Serbian Ministry of Interior ordered to disclose Information about Wartime Detention Camps for Bosniaks

The Commissioner for Information of Public Interest ordered the Republic of Serbia Ministry of Interior (MoI) on 23 May 2008 to inform the Humanitarian Law Center, without any delay and at the latest within three days from receiving the decision, if it possesses a document or other legal act concerning detention camps in Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje for Bosniaks from Žepa and to deliver the list of MoI officers that worked in these camps. HLC received the Commissioner’s decision on 29 May 2008.

HLC submitted a request on 31 July 2007 to the MoI asking for the Serbian Government or MoI’s decisions or other legal acts concerning the two camps established on the territory of the Republic of Serbia and the list of officers who were in charge of running and supervising these camps. The MoI sent a reply to HLC on 5 October 2007 dismissing its request in relation to the list of officers in charge of these camps explaining that revealing the identities of the MoI officers might jeopardize their security. The MoI did not respond at all to the part of the request relating to the disclosure of the legal act concerning the opening of these camps.

HLC lodged an appeal against the MoI’s decision to the Commissioner for Information of Public Interest on 17 October 2007. On 23 May 2008, the Commissioner brought a decision dismissing the decision of the Republic of Serbia MoI and ordering it to deliver the documents in question to the HLC without delay.

After the fall of Žepa on 31 July 1995, at least 1,000 Bosniaks tried to cross the River Drina and find refuge in Serbia from the Republic of Srpska Army, which had committed genocide in Srebrenica two weeks earlier. They were hoping that they could go from Serbia to some other countries. After crossing the Drina, Yugoslav Army officers arrested them. They first took them to Jagoštica [Bajina Bašta Municipality]. Some of them were then taken to Mali Zvornik for interrogation after which some were taken to the camp in Šljivovica [Čajetina Municipality] and others to Mitrovo Polje [Aleksandrovac Municipality]. Dozens of refugees were handed over to the Republic of Srpska police authorities. The trace for the most of them has been lost ever since. There is no information on how many Bosniaks were killed near Priboj, where they also crossed the border. Serbian MoI officers arrested Muslims from Žepa, who had found shelter at their relatives and friends’ houses in Novi Pazar and surrounding villages, and took them to the camps.

Prisoners in Šljivovica were placed in two ruined huts for workers of the Rasina Company while prisoners in Mitrovo Polje were placed in an abandoned children’s recreation centre. Both camps were fenced and guarded by Serbian police officers. According to HLC records, over 800 Bosniaks were detained in these camps. Prisoners were beaten every day with bats and metal bars and police officers kicked them. Many of them were engaged in hard physical labour. Police officers forced prisoners to address each other by Serbian names. They beat them whenever they went to use the latrine. They also made them sing Chetnick songs and beat each other. ICRC registered the prisoners. The food in the camps was poor. Although ICRC representatives would regularly bring the prisoners food, immediately after the ICRC representatives left the police would take the food out of the camps.

Three prisoners did not survive: one prisoner suffocated in a truck when he was being transported to the camp due to lack of oxygen; another prisoner was shot; and one prisoner died as a consequence of a beating. Prisoners were released in several groups with the coordination of the ICRC after mid January 1996.