Feature 15 Nov 17

Bodybuilder’s Murder Highlights Mladic’s 1992 Genocide Charge

Yugoslav bodybuilding star Fikret Hodzic was a victim of the 1992 campaign of military persecution for which former Bosnian Serb Army chief Ratko Mladic faces judgment next week - but can prosecutors prove it was genocide?

Dragana Erjavec BIRN Trnopolje
 An old photograph of Fikret Hodzic winning a competition. Photo: BIRN.

Suada Hodzic lives in Trnopolje, near Prijedor, in a house near where her husband was killed in July 1992 - Fikret Hodzic, a 15-time bodybuilding champion of Yugoslavia and the runner-up in the European championships.

“Life with Fikret was the most beautiful fairytale… He was a man who was never angry, who would not raise his voice, always smiling. They called him the bodybuilder with the smile, and that smile opened every door,” said Hodzic.

He was also popular locally because he opened the first bodybuilding club in Trnopolje in 1975.

This fairytale life ended on July 9, 1992, when Serb soldiers entered Trnopolje and took Fikret, Suada and their two children from their home.

“My daughter was 15 and my son was 11. Fikret was taken from us, held near the house and we were told to go on… We got maybe ten steps and I heard a burst of fire from a rifle from behind. Unfortunately that was the end,” she said.

“I turned to see a boy who trained with Fikret. He was at our house numerous times. He held a Kalashnikov rifle. He looked at me and laughed. Fikret lay beneath [the gunman], killed from behind,” said Hodzic.

After her husband’s killing, Hodzic was taken with her children to the notorious detention Bosnian Serb camp in Trnopolje, whose terrible conditions were later exposed to the world by Western media reports. After two days, she was allowed to go home to get some food.

“I saw his body. I covered it up… That day we were deported from Trnopolje, which was good. I don’t know if we would have survived any longer,” said Hodzic, who was taken to Austria.

According to Hague Tribunal verdicts, thousands of Bosniaks were killed, detained and beaten in Prijedor in 1992 in a campaign of persecution.

Former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic is charged with genocide in Prijedor and five other municipalities in 1992, with the indictment alleging that this campaign of persecution was aimed at destroying Bosniaks as a group. Mladic is now awaiting his trial verdict for this and wartime other crimes on November 22.

Suada Hodzic shows pictures of her husband. Photo: BIRN.

Prosecutors ‘not ready’ to prove genocide

Former Hague Tribunal cooperation officer and veteran lawyer Vasvija Vidovic told BIRN that she doubts the 1992 genocide count against Mladic will be proven, as prosecutors “failed to produce adequate evidence”. Last year, former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic was also acquitted of genocide in 1992.

“It was a big ask from prosecutors and they did not do their job adequately… Honestly, the prosecution did not even focus too much on these municipalities,” Vidovic argued.

“The problem is that the Hague prosecution did not produce a lot of evidence uncovered after the war. They should have prepared better,” she added.

Former Bosnian Constitutional Court judge Krstan Simic said that “horrible crimes” were committed in Prijedor, but insisted that they “failed the meet the genocide threshold”.

“The specificity of proving genocide is genocidal intent. A crime against humanity is not a lesser crime, but there is no intent to destroy a part of or an entire group… This is hard to prove, the threshold is so high,” he explained.

Simic added that the Hague Tribunal has already handed down several not-guilty verdicts in relation to alleged genocide in 1992.

One of Mladic’s defence lawyers, Miodrag Stojanovic, agreed. He said the Mladic defence strategy was based on the reasoning of the first-instance verdict against former Karadzic, in which he was acquitted of genocide in 1992.

“We followed the reasoning of the Karadzic case; we considered it a standard,” said Stojanovic.

Stojanovic said Mladic’s defence did not deny the killings or the existence of the detention camps.

“That would be an insane defence… a good defence is that a crime happened, but that it was an incident, or not part of a pattern. We claim there is no pattern. We are defending the man, [arguing] that he did not know,” he explained.

International humanitarian law professor Zarije Seizovic argued however that no crime during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was committed without a greater cause.

“These mass crimes were committed to send a message – you are not welcome here… We raped your daughters, we killed your loved ones…” said Seizovic.

But he said that the word ‘genocide’ is over-used in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“It is hard, almost impossible to prove this genocidal intent; it is created from circumstantial evidence, not from the number of killings, the horrific nature of the crime, or the place… it is the personal relation of the perpetrator to the crime,” Seizovic argued.

According to former judge Simic, the difference between Prijedor and the other crimes committed in 1992 to the massacres of Bosniaks from Srebrenica in 1995, which have been classified by the Hague Tribunal as genocide, is the lack of a clear plan to destroy a group.

“Srebrenica was a project… The killing, burials and reburials, the transfer of women and children... It was a project with a clear plan,” Simic said.

Vidovic insists that it is clear that a plan existed in 1992 to expel non-Serbs.

“The 1992 genocide charges are not a political charge… In the summer of 1992 thousands were killed in Prijedor. The question is only if the prosecutors know how to prove it. However, there was a clear pattern,” she said.

“If the prosecutors did their job, I believe, and if they had a clear strategy of who to charge – which I think was not clear – they could have proven genocide,” she added.

A cherished photo album with pictures of Fikret Abdic's achievements. Photo: BIRN.

Life without justice

Lawyer Stojanovic says that no verdict will provide genuine justice for victims.

“Victims live to face those who they believe are responsible [for the crimes committed against them], and when this happens, they are empty and they feel bitter,” he said.

Humanitarian law professor Seizovic agreed that trials do not erase the suffering.

“If someone is raped when they are 12 or spends years in a [detention] camp, what is just about a verdict for genocide or crime against humanity?” he asked

“Some convict went to a jail which looks like a hotel. His living standards are better than mine, except he cannot leave… Victims go through hell and they say justice is served. That is not justice, it is creating a smaller injustice,” he argued.

After a period in exile in Austria and Germany, Suada Hodzic returned home to Trnopolje, but her life would never be the same.

“Life went in another direction. My son was supposed to start the army. He was a sportsman like Fikret,” Hodzic said.

“Everything went back to being kind of normal, but in 2000 my child was killed by a stray bullet. I had to go back to Trnopolje so I could watch over him and Fikret,” she said.

She lives alone and passes by the spot where she lost her husband every day.

“It has been 20 years since I lost Fikret. Not only Fikret, all the men from here were taken and few have survived. I know life goes on, I fight as best I know, but I struggle with one thing. These were not foreigners who killed here, it was all our neighbours, our friends,” she said.

“That bothers me and I will never understand that, let alone trust again.”

Each year, on the day that Fikret Hodzic was murdered, his family, friends and neighbours meet near his grave to honour the person they remember as a great sportsman.

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