Hearing of Witness Ismet Šehić in the Compensation Case against the Republic of Serbia for Torture Committed in Detention Camps Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje

A main hearing in the compensation case against the Republic of Serbia filed by the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) on behalf of Omer Čavić and another eight plaintiffs, former prisoners in the Šljivovica (Čajetina municipality) and Mitrovo Polje (Aleksandrovac Municipality) detention camps was held on February 18, 2011 before a Trial Chamber of the First Basic Court in Belgrade.

The lawsuit was filed on the grounds of the responsibility of the Republic of Serbia for the war crime of torture committed against them by members of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Serbia (MUP RS) in detention camps in Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje in the course of 1995 and 1996.

One of the witnesses in the detention camp case, Ismet Šehić, who had spent a number of months in detention camps, said that in August 1995 he wanted cross the river Drina and go to Serbia with his father, brother, and several other people because of the situation in the vicinity of Srebrenica. It took them several days to cross the river in an inflatable rubber boat. For the duration of their trip across the river they could hear that grenades had been fired in their direction. Their goal was to go to Macedonia after crossing on the Serbian side of the river Drina but they were captured by Serbian soldiers as soon as they disembarked. During the night they were transferred in army trucks to the Šljivovica detention camp. According to Šehić, soldiers kicked them and hit them as they were boarding the truck.

During the first hearing at the camp, Ismet was hit by a rifle butt and the police officers conducting the hearing forced him to admit that he had killed 100 [from fire arms] and slain 50 people [while he was in Bosnia and Herzegovina]. On the first day he had a decent meal but on the third day he had to share a quarter of a loaf of bread with four other prisoners. During their stay at the camp, they had been exposed to unprovoked episodes of physical and psychological torture. During one hearing, witness Šehić was hit 50 times on each hand.

Ismet Šehić testified that the conditions in the camp had been terrible. There were 40 people in a room 5 by 5 meters. Prisoners hesitated to go out to use the bathroom fearing for their safety. When they absolutely had to, they were asked to stay in line for the toilet holding three fingers up.

Only after 40 days when a “crew from Belgrade“ arrived, the conditions got a little better. They were no longer beaten, they had enough food, and they were able to buy groceries at the canteen. Until their arrival they were only allowed to wear the clothes they had on at the time they had been captured, and later they received the necessary hygiene kits and a change of clothes.

Ismet Šehić also testified that during the first month they had no medical care available and that many prisoners had shown symptoms of head lice infestation in the meantime. Only after they had been registered by an International Red Cross Committee (IRCC) representative, a physician started visiting them once every 15 to 20 days. Ismet stayed at the camp until April 1996. When he was released he wanted to go to Denmark but he was denied a Danish visa. Today he lives in Sarajevo with his family.

Within its program designed to offer support to victims of human rights violations in the past exercise their ritht to reparations, in the course of 2007 and 2008 the Humanitarian Law Center filed with the First Municipal Court in Belgrade a compensation lawsuit against the Republic of Serbia on behalf of 19 Bosniaks who had crossed the river Drina in the summer of 1995 after the fall of Srebrenica and Žepa hoping to find refuge in Serbia. Members of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) and members of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Serbia (MUP RS) locked them up in detention camps Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje.

Refugees from Srebrenica and Žepa who were imprisoned in Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje detention camps testified about everyday torture, humiliating treatment, sexual abuse, starvation, and other forms of illegal behavior of Serbian police officers. For the imprisoned Bosniak men, Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje were detention camps. Three prisoners died during detention: one was suffocated because of the lack of fresh air in the truck that transported them to the camp; the second was killed from fire arms; and the third one died from injuries sustained during a beating. In mid August 1995 the prisoners were registered by the International Red Cross Committee.