The Prijedor opstina, or administrative district, includes at least seventy-one smaller towns and villages.1 The names of some are now familiar due to the atrocities which took place there; among them are Kozarac, Omarska, and Trnopolje. While the towns and villages within the wider Prijedor district have their own officials, they are governed by the opstina. Thus, the Prijedor authorities wield influence over a considerable area. Prijedor was considered a strategically important town by the Bosnian Serbs, who wanted to create a corridor between Serbia proper and the Croatian Krajina, which was until 1995 controlled by rebel Serbs in Croatia. As early as 1991, the Serbs organized a Serb-only alternative administration in Opstina Prijedor, under the guidance of a central administration in Banja Luka. The designated Serb "mayor" was Milomir Stakic, a medical doctor who functioned as deputy mayor under the duly elected Bosniak mayor of the town, Muhamed Cehajic.
After the Serbs took power on April 30, 1992, they opened at least four detention camps in the Prijedor opstina. Two of the concentration camps, Omarska and Keraterm, were places where killings, torture, and brutal interrogations were carried out. The third, Trnopolje, had another purpose; it functioned as a staging area for massive deportations of mostly women, children, and elderly men, and killings and rapes2 also occurred there. The fourth, Manjaca, was referred to by the Bosnian Serbs as a "prisoner of war camp," although most if not all detainees were civilians.3
"Despite the absence of a real non-Serbian threat, the main objective of the concentration camps, especially Omarska but also Keraterm, seems to have been to eliminate the non-Serb leadership," the U.N. Commission of Experts found. "From the time when the Serbs took power in the district of Prijedor, non-Serbs in reality became outlaws. At times, non-Serbs were instructed to wear white arm bands to identify themselves...According to Serbianregulations, those leaving the district had to sign over their property rights and accept never to return, being told their names would simultaneously be deleted from the census."4
According to Ed Vulliamy5, the first journalist to report from the Omarska camp, "Omarska was a monstrosity: an inferno of murder, torture and rape. It was a stain upon our century."6
During the period when many persons were interned in the concentration camps, family members sometimes tried to obtain information from the police station in town. "Instead of receiving information concerning the whereabouts of their family members, they were in some cases offered the alternative of paying for an "exit visa" for the family at large.7 In order to receive an "exit visa," sums of money had to be paid to various municipal authorities and to the local "Red Cross," run by the Bosnian Serb authorities, and real property had to be signed over to the municipality.
The Commission of Experts determined that the systematic destruction of the Bosniak community in the Prijedor area met the definition of genocide.8
The persecution of non-Serbs in Prijedor did not ease after international pressure succeeded in forcing the Bosnian Serbs to close the concentration camps in 1992, as evidenced by the ICRC's attempt to evacuate all remaining non-Serbs from Opstina Prijedor in March 1994.9
As documented by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, a final wave of mass expulsions of non-Serbs from Prijedor and many other towns in Serb-controlled territory occurred in September and October 1995, when the infamous Zeljko "Arkan" Raznatovic joined local forces to conduct "ethnic cleansing" operations.10 Forced expulsions in Prijedor began on October 5 during which those expelled were again forced to finance their own "ethniccleansing" by paying transportation fees to the local "Red Cross" and were harassed, robbed, and threatened while waiting for the buses which would later dump them at the confrontation line.11
One woman told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki during a 1995 investigation of the expulsions, "All the Muslims from the city [Prijedor] were expelled. We went to the [local] Red Cross, gave them seventy DM for each family member and got on the buses. . .There were thirteen buses in the convoy leaving from Prijedor for Teslic. Men were taken off my bus. . . My husband was taken off the bus in Blatnica, a Serbian village in the woods." She had not seen her husband since.12
Many draft-age males were separated from their families during round-ups in other Bosnian Serb-controlled areas, and transferred to Prijedor, where they were interned at the "Autoprevoz" facility or other local detention centers. Following the official closing of the camps in 1992, and until the present, rumors have abounded about the reopening of the Omarska, Manjaca and Keraterm camps, but Human Rights Watch/Helsinki has been unable to confirm them. Prisoners released from "Autoprevoz" in an exchange told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki that when the International Committee of the Red Cross tried to visit them, they were moved by bus onto the Kozara mountain and hidden until the visitors had gone away.13
Oppression of the now-minority Bosniak and Bosnian Croat populations throughout Republika Srpska continues today through restrictions on freedom of movement; evictions and expulsions; arbitrary arrest and detention; ethnically motivated harassment and direct physical attack; denial of employment, humanitarian assistance, medical care, and social insurance; discrimination in access to education; and restrictions on religious freedom.1 According to the 1991 census, Opstina (administrative district) Prijedor had a total population of 112,470 people, of whom 44 percent were Muslims, 42.5 percent Serbs, 5.6 percent Croats, 5.7 percent "Yugoslavs," and 2.2 percent others (Ukrainians, Russians, and Italians). In April 1992, the total population was approximately 120,000 people, augmented, inter alia, by an influx of people who had fled the destruction of their villages in the west of Opstina Prijedor. United Nations, Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts, established pursuant to Security Council resolution 780, (New York: United Nations, 1992), S/1994674/Add.2 (Vol.), December 28, 1994, Annex V, Part 2, Section II, Subsection B. 2
The U.N. Commission of Experts and many journalists and witnesses have reported extensively on the rape of women by Bosnian Serb forces. The commission, which conducted a special investigation of rape during the war, concluded: "Rape is prevalent in the camps. . .Captors have killed women who resisted being raped, often in front of other prisoners. Rapes were also committed in the presence of other prisoners. Women are frequently selected at random during the night. These rapes are done in a way that instills terror in the women prisoner population. The commission has information indicating that girls as young as seven years old and women as old as sixty-five have been raped while in captivity.. .Mothers of young children are often raped in front of their children and are threatened with the death of their children if they do not submit to being raped. Sometimes young women are separated from older women and taken to separate camps where they are raped several times a day, for many days, often by more than one man. Many of these women disappear, or after they have been raped and brutalized to the point where they are traumatized, they are returned to the camps and are replaced by other young women. There have also been instances of sexual abuse of men as well as castration and mutilation of male sexual organs. Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts, Annex V, Part 2, Section IV.3 As of June 23, 1993, according to the United Nations Commission of Experts, which conducted an extensive review of war crimes committed in Prijedor municipality, the total number of killed and deported persons was 52,811 (including limited numbers of refugees and people missing). Camps located in or around Prijedor included Omarska, Manjaca, Keraterm, and Trnopolje. See Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts, for a detailed description of events around Prijedor in 1992 and throughout the war. 4 Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts, Annex V, Part 2, Section IV. 5 Ed Vulliamy of The Guardian and Roy Gutman of Newsday were among the first to uncover and gain access to the concentration camps in the Prijedor area in 1992. Vulliamy accompanied non-Serbs as they were being "ethnically cleansed" from the territory, posing as a deaf mute. The two conducted extensive interviews over many months with Bosnian Serb officials, representatives of international organizations including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and with survivors of the camps. Roy Gutman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his work, and Vulliamy has also been honored. Both Gutman's and Vulliamy's findings have been utilized in war crimes investigations by the ICTY. 6 Ed Vulliamy, "Yugoslavia: Horror Hidden Beneath Ice and Lies", The Guardian, London, February 19, 1996, p. 9. 7 Final Report of the U.N. Commission of Experts, Annex V, Part 2, Section IX, Subsection D. 8 Ibid. 9 The ICRC's plans to evacuate all non-Serb residents of the town was abandoned after Karadzic refused to grant safe passage for convoys out. 10 A person who in 1994 left Prijedor told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki that "I hid for two years. People were being killed on the road and I wouldn't have been caught dead walking outside. I stayed in my house from the day I was released from the Keraterm concentration camp on August 13, 1992 until I came here [to Bosnian government-controlled territory] on Saturday [September 17, 1994]. See Human Rights Watch/Helsinki report, "Bosnia-Hercegovina: "Ethnic Cleansing" Continues in Northern Bosnia,"A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 6, no. 16, November 1994. Numerous similar stories have been related to Human Rights Watch/Helsinki representatives. 11 Ibid. 12 Ibid. 13 The information on the expulsion of non-Serbs from Prijedor comes in part from a report of a human rights fact-finding mission which included staff from UNPF-HQ, United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), and the U.N. Center for Human Rights. The report is titled "Human Rights Abuses in Northwestern Bosnia: Report on Forced Expulsions from 5-12 October 1995." For a detailed description of how the forced expulsions were conducted, see Human Rights Watch/Helsinki's report titled "Northwestern Bosnia: Human Rights Abuses during a Cease-Fire and Peace Negotiations," Vol. 8, No. 1 (D), February 1996.