At the trial of Ratko Mladic, journalist Ed Vulliamy described Omarska and Trnopolje, where in the summer of 1992 the Bosnian Serb authorities held non-Serbs from Prijedor, as concentration camps.
Vulliamy, who was one of the first Western journalists to visit Omarska and Trnopolje and the surrounding area on August 5, 1992, at the invitation from the then President of Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadzic, emphasized that prisoners were collected, abused and murdered in camps, and subsequently massively expelled.
His report and footage of starved and very skinny prisoners behind barbed wire, made by ITN journalists Penny Marshall, had great impact on the public opinion worldwide.
Mladic, former commander of the Army of Republika Srpska, is charged with expulsion of non-Serbs across Bosnia and Herzegovina, which, according to the indictment, in seven Bosnian municipalities, including Prijedor, reached a level of genocide.
He is also charged with genocide in Srebrenica, terrorizing Sarajevo citizens, and taking international soldiers as hostages between 1992 and 1995.
Just like at the trial of Karadzic last autumn, Vulliamy testified that the prisoners he saw in Omarska in August 1992 were “in a state of shocking decay”, and that the prisoners “behind barbed wire” in the Trnopolje camp were “skeletal”.
Commenting on the video recording which features dozens of prisoners wolfing down modest meals in the dining room in Omarska while surrounded by armed guards, Vulliamy said that he tried to talk to a prisoner, who, when asked about the conditions there, responded that “he did not want to tell any lies, but that he could not tell the truth.”
While visiting the Omarska camp, he said, British journalists were escorted by an officer of the Republika Srpska Army, Major Milovan Milutinovic, who was later close associate of General Mladic, and chief of the Prijedor police, Simo Drljaca, who did not allow them to enter a hangar where prisoners were held.
In Trnopolje, he said that the prisoners were fenced off by barbed wire and were “brought from other camps for forced expulsion”. He also said that he learnt from prisoners about the mass murder of around 150 people in the Keraterm camp.
During cross-examination, Mladic’s lawyer Dragan Ivetic presented Vulliamy with the fact that in his report from the camp, published on August 7, 1992, in The Guardian, he wrote that there was no concentration camp in Trnopolje and that the situation was not as bad as in Omarska.
Vulliamy responded that that was true and that with that article he wanted to distance himself from those who at the time compared camps in Bosnia with the Nazi concentration camps.
However, he emphasised, based on subsequent conversation with the survivors, and having in mind that prisoners in Trnopolje were “concentrated” in order to be expelled, while being abused and killed all the time, he changed that stance.
“I believed then as I believe now that Omarska was a concentration camp”, said Vulliamy.
At the suggestion of Mladic’s lawyer, the witness confirmed that Trnopolje had an added-on section, as well as that a part of the people came to the camp of their own accord, fleeing before war activities.
Asked whether in his report from the camp he wrote that it was run by the civilian Serb authorities and not the army, Vulliamy replied affirmatively, specifying that British journalists were told this by Prijedor’s wartime mayor, Milomir Stakic, before visiting the Trnopolje camp.
For war crimes in Prijedor, the Hague Tribunal sentenced Stakic to 40 years of prison.
Ivetic suggested that Vulliamy is not an impartial journalist or witness, to which Vulliamy replied he was completely impartial and objective, but not “neutral”, having in mind what he saw while visiting the camp.
The defence will conclude Vulliamy’s cross-examination on Thursday, September 20.
In July 1995 Srebrenica was shelled and occupied by the Army of Republic of Srpska,VRS, despite being declared a protected area by the United Nations. More than 7,000 people were killed, the victims of genocide.
Key dates and events in the Bosnia war.
The Bosnian Serb commander’s role in the genocide committed in Srebrenica is described in detail in many indictments and verdicts pronounced before local and international judicial institutions.