Čelebići prison camp
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|Čelebići prison camp|
Serbs from the Konjic area detained in the Čelebići camp
|Location||Čelebići, Konjic municipality, Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|Operated by||Bosnian Ministry of the Interior, Croatian Defence Council|
|Number of inmates||700|
Čelebići prison camp was a prison camp that was operational during the Bosnian War. It was used by several units of the Bosnian Ministry of the Interior (MUP), Croatian Defence Council (HVO) and later the Territorial Defense Forces (TO). The camp was located in Čelebići, a village in the central Bosnian municipality of Konjic.
The camp, operational from May to December 1992, was used to detain 700 Bosnian Serb prisoners of war arrested during military operations that were intended to de-block routes to Sarajevo and Mostar in May 1992 that had earlier been blocked by Serb forces. Of these 700 prisoners, 13 died while in captivity. Detainees at the camp were subjected to torture, sexual assaults, beatings and otherwise cruel and inhuman treatment. Certain prisoners were shot and killed or beaten to death.
During the conflict in Yugoslavia, Konjic municipality was of strategic importance as it contained important communication links from Sarajevo to southern Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the Siege of Sarajevo the route through Konjic was of vital importance to the Bosnian government forces. Furthermore, several important military facilities were contained in Konjic, including the Igman arms and ammunition factory, the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) Ljuta barracks, the Reserve Command Site of the JNA, the Zlatar communications and telecommunications centre, and the Celebici barracks and warehouses.
Although the Konjic municipality did not have a majority Serb population and did not form part of the declared "Serb autonomous regions", in March 1992, the self-styled "Serb Konjic Municipality" adopted a decision on the Serbian territories. The Serbian Democratic Party (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 during ICTY trial, the SDS distributed around 400 weapons to Serbs in the area.
Konjic was also included in those areas claimed by Croatia in Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of the "Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia", 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.
Following the international recognition of the independent Bosnian state and the walk-out of SDS representatives from the Municipal Assembly a War Assembly was formed to take charge of the defence of the municipality. Between 20 April and early May 1992 Bosnian government forces seized control over most of the strategic assets of the Municipality and some armaments. However, Serb forces controlled the main access points to the municipality, effectively cutting it off from outside supply. Bosniak refugees began to arrive from outlying areas of the municipality expelled by Serbs, while Serb inhabitants of the town left for Serb-controlled villages according to the decision made by Serb leadership.
On 4 May 1992, the first shells landed in Konjic town, 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. 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.
The first area to be targeted was the village of Donje Selo. On 20 May 1992 forces of the TO and HVO entered the village. Bosnian government soldiers moved through Viniste towards the villages of Cerići and Bjelovcina. Cerići, which was the first shelled, was attacked around 22 May and some of its inhabitants surrendered. The village of Bjelovcina was also attacked around that time. According to witnesses heard by the ICTY, the Serb-populated village of Bradina 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.
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 imprisoned, beaten, raped, murdered and also questioned about their role in war crimes during the blockade of Konjic. The former JNA Celebici compound was chosen out of necessity as the appropriate facilities for the detention of prisoners in Konjic. 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. 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. At the end of May, several groups were transferred to the Čelebići 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. 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 police and the Croat Defence Council (HVO), as well as the Territorial Defence (TO), who were each appointed by their own commanders. 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. 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. According to the New York Times, "The roughly 200 men held in the camp...were local Serbs who had been rounded up and disarmed," of whom "[m]any were elderly or infirm".
Conditions and treatment in the camp
According to human rights investigators, the prisoners were fed rarely, on bread and water. They rarely bathed, slept on concrete floors without blankets, and many were forced to defecate on the floor. Serbian survivors said soldiers entered the base at night and beat prisoners with clubs, rifle butts, wooden planks, shovels and pieces of cable. Investigators say that in May and August, about 30 prisoners died from beatings and a few others were killed by the soldiers. Several of these victims were elderly, they said.
ICTY trial and convictions
- Zdravko Mucić (an ethnic Croat), commander of the prison camp: found guilty of torture and given 9 years.
- Hazim Delić (Bosniak), deputy commander: found guilty of murder and torture and given 18 years
- Esad Landzo (Bosniak), guard: found guilty of murder and given 15 years.
In the case of Zejnil Delalić, it was found that he did not have enough command and control over the prison camp and the guards who worked there to entail criminal responsibility for their actions.
- Hazim Delić
- Gabela camp
- Heliodrom camp
- Keraterm camp
- Manjača camp
- Omarska camp
- Trnopolje camp
- Uzamnica camp
- Vilina Vlas
- Vojno camp
- Paragraphs 141-157, Judgement ICTY vs Delic et al., 16 November 1998
- Nettelfield (2010), p. 174
- Judgement ICTY vs Delic et al., 16 November 1998
- Paragraphs 138-139, Judgement ICTY vs Delic et al., 16 November 1998
- ICTY - F. Fighting in Konjic and Existence of the Celebici Prison-camp
- ICTY cases -
- Nettelfield, Lara J. (2010). Courting Democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Praeger Publishers. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
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