his family were badly beaten, taken away and are still missing
Vojislav Seselj in the courtroom
In his written statement – tendered into evidence today – protected witness VS-1052 says he was captured in a forest near his house as he and his family tried to hide from the attack launched by the Serb forces in June 1992. It was his thirteenth birthday that day. After their arrest, they were taken to a neighboring municipality where they were detained in a primary school building. In the five days of his captivity there, he listened to the ‘beatings and screams’ of prisoners that had been taken from the common room. Later he saw their ‘bodies and clothes covered in blood’. In the five days, most of the males from his family were taken from the school; they have not been seen again.
Five days later, the witness and the remaining prisoners – mostly women and children – were transferred to a Secretariat of Interior building in another municipality where they were put in a cell measuring about six square meters. Despite the fact that among them there was a six-months old baby and a three-year old child, they were given little food and water. The witness had to ‘beg for some food for the baby’. After twenty days, he was released together with some other prisoners.
In a brief examination-in chief, the witness confirmed the accuracy of the statement he gave to the OTP investigators in 2004. When asked by the judges what the men who arrested him looked like, the witness explained that they wore ‘long beards and shortish hair’. They were dressed in ‘camouflage and JNA uniforms’. As he noted, he didn’t know any of them but later on in the police station he was able to recognize two of his pre-war neighbors dressed in the JNA uniforms.
Seselj refused to examine the witness, in line with his decision not to cross-examine witnesses whose evidence is admitted into evidence in the form of their written statements.
According to the indictment against Vojislav Seselj, the Serb forces and ‘Seselj’s men’ captured 76 Muslim civilians in a forest at the foot of Mount Velez in June 1992. They were detained in a primary school building in the village of Dnopolje. Men were separated from women and children. They were killed and their bodies were found in a place called Teleca Lastva.
Another protected witness, VS-1051, also spoke about the crimes in the Nevesinje area, but he did so in closed session. As today’s hearing drew to a close, Fahrudin Bilic, another prosecution witness, began his evidence about the events in 1992 in the Mostar area. His testimony continues tomorrow.
Vojislav Seselj, the Serbian Radical Party leader, is charged with persecution, killing, torture, deportation and wanton destruction of houses and religious buildings qualified in the indictment as crimes against humanity and violations of laws and customs of war. As alleged in the indictment, the crimes were committed by the SRS volunteers, a/k/a ‘Seseslj’s men’, in Croatia, Vojvodina and BH from 1991 to 1993.