Vukovar massacre

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Vukovar massacre
Part of Croatian War of Independence
Location Vukovar, Croatia
Date 20 November 1991 (1991-11-20) – 21 November 1991 (1991-11-21)
Target mostly Croats
Attack type
summary executions
Deaths 255[1]–264[2]
Perpetrators Serb paramilitaries (White Eagles, Serb Volunteer Guard), Yugoslav People's Army
Ovčara on the map of Croatia, 1991/1992. Serbian-held territories are highlighted in red.

The Vukovar massacre, also known as the Vukovar hospital massacre[3] or the Ovčara massacre, was a war crime that took place between November 20th and 21st, 1991 at Ovčara, near the city of Vukovar in northeastern Croatia, which had a mixed Croat/Serb community. A mostly Croatian group of 263 men and 1 woman (including civilians and POWs), of whom 194 have been identified, consisting mostly of patients from Vukovar hospital, were slaughtered by members of Serb militias following the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) withdrawal from Ovčara.[4][5] The murders occurred at the end of the Battle of Vukovar.

For their roles in orchestrating the massacre, the Yugoslav military leaders Veselin Šljivančanin and Mile Mrkšić were convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 2007, 2009 and 2010.[6][7][8] A third defendant on the original indictment, Miroslav Radić, was released without charge. The original indictment listed 264 non-Serb men killed. In the trial against Vojislav Šešelj, the indictment listed 255 names in relation to Ovčara. The names included one woman, a 77-year old man and a 16-year old boy (Igor Kačić) as the oldest and youngest victims of the massacre. Of the 255, 23 were older than 49 years of age,[9] which is higher than Croatian military service age. Victims also included journalist Siniša Glavašević and his technician Branimir Polovina.[10]

The Ovčara camp on the same location served as a Serbian transit camp for Croatian prisoners from October to December 1991.

Prison camp[edit]

Main article: Ovčara camp
Ovčara farm in 2005

Ovčara is located 5 kilometers southeast of the city of Vukovar. It is a desolate stretch of land where the Vukovar agricultural conglomerate built storage hangars after World War II.

The Serbian forces turned Ovčara into a prison camp in early October 1991. Aside from the massacre, 3,000 to 4,000 male prisoners were temporarily held in the camp before being transported to the prison in Sremska Mitrovica or to the local army barracks, which was the transit point for the Serbian detention camps Stajićevo, Begejci and others. Some of the Serb forces were led by Željko Ražnatović "Arkan" who directed much of the pillaging and murder that occurred in Vukovar during and after the siege.[11]

Vukovar hospital[edit]

Vukovar war memorial dedicated to the male patients in the Vukovar hospital who were evacuated by the JNA army, brought to and executed in Ovčara. The crater in the ceiling, where a JNA shell fell but did not explode, was left unrepaired to show what damage was done

During a cross-examination of a witness, the defense for the three men accused for the massacre claimed that members of the Serbian population were mistreated at the hospital, to the point that they were afraid to ask for help. It was also claimed that wounded Yugoslav National Army soldiers were provided with inadequate care and kept in the hospital as hostages. The witness denied this claim.[12] The defense also claimed that after the end of the Battle of Vukovar (November 18, 1991), a number of soldiers of the Croatian National Guard went into hiding in the hospital disguised as patients or staff. The witness denied this claim as well, although she said it was impossible to be certain of who was dressed how in such a mass of people.[12]

Serbian forces captured the Vukovar hospital with the promise that the JNA would safely evacuate it, following an agreement reached with the Croatian government.[13] Serb militia failed to live up to an agreement with the Red Cross and other international observers to monitor the surrender. When the agreed time approached, an armoured Serb vehicle blocked the observers’ access across a bridge to the hospital while the prisoners were smuggled out in buses in another direction.[14]

They[who?] gathered the 300 men, among them wounded combatants and civilians alike, put them in buses and transported them to Ovčara. Many were beaten, until they were taken to a wooded ravine away from the town. The soldiers and paramilitary fighters then killed the majority of the male prisoners, executing them by firearms. The bodies were then mostly thrown in a trench and covered by earth (a bulldozer was used to bury them in a mass grave). Among the dead was a French combatant Jean-Michel Nicolier.[15]


Exhumation and remembrance[edit]

Ovčara Memorial

The Ovčara mass grave lies northeast from the facilities, one kilometer from the Ovčara-Grabovo road. It belongs to the category of the mass graves with the remains of prisoners of war and civilians executed in the immediate vicinity or at the very place of the grave. Exhumation started on September 1, 1996 and lasted 40 days. 200 bodies were found, of which 194 were identified. Among those executed were Croatian Radio Vukovar journalist Siniša Glavašević and his technician Branimir Polovina, both civilians.[10] French volunteer Jean-Michel Nicollier was another notable victim.

Pursuant to the Act for Marking Mass Graves from the Croatian War of Independence, passed by the Croatian Parliament in 1996, the Ovčara Monument was the first such monument. Made by Slavomir Drinković and uncovered on December 29, 1998, it is a grey obelisk with a sculpted dove and the inscription:

In remembrance of 200 wounded Croatian men defenders and civilians from the Vukovar hospital who were executed in the Greater Serbian aggression against the Republic of Croatia.

There is also a memorial centre near the site of the massacre.[16]

War crimes trials[edit]

International trial[edit]

On or about November 21, 1991 Serb forces removed approximately 255 men, Croats and other non-Serbs from Vukovar Hospital in the aftermath of the Serb take-over of the city.

The victims were transported to the Ovcara farm located about 5 kilometers south of Vukovar. There, members of the Serb forces beat and tortured the victims for hours.

During the evening of November 21, 1991 the soldiers transported the victims in groups of 10–20 to a remote execution site between the Ovcara farm and Grabovo, where they shot and killed them.

Their bodies were buried in a mass grave.[17]

— War Crimes Indictment against Milošević and others

The ICTY indicted several people for the Vukovar massacre, among them Goran Hadžić (left). Yugoslav People's Army military commanders Veselin Šljivančanin and Mile Mrkšić (right) were convicted at the Tribunal to 10 and 20 years

The ICTY indicted a total of seven people for their role in the massacre.

  • Former Serbian and Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević was indicted, but died before a verdict.[17]
  • Slavko Dokmanović, president of the Vukovar Municipality from 1990 to mid-1996, committed suicide in the Hague on June 29, 1998.
  • Former JNA officers Veselin Šljivančanin, Mile Mrkšić and Miroslav Radić were also indicted. Mrkšić surrendered to the ICTY on May 15, 2002 and was transferred to the court the same day. Šljivančanin was arrested and transferred to the detention unit on July 1, 2003. On September 27, 2007 Mrkšić was sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to 20 years imprisonment for murder and torture, Šljivančanin was sentenced to 5 years in jail on charges of torture,[18] but was acquitted on charges of extermination, while Radić was acquitted.[6] In 2007, Šljivančanin was released because he already served his punishment of 5 years in custody. In 2009, his sentence was extended to 17 years, and Mrkšić's was upheld.[7] In 2010, Šljivančanin's sentence was reduced to 10 years in a controversial decision that, for the first time, overturned a binding verdict of the court.[8]
  • As part of the ICTY's trial against Vojislav Šešelj, it is alleged that he commanded or incited the soldiers who committed the massacre.[19]
  • Goran Hadžić was also indicted, but not arrested until July 20, 2011, in a forest outside of Krusedol in northern Serbia.[20][21][22]

Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović were also initially indicted for the Vukovar massacre, but due to lack of evidence the Tribunal redacted their charges for that specific case in the second, amended indictment.[23]

The prisoners of war were left in the custody of the Vukovar Territorial Defence who were at the time under the command of Miroljub Vujović. The prisoners were then taken by Territorial Defence and paramilitary forces in small groups to an isolated location and shot. Their bodies were buried there in a mass grave that had been dug earlier that day. The grave remained undiscovered until almost one year later, and the exhumation process did not begin until 1996. 200 bodies were exhumed.

— The ICTY in its verdict against Mile Mrkšić[24]

Trial in Serbia[edit]

Ovčara memorial: documents and personal belongings of the victims who died in Ovčara in 1991.

In Serbia and Montenegro on December 4, 2003, the Prosecution for War Crimes indicted Miroljub Vujović and associates for the criminal act of war crime against prisoners of war. Two more indictments for the same criminal act were published: against Milan Lazunčanin and associates on May 24, 2004 and against Predrag Dragović and associates on May 25, 2004. All these indictments have been merged in one case.

The bill of indictment says that the accused, as members of the Territorial Defense of Vukovar which was formerly a part of the Yugoslav armed forces along with JNA, or as members of the volunteer corps called Leva Supoderica, organized and ordered murders and inhuman acts against the imprisoned men members of armed forces and other men included in armed forces or following armed forces and took the life of 192 men and buried them, at the agricultural property in Ovčara near Vukovar, on November 20–21, 1991 (from the afternoon to the early morning). The trial ended in 2005 and 15 were found guilty with sentences 5 to 20 years and two acquitted. However, the Serbian Supreme Court nullified the verdict and the case is being retried.[25][26]

In 2008, Serbian police arrested British citizen Milorad Pejic for alleged involvement in the massacre.[27]

On March 12, 2009, the Belgrade District Court passed the verdict for the Vukovar massacre. A total of thirteen people were sentenced to a total of 193 years in prison. Miroljub Vujovic, one of 18 defendants for the crime, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Sentences ranged from 5 to 20 years in prison, while five were acquitted of charges.[28]

Apology from the Serbian government[edit]

In 2010, President Boris Tadic of Serbia became the first Serbian leader to visit the site and apologize for the atrocity.[29] Tadic was accompanied to the site by Ivo Josipovic and stated: "By acknowledging the crime, by apologising and regretting, we are opening the way for forgiveness and reconciliation."[30]


In English:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Milosevic Indictment: Text". BBC News. October 29, 2001. 
  2. ^ "U.N. tribunal to rule in Vukovar massacre case". Reuters. September 25, 2007. 
  3. ^ "Rule 61 hearing scheduled for three JNA officers charged with Vukovar hospital massacre". The Hague: ICTY. March 15, 1996. Retrieved April 4, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Serb leader apologises for Croatian massacre". Euronews. November 11, 2010. Retrieved April 4, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Final report of the United Nations Commission of Experts established pursuant to security council resolution 780 (1992) – Mass graves – Ovcara" (PDF). United Nations. December 28, 1994. Retrieved July 25, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Two jailed over Croatia massacre, BBC News, September 27, 2007 Retrieved September 28, 2007
  7. ^ a b ICTY – Appeals Chamber Increases Sentence Against Šljivančanin
  8. ^ a b "Appeals Chamber Grants Šljivančanin’s Request for Review of Judgement". ICTY. December 8, 2010. Retrieved 2011-01-01. 
  9. ^ ICTY indictment against Vojislav Šešelj, see Annex III
  10. ^ a b Amnesty International Calls for Justice for Sinisa Glavasevic and Other Victims of Unlawful Execution in Vukovar
  11. ^ Eric Stover and Gilles Peress: The Graves (1998), (Scalo. Zurich), p. 108.
  12. ^ a b Sense (November 4, 2005). "Bolnička "prerušavanja"". Danas. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  13. ^ "The Prosecutor of the Tribunal against Mile Mrkšić, Miroslav Radić, Veselin Šljivančanin and Slavko Dokmanović – Amended Indictment". ICTY. December 1997. Retrieved December 28, 2010. In the last days of the siege, several hundred people sought refuge at Vukovar Hospital, which was near the city centre, in the belief that it would be evacuated in the presence of neutral international observers. This evacuation had been agreed upon in Zagreb in negotiations between the JNA and the Croatian government on 18 November 1991. 
  14. ^ Adam LeBor (September 28, 2007). "Serb officer is jailed over the massacre of 194 Croats snatched from hospital". The Sunday Times (London). Retrieved April 4, 2011. 
  15. ^ Croatian Forces International Volunteers Association, Book of remembrance commemorating those men volunteers who fell in the defense of freedom in the Balkan wars and conflicts, Jean-Michel Nicolier
  16. ^ Memorial Centre Ovčara
  17. ^ a b Indictment against Milosevic and others BBC News
  18. ^ "Hague court cuts Serb major's murder sentence". Reuters. December 9, 2010. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ Serbs nab last war crimes fugitive Herald Sun, July 20, 2011.
  21. ^ Wanted men: a report on the three remaining fugitives The Hague Justice Portal. Accessdate January 14, 2011.
  22. ^ "The Hague indicts Croatian Serb". BBC News. July 16, 2004. Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  23. ^ "SREBRENICA AND SCORPIONS IN AMENDED INDICTMENT AGAINST STANISIC AND SIMATOVIC". Sense Agency. Retrieved July 25, 2011. In the second indictment, signed during the court recess by Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte, Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic have been relieved of responsibility for the massacre at Ovcara in Vukovar and murders in Mrkonjic grad. 
  24. ^ "Judgement Summary for Mile Mrkšić, Miroslav Radić and Veselin Šljivančanin". ICTY. September 27, 2007. Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  25. ^ New York Times: Serbian Court Finds 14 Guilty in '91 Massacre of Croatians
  26. ^ B92: Ovčara trial continues in Belgrade
  27. ^ British locksmith Milorad Pejic faces trial over Vukovar massacre
  28. ^ Karmen Horvat (March 12, 2009). "193 Years In Prison For Ovcara Massacre". Dalje. Retrieved December 28, 2010. 
  29. ^ BBC (November 4, 2010). "Serb leader Tadic apologises for 1991 Vukovar massacre". BBC (BBC). Retrieved 2010-11-04. 
  30. ^ Al-jazeera (November 4, 2010). "Serb leader visits Croat mass grave: Boris Tadic apologises for a 1991 massacre in a symbolic step towards reconciliation between the two nations.". Aljazeera. Retrieved 2010-11-04. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 45°17′44″N 19°03′33″E / 45.29556°N 19.05917°E / 45.29556; 19.05917