DOSSIER: Camps for Croats in Serbia
On November 18, 1991, after a three-month siege of the city, the Yugoslav Peoples’ Army (JNA) took over Vukovar with the assistance of the Serbian Territorial Defence Forces (TO) and military volunteer units. Upon occupying the city, a large number of members of the Croatian forces, as well as civilians, were captured by the JNA, including the wounded, women, minors and elderly people.
The JNA transferred those captured persons to the territory of Vojvodina, where already in September 1991 several camps for prisoners of war from the territory of Croatia had been established.
According to research conducted by the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), the largest camp set up in Serbia was at the Sremska Mitrovica Penal Correctional Facility (KPD). In addition to this camp, there were camps in the Banat villages of Begejci and Stajićevo, the JNA barracks in Aleksinac and the Niš Penal Correctional Facility. In Serbia, there were also smaller “transit” camps and centres, where detainees stayed for several days before being transferred to some of the larger camps. Although there were more such camps, in this Dossier we have identified the facilities in Šid, a military police training centre in Bubanj Potok and a JNA barracks in Paragovo.
All the camps – except Niš, which was in the area of responsibility of the 3rd Military District (VO) of the JNA -, were within the area of responsibility of the 1st VO of the JNA. The security of the camp was provided by members of the JNA military police. JNA officers were appointed commanders of the camp; however, the real control of the camps was exercised by the Security Administration of the Federal Secretariat for National Defence (UB SSNO).
Detained civilians and combatants spent between a few days and nine months at the camps. About 7,000 people passed through the camps, and around 3,500 of them were detained there for longer periods of time.
The detainees of the camps in Serbia, especially those suspected of being members of the Croatian National Guard Corps (ZNG) or the Croatian Ministry of the Interior (MUP), were exposed daily to mental and physical abuse, and violence and torture, by JNA officers, and reserve forces soldiers, members of the TO from the territory of Vukovar, as well as members of the Serb Autonomous Region of Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem (SAO SBZS) militia who visited the camps. All the inmates were subjected to humiliation and starvation. Sexual abuse was also reported at the camps. At least 14 detainees died as a result of the abuse or failure to provide adequate medical care.
The detainees were taken daily to interrogations conducted by UB SSNO officers and JNA security organs (OB), as well as by members of the TO and the SAO SBZS militia, with the presence of camp guards from the JNA military police reserve force. The interrogations were followed by abuse.
The camps in Begejci and Stajićevo were closed in December 1991, when some detainees were exchanged and some were transferred to camps in Sremska Mitrovica, Niš, Aleksinac and Belgrade. The Niš detention camp was closed in February 1992, whilst the Sremska Mitrovica camp and the Military
Investigation Centre (VIZ) in Belgrade remained open until mid-August 1992, when the exchange of prisoners was organised on an “all for all” basis.
The Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) charged Slobodan Milošević with setting up camps for Croats in Serbia and imprisoning civilians and prisoners of war there. These acts qualified as crimes against humanity, violations of the laws or customs of war, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. The ICTY Prosecution also charged Goran Hadžić with illegally detaining Croats and other non-Serbs in inhumane conditions in several detention facilities in Serbia. These proceedings were not completed, because both Milošević and Hadžić died before the proceedings ended.
In May 2008, the Vukovar 1991 Association and the HLC filed a criminal complaint with the Office of War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP) stating the names, surnames or nicknames of 54 commanders and guards at camps in Serbia – at Sremska Mitrovica KPD, Niš KPD, VIZ in Belgrade, and camps in Begejci and Stajićevo. Two years later, the Deputy Prosecutor for War Crimes stated that pre-trial proceedings were underway, but to date, only one person has been convicted in Serbia for crimes committed at camps on the territory of Serbia.
The “Camps for Croats in Serbia” Dossier is available here.