Source Document:
United Nations


Judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
in the case of

Delalic et al. (I.T-96-21) "Celebici" 16 November 1998

Part II


  1. The Indictment at issue in the present case is solely concerned with events in the municipality (opstina) of Konjic, in central Bosnia and Herzegovina, during a period of months in 1992. The Trial Chamber does not consider it necessary to enter into a lengthy discussion of the political and historical background to these events, nor a general analysis of the conflict which blighted the whole of the former Yugoslavia around that time. The function of the Trial Chamber is to do justice in the case at hand and while this naturally involves presenting its findings in context, we will limit this background section to those facts which are necessary to situate the evaluation of the present case.

  2. It is important to note that the Trial Chamber does not seek to identify causal factors, nor through history explain why the conflict with which we are concerned occurred. It would indeed do no justice to the victims of this conflict to attempt to explain their suffering by proffering historical "root causes" which somehow inexorably led to the violence which engulfed them. Such an endeavour would, in any case, be an exercise in futility.

  3. The Trial Chamber has heard extensive witness testimony and been presented with many documents and written reports. For the purposes of this background, particular reliance is placed on the evidence presented through the historical, political and military expert witnesses of both the Prosecution and the Defence. In addition, we have taken notice of many public documents which bear substantial authority - in particular, resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly, the Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts164, reports of the United Nations Secretary-General, and declarations and statements from the European Community and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).

A. Historical and Geographical Background of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

  1. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (hereafter "SFRY") was created after the Second World War under the leadership of Josip Broz (better known as "Tito") out of the ashes of a Yugoslavia which had been occupied and divided by the Axis powers and which had witnessed widespread slaughter during that conflict. Tito’s Partisan forces, which were aligned with the Communist party, had long perfected the art of guerrilla warfare and thus achieved victory against the invading German army, the Croatian Ustasa which supported it, and against the Cetnik forces of Draza Mihailovic, which operated as a Serb resistance movement. With the defeat in Europe of the Axis powers, Tito established a socialist State which comprised the Republics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia, and two autonomous provinces - Kosovo and Vojvodina - situated in Serbia. Each of the peoples of these Republics were regarded as distinct nations, all with equal status. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, which housed significant numbers of Croats, Serbs and Muslims, no one ethnic group was in the majority and thus there was no recognised Bosnian "nation". It was not until the Constitution promulgated in 1974 that the Muslim population of Bosnia and Herzegovina gained recognition as one of the peoples of the SFRY.

  2. Under the leadership of Tito, a strict system of socialist self-management was instituted under a Constitution which sought to keep together the many nationalities living in the Republics. Any nationalist aspirations that may have surfaced were swiftly suppressed. The initial post-war Constitution envisaged a highly centralised State with power concentrated in the Communist party in the federal capital, Belgrade. Tito, however, remained a leader independent from the hold of the Soviet Union and in 1948 the SFRY was expelled from the common institutions of the eastern bloc. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the trend in the SFRY was towards further decentralisation of power to the governments of each of the Republics and this was entrenched in the final Constitution in 1974. 

B. The Concept of All People’s Defence (Total National Defence)

  1. After the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 by the USSR and due to the poor relations between the SFRY and the Soviet Union, a defence system known as "All People’s Defence" (or "Total National Defence") was devised to protect the SFRY from external attack. This system integrated all citizens in the defence of the federation and aimed to utilise all resources. The right of all Yugoslav citizens to participate in the defence of the SFRY was enshrined in the 1969 Constitution, which provided for compulsory military service, compulsory labour service, civil defence and material contributions.

  2. The centre of this defence system was the Yugoslav People’s Army (hereafter "JNA"), which was the SFRY’s regular, standing army, controlled by the Federal Ministry of Defence. As an institution, it possessed a right of representation on the central committee of the League of Communists. The JNA comprised 45,000-70,000 regular officers and soldiers along with 110,000-135,000 conscripts who served on a more short-term basis165 and was equipped with modern conventional weapons and equipment. In the event of an armed conflict, the JNA was to be supported by the Territorial Defence forces (hereafter "TO"), which had a base in each of the Republics. Each of the TOs were responsible to the Presidency of the Republic in which they were based, and also to the General Staff of the JNA. The TO was made up of part-time soldiers who had been conscripts in the JNA and who received periodical further training. Its equipment was less sophisticated and lighter than that of the JNA.

  3. In addition, the Federal Ministry of Interior controlled intelligence and State security forces, as well as the People’s Police. These were also integrated into the overall system of All People’s Defence.


C. Disintegration of the SFRY and Emergence of the New States

  1. With Tito’s death in 1980 and the escalation of a serious economic crisis, cracks began to appear in the unity of the federal State. The federation was then governed by a Presidency consisting of representatives of the six Republics and two autonomous provinces. The League of Communists began to lose its grip on the Republics and their increasingly nationalist political movements and parties. With communism in decline throughout Eastern Europe in the 1980s, new leaders emerged who advocated social and political change which challenged the existing paradigm. Of particular note is Slobodan Milosevic, who rose to power in Serbia in 1987 through the hierarchy of the Communist party and finally became President of Serbia in 1989. In addition, the Croatian Democratic Union (hereafter "HDZ") was formed in Croatia in 1989, under the leadership of Franjo Tu|jman, on a platform of Croatian nationalism.

  2. By 1988, the Serbian government was seeking to achieve the full integration of the two autonomous provinces into Serbia. In October of that year, the authorities governing Vojvodina were removed and in March 1989 a new Constitution was adopted in Serbia which removed the autonomy of the province of Kosovo. Thus, with the support of the leadership of Montenegro, Serbia wielded substantial power in the Federal Presidency, to the disquiet of the representatives of the other Republics.

  3. Towards the end of 1989, Slovenia was advocating its right to secede from the SFRY and in January 1990 the Slovenian delegation walked out of the Congress of the League of Communists, followed by the Croatian delegation. In May 1990, a new government was elected into office in Slovenia after its first multi-party elections. That same month, Franjo Tu|jman became the first democratically elected President of Croatia and the Republic’s Constitution was subsequently amended such that citizens who were not of the Croat 'ethnic group’ were deprived of their equal status as 'nations’ and, essentially, reduced to being 'ethnic minorities’166. Consequently, in August 1990, the Serbs living in the Krajina region of Croatia held a referendum on self-autonomy and certain towns were declared to be part of Serbia. Violent clashes between the Krajina Serbs and the Croatian authorities rapidly developed. Meanwhile, Serbian parties had been formed in both Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina - entitled the Serbian Democratic Party (hereafter "SDS") - and the HDZ had also formed a branch within Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  4. In Bosnia and Herzegovina the population of 4.3 million was the most heterogeneous of all the Republics. A census in 1991 designated roughly 43.5 per cent of this population as Muslim, 31.2 per cent as Serbian, and 17.4 per cent as Croat. Many areas were ethnically mixed, although it appears that individual towns and villages could be identified as Serb, or Croat, or Muslim, depending on the predominant ethnicity of their inhabitants. Nonetheless, accounts demonstrate that, prior to the build-up to the conflict, these groups had generally friendly relations and extensive interaction, including substantial inter-marriage. In November 1990, elections were held in which the voting was divided roughly proportionately amongst the three nationalist parties - the Muslim "Party of Democratic Action" (hereafter "SDA"), the SDS and the HDZ. A coalition government was thus formed headed by a seven member State Presidency, with the leader of the SDA, Alija Izetbegovic, as the first President. Each of these parties, however, had distinct visions for the future constitutional structure of the Republic. While the SDS supported the maintenance of the Yugoslav State, the HDZ and SDA began to favour independence.

  5. .With a perceived increase in the dominance of the Serbian government in the Federal Presidency, further moves towards independence were made in both Slovenia and Croatia in late 1990 and into 1991. After national referendums confirmed the will of the people of these Republics to become separate from the SFRY, both declared their independence on 25 June 1991. Upon intervention by the European Community, however, they agreed to put their declarations on hold for three months. Meanwhile, in both Slovenia and Croatia, JNA units under the control of the Federal Presidency, now dominated by Serbia, were mobilised and conflicts ensued between the JNA and local TO forces loyal to their Republican governments. Throughout 1990, the JNA had sought to weaken the Republican TO forces in Slovenia and Croatia by withdrawing weapons from their bases. This attempt did not fully succeed in Slovenia, however, which managed to substantially re-arm before conflict broke out. Indeed, when the JNA attacked at the end of June, the Slovenian TO was able to mount an effective resistance.

  6. .From May 1991, the eight-member Federal Presidency of the SFRY was deadlocked due to the blocking of the automatic succession of Stipe Mesic, the Croatian representative, to the position of President by Serbia, along with its allies. This obstruction was lifted at the end of June in order for the Presidency to regain control of the JNA and finally order it to withdraw from Slovenia.

  7. .While Slovenia itself contained very few Serbs, Croatia supported a significant Serb population and included territory with historical links to Serbia. In Croatia, therefore, conflict between the forces of the Republican government and the Serbs of the Krajina region bordering on to Bosnia and Herzegovina, backed by the JNA, intensified throughout the summer of 1991. With its withdrawal from Slovenia, the JNA was able to concentrate more of its strength in Croatia and the intensity of the conflict there far exceeded the fighting in Slovenia.

  8. .The Croatian Army (hereafter "HV") grew out of the Croatian TO forces, along with additional volunteers, and the government also formed a Croatian National Guard. Furthermore, the Ministry of Interior created an internal security force from police reserves. These forces were, however, no match at the outset for the strength of the JNA and by the end of 1991 the JNA had occupied substantial parts of Croatian territory. In November, with the mediation of the United Nations envoy, Cyrus Vance, a cease-fire was signed, to be monitored by United Nations peacekeeping troops, and in resolution 743, adopted on 21 February 1992, the Security Council established the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) to fulfil this task and oversee the withdrawal of the JNA from Croatia.

  9. Meanwhile, the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina had begun to declare certain areas of that Republic "Serbian autonomous regions" (hereafter "SAOs"). Alarmed by the situation in Yugoslavia as a whole, the United Nations Security Council, on 25 September 1991, passed resolution 713, which imposed an arms embargo throughout the territory.

  10. In October 1991, the Bosnian Parliament declared its support for the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its withdrawal from the SFRY. Subsequently, in December, the European Community invited all of the SFRY Republics to apply for recognition as independent States by 24 December and such applications were to be considered by an Arbitration Commission167. Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia all applied at this time. In response, the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who had created their own "Assembly" and voted in a referendum to stay in Yugoslavia, declared their own independent "Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina" (hereafter "SRBH")168 on 9 January 1992, to remain part of the Yugoslav Federation.169

  11. The Arbitration Commission established by the European Community issued its Opinions on 11 January 1992, that Slovenia and Macedonia should be recognised as independent States170. In addition, subject to the enactment of suitable guarantees for ethnic minorities, the Commission recommended the recognition of Croatia as an independent state171. The Commission also took the view that, should the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina vote for independence in a referendum, that Republic should also gain recognition172. Such a referendum was immediately organised and held on 29 February and 1 March 1992. Despite a boycott by the Bosnian Serbs, a majority of the population voted in favour of independence. On 6 March, the Bosnian Government thus declared that Bosnia and Herzegovina had become an independent State and fighting between Serbs, Croats and Muslims ensued. Subsequently, on 6 April 1992, the European Community, closely followed by the United States, recognised Bosnia’s statehood.173

  12. The armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina was the most protracted of all the conflicts which took place during the dissolution of the SFRY. It was characterised by a massive displacement of population as well as the practice of "ethnic cleansing", made notorious by many media reports along with those of the United Nations, and other violations of international humanitarian law. Estimates of the number of lives lost in the course of the conflict vary between 150,000 and 200,000.

  13. The European Community and the United Nations sought to resolve the conflict through mediation and the proposal of various territorial settlements. These, however, were not successful until November 1995, when the Dayton Peace Agreement was reached through negotiation by a Contact Group174. Bosnia and Herzegovina, while remaining a single State, was thus divided into two entities - the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska. The nature of this conflict and the various military and paramilitary forces that were involved are described in more detail below, before attention is focused more particularly on the Konjic municipality.


D. Role of Military Forces in the Conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina

  1. Before the actual outbreak of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, preparations for war were already being made. The Serb population had been receiving arms and equipment from the JNA throughout 1991, whereas in areas where Muslims and Croats predominated, local TO units were downsized and disarmed by the JNA. The Bosnian Croats had also been receiving support from the Government of Croatia and its army. On 1 March 1992, the Bosnian Serbs erected road barricades around Sarajevo, effectively isolating it, and the Muslim and Croat populations in turn set up checkpoints elsewhere in the territory. In early April of that year, with the increase in violence, the Bosnian State Presidency declared a "state of imminent war danger" and the Parliament was subsequently dissolved175. The Presidency also issued a decision announcing a general mobilisation of the Bosnian TO, which was gradually transformed into the Bosnian Army. This Army was formally established on 15 April 1992, under the supreme command of the President of the Presidency and a General Staff based in Sarajevo. On 20 June 1992, the Presidency proclaimed a "state of war" and identified the aggressors as "the Republic of Serbia, the Republic of Montenegro, the Yugoslav Army and the terrorists of the Serbian Democratic Party."176


1. The JNA

  1. The JNA, originally a pan-Yugoslav institution with regulations mandating proportionate representation of each of the main ethnic groups amongst its conscripts, had as its aim in the initial stages of the conflicts in Slovenia and Croatia the prevention of the break-up of the Federation. However, as these conflicts developed throughout 1991 and 1992, the JNA was increasingly dominated by the Serbs. The JNA leadership found itself acting in support of the political leaders in Belgrade and many of its non-Serb officers left to join their Republican TO units. The political goals of the Serbian authorities in Belgrade appear to have been to carve a new set of territories for the Serbs out of both Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, to be added to Serbia and Montenegro. These coincided with the attempts of the JNA forces to prevent each of the Republics from achieving effective independence.

  2. A former officer of the JNA and witness for the Prosecution, General Arif Pasalic, described to the Trial Chamber the changes that took place within the structure of the JNA, including the dismissal from positions of command of personnel who were not pro-Serbian. General Pasalic testified that:

    [f]or me the Yugoslav People’s Army no longer existed. It had acquired a completely different form of organization and had been transformed into an army which was carrying out aggression against its own people. 177

  3. In 1991, the JNA was withdrawn from both Slovenia and Croatia under international pressure, coupled with a recognition of the fact that their independence could not be prevented. The majority of units thus withdrawn were immediately redeployed within Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to Brigadier Muhamed Vejzagic, an expert Defence witness who was a former officer in the JNA and the Bosnian Army, JNA units were moved into Bosnia and Herzegovina in late 1991, and by the beginning of 1992 there were seven complete JNA corps in Bosnia and Herzegovina178. In his expert report, submitted to the Trial Chamber, (hereafter "Vejzagic Report"), the Brigadier stated that,

    [i]t can be established for sure that, upon orders and instructions issued by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Yugoslavia and Federal Secretariat of People’s Defence together with [the] political leadership of Serbia and through the direct co-operation with the Serb Democratic party of B-H, the JNA formed numerous formations in the territory of B-H (TO units and militia units) composed of the members of the Serb ethnic group. 179

  4. Brigadier Vejzagic further testified that, before the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, there was a huge concentration of JNA manpower in its territory – approximately 100,000 soldiers, 800 tanks, 1,000 armoured personnel carriers, 4,000 artillery pieces, 100 planes and 50 helicopters180. The JNA was also actively involved in preparations for the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina by participating in the distribution of weapons to citizens of Serb ethnicity.

  5. With its declaration of independence on 6 March 1992, open conflict erupted in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the units of the JNA already present in the territory were actively involved in the fighting that took place. Reports of combat include an attack on Bosanski Brod on 27 March 1992 and the occupation of Derventa, as well as incidents in Bijeljina, Foca and Kupres in early April. After Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence was recognised by the European Community on 6 April 1992, these attacks increased and intensified, especially in Sarajevo, Zvornik, Visegrad, Bosanski Samac, Vlasenica, Prijedor and Brcko.181

  6. On 11 April 1992, the European Community issued a "Statement on Bosnia and Herzegovina" 182which appealed for a cease-fire and called upon the Serbian and Croatian Governments "to exercise all their undoubted influence to end the interference in the affairs of an independent Republic". On 10 April 1992, the President of the United Nations Security Council also issued a statement demanding the cessation of all forms of outside interference in Bosnia and Herzegovina.183

  7. By early May of 1992, the JNA was under the authority of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) (hereafter "FRY")184, which claimed to be the sole legitimate successor State to the SFRY. However, the mounting international pressure for the withdrawal of all forms of outside interference in Bosnia and Herzegovina necessitated a change in its tactics. On 4 May 1992, the authorities in Belgrade announced that all JNA personnel who were not citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina would be withdrawn from that Republic by 19 May. In consequence, approximately 14,000 JNA troops left Bosnia and Herzegovina185.

  8. On 13 May 1992, the authorities of the SRBH announced a decision to form their own army, to be composed of units of the former JNA based in Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the Prosecution expert witness, Dr. Marie-Janine Calic, approximately 80 per cent of the JNA forces which had been present in Bosnia and Herzegovina were integrated into the new army of the SRBH (the "VSRBH", later named and hereafter referred to as "VRS"), which was under the command of a former JNA officer - General Ratko Mladic. Thus, many JNA officers - including non-Bosnian Serbs - who had been stationed in Bosnia and Herzegovina found themselves part of the new VRS. Those elements of the JNA that did not constitute the VRS became the Army of the FRY (hereafter "VJ"). Units of the VJ co-operated with, and provided support to, their erstwhile colleagues in the VRS.


2. The HVO

  1. The Croatian Defence Council (hereafter "HVO") was formed on 8 April 1992 as the military force of the Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna (HZH-B), the self-proclaimed para-State of the Bosnian Croats in certain parts of the Herzegovina region. The HVO had been distributing arms amongst the Bosnian Croats in preparation for conflict and HVO units were formed in many municipalities. The Croatian government and Army (HV) trained and armed many of these troops and some HV officers and soldiers were also integrated into the HVO. Dr. Calic stated in her report to the Trial Chamber that in 1992 there were approximately 30,000 HVO troops on the ground, who relied heavily on the HV for direction and support. During most of 1992, the HVO and units from the HV sided with the Bosnian TO (later the Bosnian Army) against the JNA and VRS. Towards the end of 1992, however, clashes developed between the HVO and the Bosnian Army and this conflict continued into 1993.


3. Paramilitary Groups

  1. Various paramilitary units also played an important role in the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in Croatia. The Trial Chamber has not been given substantial amounts of information about these groups, although it is clear that they operated on all sides in the conflict and had some connections with the governments with which they were aligned. The Commission of Experts, in its Final Report, identifies at least 45 such formations operating within Bosnia and Herzegovina. Notably, the Serb paramilitaries included the "Tigers", led by Zeljko Razajatovic (better known as "Arkan") and the "White Eagles", headed by Vojislav Seselj186. On the side of the Croats, the Croatian Defence Forces (hereafter "HOS") was formed as the paramilitary wing of the Croatian Party of Rights and operated throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, in co-operation with units of the HVO and other paramilitaries. The "Green Berets" were another paramilitary organisation, created by Muslim leaders in 1991. In addition, the forces of the "Patriotic League" were active on the side of the Bosnian government and there are also reports of groups such as the mujahedin being sent in from sympathetic Islamic countries.


E. The Konjic Municipality - Geographical, Demographic and Political Structure

  1. The former Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided into territorial units of self-management which were possessed of a certain level of autonomy. Each of these municipalities (opstina) were governed by a Municipal Assembly, consisting of members directly elected by the local population, which in turn elected an Executive Council from its own members187. In Bosnia and Herzegovina there were 109 such municipalities. A map indicating the division of the Republic on this basis is attached to this Judgement as Annex C.188

  2. The municipality of Konjic is located in the region of Bosnia and Herzegovina known as northern Herzegovina, roughly 50 kilometres south of Sarajevo, the State capital. It is a mountainous, heavily wooded area of great natural beauty. It extends on both sides of the Neretva River and borders on to the Bosnia region of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the south. The population of the municipality, according to the 1991 census, was 43,878, of which 54.3 per cent were designated Muslims, 26.2 per cent Croats, 15 per cent Serbs, 3 per cent Yugoslavs and 1.3 per cent others. The main town, also named Konjic, housed about a third of the total population of the municipality and was of a similar ethnic distribution. It appears that the mix of ethnicities in Konjic lived together harmoniously and in an integrated fashion until the escalation of tension and outbreak of hostilities in 1992.

  3. The Konjic municipality is of clear strategic, as well as historical, importance due to its geographical location and characteristics. It lies on the fault line between areas which Croats and Serbs have long considered to be within their spheres of influence - the Bosnian Croats laying claim to the entire area of Herzegovina and the Serbs apparently interested primarily in the eastern Neretva valley. The Mount Ivan saddle, located within Konjic, marks the border between the Bosnia and Herzegovina regions and is an important crossing point in times of both war and peace. The only railway line from the coast at Ploce up to central Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Sarajevo also passes through Konjic, as does the M17 highway, between Mostar and Sarajevo. This highway is characterised by its many tunnels and bridges, which, if blocked or destroyed, substantially impede passage through the municipality and hence the connection between the capital and south-western Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  4. During times of armed conflict, the Konjic municipality was of strategic importance as it housed lines of communication from Sarajevo to many other parts of the State as well as constituting a supply line for the Bosnian troops. During the attacks on and siege of Sarajevo from 1992 until the end of the conflict, this route was vital to the efforts of the Bosnian government forces to lift the blockade. Furthermore, several important military facilities were contained in Konjic, including the Igman arms and ammunition factory, the JNA Ljuta barracks, the Reserve Command Site of the JNA (known as "ARK"), the Zlatar communications and telecommunications centre, and the Celebici barracks and warehouses.

  5. The political structure of the Konjic municipality, prior to the conflict, was similar to that of the other municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the November 1990 elections, the Municipal Assembly was dominated by the three main national parties divided roughly along the same "ethnic" lines as the population. Of the 60 members of the Assembly, 28 were from the SDA, 14 from the HDZ and 9 from the SDS, and there were also representatives from other smaller parties. The President of the Municipal Assembly was Dr. Rusmir Hadzihusejnovic, who was also President of the SDA in the municipality. The Executive Council, the primary executive body of the municipality, also had a President, Dragomir (or Drago) Peric, who was a member of the HDZ, along with five other members. There were also several municipal administrative bodies regulating fields such as education, tax and the economy.

  6. In situations of war, it was envisaged that each Municipal Assembly, if unable to operate, would have their functions taken over by the "Presidency of the Municipal Assembly", which became known as the "War Presidency". A Defence Law, dated 20 May 1992, further provided that the War Presidency was to consist of the President of the Municipal Assembly, the President of the Executive Council, the head of the Municipal Department of the Ministry of Defence, the head of the Public Security Station of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Chief of Police), the Commander of the Civil Defence Staff and the heads of the political party factions in the Municipal Assembly189. The War Presidency was to act in all capacities in place of the Municipal Assembly in times of conflict, particularly in the passing of regulations and appointment of officials, the organising of the local defence in terms of logistics, the recruitment of soldiers and acquisition of weapons, and also the supply of the local population with food and medical assistance, as well as the supervision of displaced persons arriving in the municipality. It remained formally, however, a purely civilian body.

  7. By April 1992, the normal administrative bodies in Konjic had ceased to function, with the withdrawal of the Serb representatives from the Municipal Assembly and Executive Council. An interim "Crisis Staff" was thus formed by the Muslim and Croat officials to continue administering the municipality. The War Presidency was later established upon the pronouncement of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina of a state of immediate war danger190, and the beginning of armed conflict. It had nine members, the only absentee being the representative of the SDS.

  8. Although the Konjic municipality did not have a majority Serb population and did not form part of the declared "Serb autonomous regions"191, in March 1992, the self-styled "Serb Konjic Municipality" adopted a decision on the Serbian territories. The potential for such action appears to have been recognised by the SDS on the basis of the number of Serb representatives in the Municipal Assembly192. Professor Iljas Hadzibegovic, an expert witness for the Defence, further told the Trial Chamber that:

    [o]n 22 March the so-called assembly of the Serbian municipality formed the territory of the Serbian municipality. It did so on the basis of two principles. It took the settlements with a Serb majority ... and the other principle was property ownership. Wherever there was any property owned by Serb households, these were proclaimed Serb territories, and these villages were registered as being in the Serbs’ interests and such villages and settlements in the municipality of Konjic were a total of 40, taking both principles as a basis. 193

    The SDS, in co-operation with the JNA, had also been active in arming the Serb population of the municipality and in training paramilitary units and militias. According to Dr. Andrew James Gow, an expert witness for the Prosecution, the SDS distributed around 400 weapons to Serbs in the area.

  9. Konjic was included in those areas claimed by the HDZ in Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of the "Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna" as early as 1991194, despite the fact that the Croats did not constitute a majority of the population there either. Thus, there were HVO units established and armed in the municipality by April 1992.

  10. Reports indicate that around 20,000 persons left Konjic as a result of the conflict there from 1992, the majority of whom appear to have been Bosnian Croats. The population of the municipality in September 1996 was around 32,000, according to one estimate, including displaced persons from other regions, and 88 per cent of this total has been designated as encompassing Bosniacs (the term utilised currently to refer to that segment of the population previously described as "Bosnian Muslim"), 4 per cent Croats, 2 per cent Serbs and 6 per cent others.195


F. Fighting in Konjic and Existence of the Celebici Prison-camp

1. Military Action

  1. Clearly, with the descent into armed conflict across Bosnia and Herzegovina in March and April 1992, Konjic was no exception to the prevailing trends of increasing tension and mutual suspicion amongst the ethnic groups making up the population. This led to frequent armed attacks, defensive action, population displacement and food shortages. Of particular note in this municipality, however, are: its perceived importance to the Bosnian Croats and the consequent presence of armed and organised HVO units; the existence of various military facilities manned by the JNA and yet of potential value to the local, under-equipped, TO forces; the arming of the minority Serb population by the SDS and JNA and the campaign of propaganda directed against their Muslim and Croat neighbours; and the necessity for control of the vital road and rail links which connected the municipality with Sarajevo and down to Mostar and the coast.

  2. With the recognition of Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent State, the Municipal Assembly in Konjic met to discuss how to respond to the situation in which the municipality found itself. In 1990 the General Staff of the armed forces of the SFRY had issued an order requiring all TO arms to be placed in the JNA warehouses. Thus, the weapons of the Konjic TO were housed in the Ljuta barracks, under JNA control. On 17 April 1992, the Municipal Assembly met for the final time and the appropriate decisions for the defence of the municipality were taken. A mobilisation of the TO was pronounced and Mr. Enver Redzepovic was nominated as its new commander, and subsequently appointed to this post by the TO Republican Staff. The SDS representatives in the Assembly did not support these decisions and abandoned the Assembly, which then ceased to function. As a result, the War Presidency was formed. Dr. Rusmir Hadzihusejnovic, who was the President of the Municipal Assembly, and later on of the War Presidency, told the Trial Chamber how he had received threats from General Kukanjac - commander of the second military district formation of the JNA - which were then broadcast on the radio and television, that Konjic would be razed. 196

  3. Mr. Redzepovic himself testified before the Trial Chamber and stated that the first attacks in Konjic started around 20 April 1992, in the vicinity of Ljubina197. Around that time, Brigadier Asim Dzambasovic was sent from the Republican TO staff as a military expert, to assist in the organising of the defence of Konjic. As a first step, the Konjic defence forces, which included the TO, the local HVO and the police under the control of the ministry of the interior (hereafter "MUP"), took control of the Igman military plant. This was achieved without the use of force. Thereafter, an agreement was entered into with the JNA troops stationed at the Celebici barracks and warehouses and this facility was transferred peacefully to TO and MUP forces, the JNA soldiers being allowed to depart unharmed. Some weapons and other technical resources were thereby recovered and transferred to a farm at Ovcari for storage. In early May, the TO also captured the Ljuta barracks and seized more armaments there. There was some fighting in the course of this operation, as well as during the take-over of the facilities at Zlatar and the so-called ARK, but by the end of May all of these were secured.

  4. By mid-April 1992, the town of Konjic was effectively surrounded and cut off from both Sarajevo and Mostar. Armed Serb forces had set up checkpoints at Bradina to the north, thus controlling the Mount Ivan saddle pass on the M17 road to Sarajevo. The highway to Mostar was also blocked at Donje Selo to the west and SDS formations controlled the area around Borci, to the south-east. Both road and rail traffic was thus halted and at the beginning of May, telephone links to Sarajevo were also severed. Bosnian Muslim and Croats from the surrounding villages began to arrive in Konjic town, having fled their homes. This further heightened the sense of panic and siege. In addition, displaced persons from other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina began appearing, having travelled over the mountains and through the woods, with stories of killing and ethnic cleansing. Reports of the arrival of HOS soldiers in Konjic seem to have further contributed to the sense of fear and panic and Serb residents began to leave the town for the villages in the municipality with a majority Serb population.

  5. On 4 May 1992, the first shells landed in Konjic town, apparently fired by the JNA and other Serb forces from the slopes of Borasnica and Kisera. This shelling, which continued daily for over three years, until the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, inflicted substantial damage and resulted in the loss of many lives as well as rendering conditions for the surviving population even more unbearable. With the town swollen from the influx of refugees, there was a great shortage of accommodation as well as food and other basic necessities. Charitable organisations attempted to supply the local people with enough food but all systems of production foundered or were destroyed. It was not until August or September of that year that convoys from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) managed to reach the town, and all communications links were cut off with the rest of the State. The Trial Chamber has been presented with substantial evidence of the hardship faced by the inhabitants of Konjic and has been shown video footage of the damage sustained by the town. One witness summed up the atmosphere thus:

    I can say that, at first, panic struck. None of us, like any other Europeans, had any experience of shelling of a town - the dangers of walking in the street and the beginning of a great hunger. 198

  6. Although the general mobilisation of the TO at the Republican level was not announced until June 1992, the local authorities in Konjic had already, in April, organised their forces pursuant to existing defence regulations. Both the TO and the HVO, at that time, had a common interest in uniting against the Serbs and thus frequently co-operated. This arrangement was formalised on 12 May 1992 with the signing of a Joint Command. The commander of this Joint Command was Esad Ramic, the TO commander at that time, and his deputy was Dinko Zebic, the HVO commander199. In practice, however, there was no superior-subordinate relationship between them and each answered to their own commanders and controlled their own troops. Thus, beyond the municipal level, the HVO took its orders from the HVO headquarters at Grude and did not accept the authority of the TO Republican Staff.

  7. The Konjic TO, in theory, came under the authority of the district TO headquarters in Mostar. For various reasons, however, these headquarters were not functional and the Konjic TO was therefore subordinated directly to the Republican headquarters in Sarajevo, with which communications were sometimes sporadic. While forming an integral part of the Konjic defence forces along with the TO and HVO, the local MUP had a separate line of command and authority to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Konjic, there were roughly 60-70 active MUP police officers, and a reserve of around 300, prior to the conflict. The Konjic TO had a total of 3,312 troops in April 1992 and this increased to 4,154 in May, according to local records200. At that time, the TO had no military police officers and thus police and security affairs were handled by the MUP. The HVO also had a special military police unit which was staffed by both Muslims and Croats.

  8. A clear priority for the Konjic authorities was the de-blocking of the routes to Sarajevo and Mostar. This objective required that the Serbian forces holding Bradina and Donje Selo, as well as those at Borci and other strategic points, be disarmed. Initially, an attempt was made at negotiation with the SDS and other representatives of the Serb people in Bradina and Donje Selo. This did not, however, achieve success for the Konjic authorities and plans were made for the launching of military operations by the Joint Command.

  9. The first area to be targeted was the village of Donje Selo and its surrounds. On 20 May 1992 the Joint Command - headed at that time by Omer Boric and Dinko Zebic - authorised this operation and forces of the TO and HVO entered the area201. According to eye-witnesses, Croat and Muslim soldiers moved through Viniste towards Cerici and Bjelovcina. Cerici, which was the first shelled, was attacked around 22 May and some of its inhabitants surrendered to the TO and to the HVO military police. Bjelovcina was also attacked around that time. Around 23 May, the TO arrested some people living in Viniste. The MUP also assisted in the arrest of persons and seizing of weapons in these areas. The Trial Chamber was further informed that some units from Tarcin and Pazaric participated in the operation to de-block the road at Donje Selo as well as the later one at Bradina, during which some casualties occurred.

  10. The Bradina operation was launched on 25 and 26 May 1992 after the failure of negotiations. Many witnesses have testified that the village was shelled in the late afternoon and evening of 25 May and then soldiers in both camouflage and black uniforms appeared, firing their weapons and setting fire to buildings. Many of the population sought to flee and some withdrew to the centre of the village. These people were, nonetheless, arrested at various times around 27 and 28 May, by TO, HVO and MUP soldiers and police. In charge of the Bradina operation was Zvonko Zovko and the MUP was responsible for detaining persons arrested in its course, as well as for the seizure of weapons.

  11. In June 1992, attention was turned to lifting the blockade at Borci in the south. An operation of the Joint Command was planned – code-named Operation Oganj - to achieve this aim, although, at the last minute, the HVO forces did not receive authorisation from their headquarters in Grude to participate. This marked the end of the functioning of the Joint Command and further conflicts of interest arose between the HVO and the TO forces. Open conflict between these two groups developed over the summer.


2. The Establishment of the Celebici Prison-camp

  1. These military operations resulted in the arrest of many members of the Serb population and it was thus necessary to create a facility where they could be housed. The public security station in the municipality had only limited space for prisoners as, prior to the conflict, pre-trial confinement of arrested persons was in Mostar. It appears that the recently secured Celebici barracks and warehouses were thus chosen for the detention of large numbers of Serbs, who were taken there upon their capture. In addition, the Musala sports hall, situated in Konjic town, served a similar purpose, although it does not seem to have housed so many prisoners.

  2. The question of who exercised control over the Celebici prison-camp has not been fully clarified and it appears that various groups were involved in its administration. It must be noted that the whole compound was utilised for the accommodation of several units of the MUP and HVO and later the TO, as well as, it would appear, for the storage of some equipment. The part of the compound used for the detention of prisoners seems to have been somewhat separate and security for the prison-camp was separate from that for the barracks in general.

  3. What has been established is that the Celebici compound was chosen out of necessity as the appropriate facilities for the detention of prisoners in Konjic were minimal. Mr. Sadik Dzumhur, a member of the MUP at that time and a witness in this case, told the Trial Chamber that the chief of police, Mr. Jasmin Guska, probably in consultation with members of the HVO, decided that the Celebici compound would function as a detention facility, as it had not been shelled and something could be improvised there202. The members of the MUP and HVO involved in the military operations which resulted in the arrest of many Serbs were told that this was the most appropriate solution and thus persons were transferred to Celebici upon their capture. A unit of the MUP, apparently headed by one Rale Musinovic, was itself stationed in the Celebici barracks, along with a unit of the HVO military police, which would have been subordinated to the commander of the HVO in Konjic. These units certainly provided the security for the prison-camp during some period of its operation. Later, around mid-June, there were also TO units involved who provided some of the prison guards and these individuals would have been subordinate to the municipal TO staff.


3. Description of the Celebici Compound

  1. The Celebici barracks and warehouses, located on the outskirts of the village of Celebici, along the M17 highway, was and is a relatively large complex of buildings covering an area of about 50,000 square metres, with a railway line running through the middle. It had been used by the JNA for the storage of fuel and, therefore, as well as various hangars and assorted buildings, the complex contains underground tunnels and tanks. The Trial Chamber has been presented with numerous photographs, film and plans of the entire complex prepared by the first expert witness, Mr. Antonius Beelen, who visited it in 1996, and has also had the benefit of a large model created on the basis of his measurements and under his direction. A plan of the camp is attached to this Judgement as Annex D and several photographs of some of the relevant buildings and other structures are contained in Annex E.

  2. Only a small part of the compound was utilised in 1992 for the detention of prisoners and it is solely with this part that the Trial Chamber is concerned. At the entrance gate there is a small reception building (hereafter "Building A") beside a larger administration building (hereafter "Building B"). At the time of inspection by Mr. Beelen, Building B contained rooms with beds as well as a kitchen, a canteen and some toilets and a shower. Opposite these is a small building which contains water pumps (hereafter "Building 22"). To the north-east, beside a wall, there is the entrance to a tunnel (hereafter "Tunnel 9") which extends about 30 metres downwards into the ground and leads, after a steel door, to a fuel measuring and distribution station. The tunnel is only 1.5 metres wide and 2.5 metres high. There is a trapdoor and manhole leading up from behind the steel door to the outside, above. On the other side of the camp, beside other similar buildings, there is a large metal building, 30 metres long and 13 metres wide, (hereafter "Hangar 6") which is fully enclosed and has doors down one side.


4. The Arrival, Accommodation and Release of Prisoners

  1. It appears that the Celebici barracks and warehouses were first used for the detention of prisoners in the latter part of April 1992. Enver Tahirovic testified before the Trial Chamber that he was offered the position of commander of the barracks by Esad Ramic and Dinko Zebic in May 1992, but that he did not accept the offer when he discovered that there were Serb prisoners being held there203. Sadik Dzumhur also testified that it was probably when the villages, such as Celebici and Idbar, were searched for illegal weapons by the MUP, prior to the military operations at Donje Selo and Bradina, that the Celebici barracks were first used for the detention and interrogation of persons captured204. In any event, the Trial Chamber has heard direct evidence from numerous witnesses who were themselves detained in the Celebici prison-camp and is thus able to draw some general conclusions.

  2. The majority of the prisoners who were detained between April and December 1992 were men, captured during and after the military operations at Bradina and Donje Selo and their surrounding areas. At the end of May, several groups were transferred to the Celebici prison-camp from various locations. For example, a group of around 15-20 men from Cerici were captured on 23 May 1992 and taken to Celebici that day. Another group was taken near Bjelovcina around 22 May and spent one night at the sports hall at Musala before being transported to the Celebici prison-camp. Military police also arrested many members of the male population of Brdani at the end of May and these people were taken in a truck to the Celebici prison-camp. A larger group was arrested in the centre of Bradina on 27 May and made to walk in a column along the road to Konjic. When these people reached a tunnel in the road, which had been blown up, they were searched and beaten by their captors before being loaded into trucks and taken to the Celebici prison-camp. Others were arrested individually or in smaller groups at their homes or at military check-points, in, inter alia, Bradina, Viniste, Ljuta, Kralupi and Homolje, or upon surrender or capture during and after the operation in Donje Selo.

  3. A number of witnesses have testified that, upon arrival at the Celebici prison-camp, they were lined up against a wall near the entrance and searched or made to hand over valuables. In addition, several stated that they were severely beaten at that time by the soldiers or guards who were present. Those who were brought in on the first truck from Bradina were, in particular, subjected to this treatment and were made to stand against the wall with their arms raised for some time. Thereafter, these Bradina detainees, who numbered about 70-80, were taken directly to Hangar 6 and appear to have been the first group to be placed in that building. A few days later, another group of at least 70-80 people from Bradina were transferred to the Hangar from Tunnel 9, where they had been kept for four or five days. Other detainees were housed in Building 22 upon their arrival, which seems to have been very tightly packed with people, and later moved to Hangar 6. Others were placed in manholes, some 2 or 3 metres deep, before being taken to Hangar 6, and yet others were kept in the tunnel for only a few days before being moved to Building 22, whereas some spent a more substantial period of time in the tunnel.

  4. The Trial Chamber has heard evidence concerning two doctors who were also arrested at this time and taken to the Celebici prison-camp. These doctors appear to have arrived at the camp towards the end of April 1992 and then to have been sent to the "3rd March" School in Konjic to treat the ill and wounded who were collected there. Around 6 or 7 June 1992, they were transported back to the prison-camp, along with their patients, and a makeshift infirmary was established in Building 22.

  5. Without seeking to describe in any detail at this stage the conditions in the prison-camp, which will be addressed in the section dealing with counts 46 and 47 of the Indictment alleging inhumane conditions, it is necessary to set out the circumstances in which the persons detained in the Celebici prison-camp found themselves. It is clear that an atmosphere of fear and intimidation prevailed at the prison-camp, inspired by the beatings meted out indiscriminately upon the prisoners’ arrest, transfer to the camp and their arrival. Each of the former detainees who testified before the Trial Chamber described acts of violence and cruelty which they themselves suffered or witnessed and many continue today to sustain the physical and psychological consequences of these experiences.

  6. As has been stated above, Tunnel 9 was utilised for the incarceration of many detainees, some for only a short while and others for a longer period. At one point, it certainly contained at least 80 individuals and, given its size, was extremely crowded. There was a great lack of ventilation and no blankets were provided to the prisoners, who slept as they were lined up on the concrete floor. The tunnel sloped downwards towards the steel door at the bottom and it was this bottom area that the prisoners used to urinate and defecate in when they were not permitted to leave the tunnel for this purpose.

  7. Hangar 6 had the capacity to hold a much larger number of prisoners and there were over 240 individuals contained there at one stage. The prisoners were assigned places on the floor of the building, where they had to remain seated. They were arranged in rows - one circling the inside perimeter and two down the middle. As the Hangar was made entirely of metal, it became extremely hot during the daytime but the prisoners were not allowed to leave their places, except in small groups upon request to use the toilet facilities, which consisted of an outside ditch, around the back of the Hangar.

  8. The few women who were confined in the camp were housed separately from the other prisoners, firstly in the administration building (Building B) and then in the small reception building at the entrance to the camp (Building A). Ms. Milojka Antic and Ms. Grozdana Cecez told the Trial Chamber how they were kept in a small room in Building A with a bed and a mattress and a stove, and for a period other women from Bradina were also kept there. There was a barred window in the building from which they could see the entrance gate to the camp and there was a sink and a toilet in the building which they were permitted to use.

  9. Many witnesses have testified that they were questioned, on one or several occasions, while in the prison-camp. A number of witnesses stated that they suffered physical violence in the course of, or directly after, this interrogation. In the course of these interrogations some signed statements, subsequently claiming that this was done under duress, saying that they had possessed certain weapons or engaged in certain activities. Different persons appear to have conducted these interrogations, some of whom were known to the detainees involved as members of the police.

  10. A Military Investigating Commission was constituted after the arrest of persons during the military operations, whose purpose was to establish the responsibility of these persons for any crimes. The Commission comprised representatives of both the MUP and the HVO, as well as the TO, who were each appointed by their own commanders.

  11. The Commission interviewed many of the Celebici inmates and took their statements, as well as analysing other documents which had been collected to determine their role in the combat against the Konjic authorities and their possession of weapons. As a result, prisoners were placed in various categories and the Commission compiled a report recommending that certain persons be released. Some of the individuals who had been placed in the lower categories were subsequently transferred to the sports hall at Musala. After working for about one month at the prison-camp, the Investigating Commission was disbanded at the instigation of its members, who wrote a report detailing the brutality of the conditions and treatment of the prisoners which they had observed and which, they claimed, made it impossible for them to continue their work with any integrity.205

  12. From May until December 1992, individuals and groups were released from the Celebici prison-camp at various times, some to continued detention at Musala, some for exchange, others under the auspices of the International Red Cross, which visited the camp on two occasions in the first half of August. Several also appear to have been released upon the personal intervention of influential persons in Konjic, or through family connections. The last prisoners to leave Celebici prison-camp were a group of around 30 individuals who were transferred to the sports hall at Musala on 9 December 1992.

Document Source:
Last update 24/11/98

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