News 14 Feb 18

Croats Tried for Herzeg-Bosnia Prison Camp Abuse

The trial of Marinko Maric and Zeljko Rodin, former Bosnian Croat soldiers accused of abusing Bosniak civilian detainees and prisoners of war in 1993, was told how prisoners were abused and intimidated in camps.

Sven Milekic
Gabela, where one of the wartime prison camps was located. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Dragan966m.

The trial of former Bosnian Croat soldiers Marinko Maric and Zeljko Rodin at the county court in the Croatian city of Split on Wednesday heard evidence from witnesses who testified that they and others were subjected to abuse in prison camps in the Croat-run Herzeg-Bosnia wartime statelet in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Maric and Rodin are former members of the Bosnian Croat armed forces, the Croatian Defence Council, HVO, serving in the Knez (Duke) Domagoj unit. They also worked as agents of the Croatian Security-Information Service, SIS, in the HVO-run Gabela, Silos and Dretelj prison camps in the western Herzegovina area.

They are accused of the physical and mental abuse and humiliation of Bosniak civilians and prisoners of war in the camps in 1993. As a consequence of the beatings they inflicted, one camp inmate died.

Former Bosniak prison camp inmate Medin Kaplan, from the Bosnian town of Stolac, was an HVO soldier himself in 1993. Although Kaplan was in the courtroom, the judge read his testimony from the investigation in 2015 about the abuse he suffered in detention.

Kaplan was wounded in fighting against Serb forces in Stolac in January 1993, then in July the same year, HVO soldiers – who he knew personally – arrested him in front of his house in Stolac and took him to the basement of a building, where he spent next two days with other prisoners.

After that, he was transferred to prison camp Dretelj and put into “a metal container” along with some 500 other inmates, in poor living conditions with low food rations.

In the testimony, Kaplan said that he had not known defendant Maric personally before imprisonment, but was told about him by other inmates.

“I first saw him in September [1993] as he came into the camp, putting a pistol to inmates’ heads and asking them their names. He would then either say that you must stay or that you can go out [of the container],” Kaplan said in the testimony.

“He put a pistol on my head and asked me my name, and when I said it, he told me that I had to stay,” he continued.

He explained that inmates “were in fear”, as they did not know what does it mean “to stay or go out”.

He said to investigators that he later found out that all those who were chosen to leave the camp were transferred to another camp, Heliodrom, where they were used as human shields at the battlefront.

When asked if he could point out Maric in the courtroom, he did so. He added that he does not know Rodin.

In September, Kaplan was transferred to the prison camp in Gabela, at the border with Croatia, and later released.

He said that due to his treatment in the camps he has problems with his ears, as well as suffering psychologically.

In the courtroom, Maric rejected Kaplan’s testimony about putting a pistol to prisoners’ heads.

Judge Vladimir Zivaljic also read the testimony of Enver Bojcic, a former judge in the southern Bosnian town of Capljina, who could not come to court due to serious health issues. Bojcic gave the testimony to the Bosnian State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA, in June 2014.

In his testimony, Bojcic said that he was arrested by Bosnian Croat policemen in 1993 and imprisoned in Gabela, along with other inmates – mostly Bosniaks.

He testified how other inmates had “head and face injuries”, while conditions in the camp were poor, with inmates sometimes going without food for days.

Before being imprisoned, he said he knew only Rodin superficially.

In his testimony, Bojcic testified how he saw Maric enter the prison and kick a prisoner.

“He [defendant Maric] came in and kicked [prisoner] Huso Maric, telling him to get up. After Huso Maric said that he couldn’t get up because ‘he was severely beaten’, Marinko Maric put a pistol in his mouth and said that he ‘can’t say that’, but must say that he ‘fell down the stairs’,” Bojcic said in his testimony.

Other inmates warned Bojcic after the incident that Maric “is from the SIS” and that “he is very dangerous”.

In the courtroom, defendant Maric objected Bojcic’s testimony, adding that he did not kick the prisoner and that “he only put a pistol to the head”.

The two defendants hold both Bosnian and Croatian citizenships and currently live in Split.

The Bosnian prosecution charged Maric back in 2006 and Rodin in 2012, but could not proceed with the case, as the men lived in Croatia.

The case represents one of the very few cases that have been successfully transferred from the Bosnian judiciary to the Croatian judiciary, according to a protocol on cooperation in the prosecution of war crime cases that was signed in 2013.

The trial started in 2017, and both defendants pleaded not guilty.

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