News 13 Jun 12

Bosnian Ex-Camp Detainees Join Forces

Wartime camp detainees, who have lodged claims for compensation against the Bosnian authorities, are still waiting for their payouts, seventeen years after the war.

Denis Dzidic

Zijahudin Smailagic, president of the Regional Former Detainee Associations in Banja Luka, is one of a few to whom an indemnity has actually been paid.

He spent 17 months in the detention centre Mali Kamp in Banja Luka, and the District Court in that town obliged Republika Srpska in 2005 to pay him 4 euros for each day spent in the camp, a total of 2,200 euros. Six years after the verdict, the Republika Srpska paid Smailagic in the summer of 2011.

Smailagic tells BIRN that his case should be a lesson to all former camp detainees, that claims for compensation are possible and that the only way for people to get their rights is by bringing together Bosniak, Serb and Croat detainees.

This is why, Smailagic explains, he founded the Regional Former Detainee Associations in Banja Luka, which now has around seven thousand members. Smilagic says it is the only multi ethnic detainee association currently in Bosnia.

“This is the only way forward for those people who have been stripped of their rights. Politics are the reason we do not have a common detainee association. If we want reconciliation this is our only chance. You should see our members from all sides; they all have the same stories, whether they are Bosniaks, Croats or Serbs. They understand one another,” says Smailagic.

Over 650 camps and other detention facilities operated in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the early 90’s war. They were under the control of the Bosniak dominated Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serb-run Army of Republika Srpska, VRS, and the Croatian Defence Council, HVO.

Courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina have brought over a hundred verdicts in favour of former detainees for the time they spent in camps and the suffering they experienced, but only a handful of those have been paid out.

Smailagic says, however, that detainees should persevere, and that they will get their rights.

The Banja Luka association currently has 3,500 pending claims for compensation from Republika Srpska in the District court in Banja Luka, and 2,000 claims from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina before a Sarajevo court.

Only last week, three Bosnian Serb members of Smailagic’s association won their claims before the Sarajevo court against the Bosnian Federation. Cedo Maric, Nikola Jovicic and Luka Patkovic from Derventa won the right to receive a total of 25,000 euro for the abuse they lived through during their detention in Cardak, Bosanski Brod and Tulek by Bosniak and Croat forces.

Smailagic is expecting a couple of more verdicts in Banja Luka and Sarajevo later this month.

“Our biggest problem is the amount of time this all takes. We are very unhappy with the tempo. In Banja Luka, we have been waiting in some cases for five years, before the Court schedules a hearing. Sarajevo takes three years,” said Smailagic.

Different court practices in Bosnia, lead to vast differences in the size of the awards per day spent in the camp.  The sums awarded in previous verdicts have ranged in size from four to 500 euros per day spent in a camp.

Smailagic reveals that in his case, the court awarded him four euro, while in the cases of Maric, Jovicic and Patkovic, the judges gave them 100 euro per day in captivity.

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