TORTURE OF BOSNIAKS IN SANJAK (SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO)
Newly updated @ November 17, 2008.
BREAKING THE SILENCE: According to the Sanjak Committee for Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, “Although the authorities of Serbia, Montenegro and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were trying to prove that there hasn’t been any violations of human rights and freedom of Bosniaks [in Sanjak]… the facts were telling the opposite story.”
Disclaimer: The following material contains photos of Bosniaks Muslims tortured by the Serbian Police. Some people may find this material disturbing. All photos are courtesy of the Sanjak Committee for Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms.
Sanjak (Bosnian: Sandžak) is a region, divided between Serbia and Montenegro, mainly populated by Bosniaks Muslims. During 1990s, it was a place of brutal killings, torture and ethnic cleansing of the Bosniak population perpetrated by the oppressive Serbian regime. Hundreds of Bosniak Muslim villages in Sanjak were ethnically cleansed, looted and burned to the ground. Many people were killed and many went missing. Serbian regime kept the area under tight military control and intense media blockade.
In the spring and summer of 2006, a team of human rights activists from the Sandzak Committee for Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms visited ethnically cleansed Bosniak Muslim villages in Priboj municipality: Kukorovići, Valovlje, Lisičine, Voskovina, and Sjeverin. By that time, only few residents returned to their pre-war homes. These villages were completely destroyed and burned to the ground, while Bosniak population was forced to flee from their homes – with many residents killed or missing.
The Sanjak Committee for Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms published a book “Svedocenja iz Sandzaka” (Testimonies from Sandzak), documenting numerous victims’ testimonies and human rights abuses in the area. The book is currently available in Bosnian language here (unfortunately, English version is still not available). However, here are some excerpts from two reports published in English language by the human rights committee.
Report I: Excerpts from “an Outline of the Status of Human Rights and Freedoms in Sandzak 1991-2006,” published by the Sanjak Committee for Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms follows:
In the spring and summer of 1992, towns and suburbs in Sandzak were in a frightening, complete tanks-cannon surrounding by different units of the Army of Yugoslavia. Some parties, like radicals, were threatening and calling on clearing from Bosniaks bordering parts of Serbia and Montenegro towards Bosnia.
Threatening behaviour by the Army, demonstration of force, everyday low flights of military aviation over the towns and villages, unrestrained paramilitary formations going to Bosnia through Sandzak, many incidents, legal insecurity and an ultimate uncertainties produced great fear and anxiety of repeating «Bosnian scenario», what influenced mass emigrations of Bosniaks towards West European countries. In the spring and summer of 1992, the authorities were literally catching refugees for Bosnia handing them over Serbian authority’s mercy in Bosnia. The same situation was going on in Serbia after fall of Srebrenica (during the Srebrenica genocide) in the summer of 1995.
Bosniak population in Sandzak, apart from all the troubles and problems that was exposed to, warmly accepted refugees staying for longer or shorter time in Sandzak towns. Mass fires and continual bomb attacks particularly on Bosniaks` houses and shops in Pljevlja, as well as attacking Bosniaks in the villages of Bukovica, in the time of tyrannical regime of chetnic duke and federal representative Milika Ceka Dacevic, will start new wave of emigrations.
Within an overall frightening of Bosniaks in Sandzak there were abductions of Bosniaks (Mioca near Sjeverin -22th October 1992- 17 people; Bukovica – 16th February – 11 people; 27th February 1993 Strpci – 19 people), marathon court-political processes in Sandzak during 1994 (Trials in Novi Pazar and Bijelo Polje) against a part of leaders and members of SDA Sandzak, after mass arrests in the summer of 1993 and winter 1994. with an accusation that they intended to create «the state Sandzak» by force, had aim, besides a non sense indictment they wanted to imperil SFRY, was followed by great media campaign to eliminate and marginalize this main Bosniak political party and frighten and disorientate Bosniaks.
Arrested Bosniaks experienced big tortures in order to admit nonexistent crimes. Along with these political processes during 1994, there were continued mass police actions of arresting and beating Bosniaks looking for weapons, although it had been known the reality and weakness of the state organs to provide them security made Bosniaks to arm themselves for protection of lives and human dignity. Tens of thousands of people passed through police «treatment», especially in Sjenica, Tutin and Novi Pazar, Prijepolje, Rozaje… There were also many cases of mistreating and hurting Bosniaks performing military service in the units of Yugoslav Army. Attacks involved even mosques, Islamic monuments and cemeteries.
From media propaganda arsenal, particularly during 1992, old pejoratives «national nicknames» were brought back into the use. Bosniaks were characterized again odious «Turkish» enemies. Calling Bosniaks «Turks» with the majority is not a consequence of lack of information, but a rooted prejudice and a totally concrete attitude. Sandzak and Bosniaks in it, during the time of total uncertainties and closeness and echo of Bosnian battlefields, had been exposed to various troubles and temptations… One could get an impression the authorities tried to provoke an armed protest by Bosniaks in order to get demanded justification to stop it with all available means and in that way the number of Bosniaks in this region, by various forms of scare tactics and torture, reduce to the least possible quantity. Media reports from Sandzak mainly included news aimed at creating and/or confirming an an already popular stereotypes of Bosniaks, picturing them as extremists and fanatics.
There is a persistent change of terms Sandzak with the term Raska oblast (Raska field). Novi Pazar is called « Turkicized Raska». A synchronical media satanization of this region aimed at showing that Bosniaks in this region are «fundamentalists», «Islamic extremists», they support so called «green transfersal» (“Zelena Transferzala = Green Bridgehead), they are preparing for the war, they have 15.000 armed people, divided into brigades and battalions. The leading media were: Vecernje novosti», «Politika ekspres», «Politika» and «Pobjeda». Paralel with breaking out the war in Bosnia, an aggressive campaign against Bosniaks was continued, especially after permanently repeated news that in «former Bosnia and Herzegovina», «Alija’s jamahiria» the main warriors are just Sandzak people, that Bosnia wants to join Sandzak, that «Sword of Islam is threatening Raska», that there is a systematic work on planned uniting of Muslims, which variant is so called half-moon, i.e. the road Sarajevo-Novi Pazar–Pristina-Skopje-Sofija-Ankara.
Mass illusion of armed «fanatics» and «fundamentalists» from Sandzak became an obsession not only of media but politicians, as well. By intruding one-sided information, by theories on a supposed sucidal nature of Bosniaks and by permanent, racial announcements that it is impossible to live together with Bosniaks in Bosnia any longer, media attacks were becoming more and more unscrupulous, with an aim to represent Bosniaks in Sandzak as collective conspirators and the world danger.
….While the Hague [ICTY] brought indictments for crimes being committed in Croatia, Bosnia, in Kosovo and Vojvodina, Sandzak was completely marginalized. Carla del Ponte in an interview for Podgorica «Monitor» stressed that all the crimes can`t be treated in Hague, that national courts must deal with the problem of war crimes, and that «case Strpci» must also be resolved at the courts of Serbia and Montenegro. Many crimes have simply been forgotten, although they must be the subject of interest of the state and courts.
….The fact is that changes in Serbia, since 2000 are happening, but very slowly. They could be seen in bigger areas more than in the towns like Novi Pazar, Tutin or Sjenica. We shouldn`t even talk about remote villages of Sandzak. The reasons for that are deep, pressured by the past, but also by the present. Experience we had with Serbia’s passing of Laws on National Minorities, made on the federal level, being followed by media pomp, showed indications that those laws were passed mostly under the International pressure, and less with a sincere wish of the state authorities to improve human rights and provide protection and affirmation of the minority communites.
Report II: “General situation in Sanjak” (sections: “The attitude of the authorities towards violation of human rights and freedoms” and “Protection of the victims’ rights“), published by the the Sanjak Committee for Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms follows:
Sandzak Committee is worried for the permanent unreadiness of the state organs to sanction the crimes being done between 1992 and 2000. at the territory of Serbia and upon its residents (case Sjeverin, Strpci, Kukurovici, 1, burning, robberies, murders, proscriptions of Bosniak population from Priboj commune, various forms of institutional discrimination, court-political processes, brutal police actions, etc.
Numerous criminal charges by the victims, according to the evidence of Sandzak Committee, for Court disorganization, prolonging, synchronical obstructions have already expired. Many people, even 13 years later can’t achieve their rights. In that context, we will remind, just for an illustration, of a marathon court process of trial to the group of 24 Bosniaks in Novi Pazar being started in 1993., as well as of the case „Djerlek“, being known to domestic NGOs for human rights and International organizations, that haven’t been closed even 10 years later and have been expired. Also, in the court procedures from cases where criminal charges have been brought by Sandzak Committee (May-June 2001. and February 2002.) against the Serbian policemen, second instance sentences haven’t still been brought.
…Criminal charge before the District Court in Novi Pazar, started in May 2003 against 24 Bosniaks hasn’t still been resolved. More than 13 years the rights of the accused are partially reduced. They are under heavy accusation, without visible signs of possible end. The Committee believes this issue has conditions to be shifted to the competence of International Court, since the domestic courts are not capable of solving the problem. However, for the lack of budget to pay the layers of the accused, the activity of the Committee is focused on monitoring this process before the domestic courts.
Families from Priboj commune which houses were burnt 1992.-1997 in their address to the Sandzak Committee stress chronic impossibility of return to their properties, since some houses were destroyed some weren’t, for the lack of budget and absence of care of the state, and reconstructing them. They are persistant in the demand form Sandzak Committee to start the criminal charge against the state in the aim of compensation for the damages being done to them. For the financial problems Sandzak Committee wasn’t able to engage attorneys in this case, but it applied with other NGOs in Belgrade with which it has a fruitful, long cooperation, which are ready to help legally to these people in those requests.
….By the end of May the representatives of Sandzak Committee visited Priboj villages being damaged during the nineties, when Bosniaks were being expelling from their own homes, killed and frightened. What is worrying is that even 13 years after this crime, the state hadn’t done anything to help the families of the killed, as well as to the displaced to return to their homes.
Until 1992. Bosniaks have lived in Sjeverin, Kukurovici, Milanovici, Zaostro, Socica, Zivinac, Voskovina, jelovik, Batkovici, Medjurecje, Radnje, Dragovici and then, they disapeared. The ethnic cleansing started in the villages with mainly Bosniak population. Priboj is still being forgotten, first of all, by the state organs and institutions. During the last 13 years the state hasn’t done anything to help the damaged. As Hamed Pecikoza said they contacted the Government and many other organs of the local power four times. No answer. Many NGOs addressed the competent representatives of authorities, but there was no progress. The relation of the local administration to what was happening with Bosniaks in Priboj is still a special story. As Pecikoza said addressing local authorites was waste of time, since thehave always sent them somewhere else.
The mentioned Priboj villages where Bosniaks used to live seem forget 13 years later. Devastation much worse than at the first days after deportion. There was enough time for all the furniture to be stolen from homes. Many houses and annexes that hadn`t been destroyed by the war remained even without windows, doors, roofs…Even wall wooden covers were taken away, floors.
….Everything was, in the full sense of the word, devastated. During the nineties the Army of FRY was staying in the houses and traces are pretty visible. There is no house that hasn’t been almost destroyed and without traces of soldiers. That way the houses were even more damaged. There were written different names on the walls, the names of the cities, oaths and many outrageous messages based on insults on national basis. There is no correct information how many families left their homes. The exile was particularly massive in the villages on the border with Bosnia. All the homes of exiled Bosniaks were robbed and destroyed. People were leaving with only one bag in their hands. The sticks depended on the mercy of the neighbours. Hamid Pecikoza gave a good example when we visited him. Hilmo Alivodic`s house was saved thanks to the neighbour Dobrisav Radovic. “Different gangs were coming to rob the house but Radovic offered resistance. You can see what means to have a nice neighbour. But this case is the only one. If only there had been more such people, said Pecikoza.
The representatives of Sandzak Committee visted: Sjeverin, Strmac, Milanoviće, Voskovina, Batkovići and some others. We found an older couple who returned. There is no return since there is no money for reconstructing the houses. The necessary budget exceeds capacities of the Municipality of Priboj. Only in Kukurovici, as Pecikoza said, some houses had been renewed thanks to donations. The exiled Bosnjaks have been able to see their properties since 2000. But there are no conditions for living there, and fear hasn’t been uprooted yet. Nobody was interogated for burning the houses, for murders and ethnic cleansing there.
…In villages Krajcinovici and Zabrnjice (Priboj commune) a decision to close schools, caused 18 returnee students to walk 10 kilometers to the nearest school, and forced returnee Bosniak families to leave these villages altogether.
James Lion from the International Crisis Group, presenting the report about „Serbian Sandzak“, in Priboj on 7th July 2005. said:
“We described the situation in the 6 towns of Sandzak belonging to Serbia and called the report ‘Serbian Sandzak’ so that International Community could realise waht is going on here and what kinds of problems are here. Our wish and aim is that region not to be seen as an area of potential interethnic conflicts. The problem here is economy, since there is an economic and social disaster here. In the near future I cannot see any hope for this area, by the Government from Belgrade or by the International Community. Another problem is recent past. WE must know the truth about Sandzak.
I have been in Sandzak for almost five years. Crimes had been done here. In our report we wrote that in the municipality of Priboj about 20 villages were ‘ethnically cleansed’ of Bosniaks. During that action 185 houses were burnt or destroyed and 23 Bosnjaks were killed. We especially processed the cases of murders of three Bosniaks during attacks on the village Kukurovici, abduction of 17 Bosniaks from Sjeverin, who were killed in Visegrad, abduction of 20 Bosniaks in Strpce, actions of ethnic cleansing in the region of Bukovica in the commune of Pljevlja, massive dismissals of Bosniaks from work, especially in Priboj. Simply, we must face these crimes.“