Ukraine seeks to punish Russian criminals in a tribunal. Bosniaks who suffered during the Yugoslav wars achieved justice, but didnʼt find fairness

Oksana Kovalenko
Dmytro Rayevskyi
Ukraine seeks to punish Russian criminals in a tribunal. Bosniaks who suffered during the Yugoslav wars achieved justice, but didnʼt find fairness

Satko Mujagić in the building of the Omarska mine, where he was a prisoner of the concentration camp in 1992.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

Satko Mujagić was born in 1972 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, then a part of the united Yugoslavia. At the age of 20, he was sent to a concentration camp, where Serbs killed Bosniaks, and miraculously survived. He was sent there by a Serb, with whom Satko used to hang out at joint parties in his peaceful life. Now Mujagić lives in the Netherlands, but regularly visits Bosnia, where he meets his executioners and fights for justice and memory of the victims of war crimes. During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, about one hundred thousand civilians died, 1.8 million were forced to flee their homes. For more than 30 years, victims have sought justice. Since 1993, the International Tribunal for Yugoslavia has prosecuted top commanders and politicians involved in terrible crimes. Subsequently, the national courts of Bosnia also took up the case. However, the trials dragged on for many years, victims and criminals walk the same streets, and the leadership of Republika Srpska continues to deny war crimes and glorify executioners and murderers. Babel correspondent Oksana Kovalenko visited Bosnia and Herzegovina, spoke with Satko Mujagić and other victims of war crimes who have been waiting for justice for 30 years. Here are their stories.


Satko Mujagić is 52 years old, he is a Bosnian, he was born in Prijedor, a city in the north-west of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Prijedor, until 1992, there were almost equal numbers of Serbs and Bosniaks — about 40% each, the rest — Croats, Czechs, Ukrainians, Roma and Jews. Satko went to school there, and lived in Kozarac, a small town not far from Prijedor.

In his youth, Satko was friends with Serbs and Croats, they went to joint parties and holidays. In 1992, the war began. Satko met it at the house of her great-grandmother Zlate Krkić in Kozarac. The town was under constant shelling, the Serbs could take it from day to day. The Satko family decided to hide in the forest. A sick great-grandmother, who could not walk after a stroke, stayed at home. When the Serbs entered the city, they looted and burned her house. After that, no one ever saw the woman, what happened to her is still unknown.

Mujagić and his family searched for refuge in Prijedor where they had relatives. On May 30, Serbs came to them, looked for weapons, and threatened. And then they took everyone out of the house and started putting men and women on different buses. Among the fighters of Bosnian Serb Army, Satko saw a familiar man with whom he celebrated the new year of 1990.

"I knew the guy who arrested me. It was Alexander," says Satko. This acquaintance did not help him. Alexander tried to put Satkoʼs younger brother, who was only 16 years old, on the same bus. Mujagić asked to let the child go to his mother.

"He recognized me then. But he looked and said: "I didnʼt ask you anything, did I?" I saw the hatred for me in his eyes. Then I told my brother to show him the ID, and Alexander realized that my brother was still too young. He contemptuously threw the documents into my chest — like in some movie about the Nazis. But he said that the brother can go to the left, to his mother and sister," Satko recalls.

The brother, mother and sister were sent to the Trnopolje concentration camp, where the conditions were slightly better than in the camp where Satko and his father were taken. Mujagić was sure that he was being taken to execution. And he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that the buses drove into the Omarska concentration camp, which was set up in an old iron mine that continued to work.

The prisoners slept on the ground and only on their sides, because there was simply not enough room to sleep on their backs. They were fed once a day with a piece of bread and some soup. People often died of dysentery, were beaten, tortured, and raped. Satko heard screams and saw bodies more than once. On June 20, 1992, Duško Tadić, one of the leaders of the Serbian paramilitary units in Bosnia, arrived at the camp. He summoned five people from their hangar — they were badly beaten. Only one of them survived.

Family members of victims of the Omarska camp hold photos of the exhumed bodies of their relatives during a visit to the site where the camp once stood, August 6, 2006. The photographs of the camp and its prisoners, taken in 1992 by Ed Woolliamy of The Guardian, shook the world public.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

"And then they came back to us and chose four more people. Two of them were once Tadićʼs friends. They were beaten by nine people for 35 minutes, forced to eat dead pigeons and drink engine oil, and were cut. Then Tadić ordered to turn on the song called "Let me live". So cynical," recalls Mujagić.

In the camp, Satkoʼs weight was around 50 kilograms, could not walk or even speak. He was helped by a Bosnian Serb, a mine worker. He sometimes shared his food — bread and honey. "My dad fed me like a bird — he put food in my mouth because I didnʼt have the strength," says Mujagić.

Satko Mujagić gives an interview to journalists in the Omarska camp.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

Later, the guards brutally beat Satko himself. He says that he would not have survived in such conditions if it were not for the publicity. In August 1992, the world started talking about the concentration camps that the Serbs were setting up in Bosnia. Serbian politician Radovan Karadžić said that these are not camps, but transit centers, and organized a trip for the press. British journalists from The Guardian and ITN Television crew. They took the first photos of exhausted prisoners. The Time magazine used these photos and put it on the front page.

The photo of the front page of Time magazine went around the world — journalists were able to take a photo of Trnopolje concentration camp prisoner Fikret Alic and others. On the right — Fikret is waiting for the decision of the tribunal.

"The fact that journalists exposed these camps saved hundreds of lives, including mine," says Satko.

After the scandal the Serbs promised to improve the conditions in the camps, but they did it in their own way. For example, beds appeared there — they were assembled by the prisoners themselves. "And when we finished, the supervisors forbade us to even sit on them," recalls Mujagić.

In the end, the journalists arrived at the Omarska camp itself. Satko was the only one who spoke English. One of the guards pushed him out of the line to the journalists. Mujagić bluntly stated that he was not a soldier and confirmed that this was actually a concentration camp.

At the end of August, the Omarska camp was closed and Mujagić was sent to a new camp — Manjača. The conditions there were not much better. But it was also closed under international pressure. In December 1992, Satko was deported to Croatia. Local civilian Serbs threw stones at buses with Bosniaks and shouted: "Muslims, get out!"

Video shot by journalists in the Manjača camp, where mostly men were kept.

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Satko found out that part of his family lives in the Netherlands, and went there. He got a job at the Migration Service, helping Kosovo Albanians who were also forced to flee from persecution by the Milosevic regime in Belgrade. Subsequently, Mujagić received a law degree in Amsterdam. He says he didnʼt think about justice then, he just wanted to make a career. But later he took a course in international humanitarian law and understood how genocide is investigated.


In 1993, the International Tribunal for Yugoslavia was established in The Hague.

"I learned about the tribunal when I was already in the Netherlands, and I was happy. The first person to be detained was Duško Tadić, whom I knew personally, and who killed people in the Omarska camp. The news of his arrest inspired me. I often think: if such tribunals had existed when the war began, it could have prevented many crimes," says Satko.

Duško Tadić during the meeting of the International Tribunal for Yugoslavia.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

The tribunal had several major cases involving the Omarska camp. One of the shift leaders, Mlađo Radić, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Tadić was also sentenced to 20 years in May 1998. Tribunal investigators interrogated Satko in his case.

"I heard people screaming. I knew exactly who the killer was, I recognized his voice — it was Duško Tadić. I remembered the exact date when it was. But the investigators had 172 witnesses, so I was not invited to testify at the tribunal itself," says Satko.

He was also to testify in the case of Mlađo Radić. "A date was set, but then the court had to shorten the procedure, so my interrogation was canceled," says Satko.

Momčilo Gruban at the court session.

archive.sensecentar / «Бабель»

Subsequently, the tribunal detained two more suspects from the Omarska camp: the commander of one of the guard shifts, Momčilo Gruban, and the head of the camp, Željko Miakić. The tribunal could not handle thousands of cases — it concentrated on political and military leaders. All others were decided to be handed over to national courts. In Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, under pressure from the West, they were looking for ways to punish criminals. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, in January 2005, a Special Department for the Investigation of War Crimes was created as part of the Prosecutorʼs Office, and in May of the same year, the Chamber for the Investigation of War Crimes appeared in Sarajevo. The department included many international experts, and international judges worked in the chamber together with national judges. It was this court in 2006 that considered the cases of Miakić and Gruban. Satko testified against both, but anonymously.

"I am from the territories that are now the Republika Srpska, so I was afraid of the possible consequences. My parents were rebuilding our house in Kozarac, which was destroyed during the war, actually lived in two countries — Bosnia and the Netherlands. I also came there often. And I was a witness," explains Satko.

In the early 2000s, Bosniaks began to become disillusioned with justice. "We realized that not all criminals will be punished. Courts dragged on. Karadzic and Mladic were then hiding from justice in Serbia," says Satko.

BIRN Balkan Network journalist Lamija Grebo recalls: politicians in Bosnia, regardless of their views, did not want high-profile cases. The Bosnian prosecutorʼs office is still working slowly, the courts are also in no hurry — everyone is taking time. "The only people who really need justice are the victims," says Lamia.

Satko Mujagić near the "white house" in Omarska, where he wanted to create a memorial.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

For example, nine years ago, a big case started — in the summer of 1992, Serbs killed at least 60 people, including 30 women and children, in the village of Zecovi, not far from Prijedor. There were 14 suspects in the case. The verdict was handed down only in December 2023. While the case was being considered, four defendants died, several were acquitted, and five were convicted. However, three of them simply escaped because the suspects were not taken into custody until the verdict.

Among the victims was a man who still cannot find the bodies of his wife and two children to bury. Several suspects in the case knew where they were, because they hid them themselves. But one of them has already died, the other two are silent.

"The tribunal did not give us full justice, many were never punished. But I am still glad that this tribunal happened. Without it, there would be no justice in the Balkans, but now there is at least some," says Satko.


Mujagić and other surviving prisoners fought to make a memorial at the site of the Omarska camp. But after the Dayton Agreements, this region became part of the Republika Srpska, whose authorities deny the crimes committed by the Serbs.

In 2004, ArcelorMittal bought the Omarska mine, where the camp was located. Satko wrote them a letter and asked them to save one of the buildings in order to create a memorial there. The company initially agreed, but the local authorities were against it. The memorial has not been created yet.

The building of the Omarska concentration camp, where prisoners were kept.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

"They didnʼt even let the president of the International Tribunal for Yugoslavia into all the buildings of the former concentration camp," says Satko.

Serbian politicians in Belgrade and in the Republika Srpska deny war crimes and even the genocide in Srebrenica, which was proven in an international tribunal. And on the road from Sarajevo to Srebrenica, you can still see billboards with Mladić and other politicians and military men who were convicted by the tribunal.

In 2021, the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina introduced criminal responsibility for denying crimes and glorifying war criminals. However, until the end of 2022, the prosecutors did not proceed with 27 statements about this crime. One of the first to submit such a statement was Satko Mujagić in August 2021. He was outraged by the statement of the President of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, that "Bosniaks are servants and people without character," and there was no genocide.

Photos of victims killed by Serbs during the war in the city of Prijedor — they were exhibited on White Ribbon Day on May 31, 2019. This commemoration was started in 2012. During the capture of Bosnian cities, Serbian soldiers ordered Bosniaks to wear white ribbons or hang white sheets on their houses. This allowed Serbian soldiers to easily identify Bosniaks, who were not outwardly in any way different from Serbs or Croats.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

"This cannot be said about the whole nation! These words of his reminded me of 1991, when before the war, the camps, mass murders, they said that Bosnian Muslims were inferior compared to Serbs. This is what Russians say about Ukrainians. This is exactly the language used in Rwanda to refer to the Tutsi as cockroaches. Such words open the way to physical violence," says Satko.

Mujagić testified twice — the last time in December 2021. But the case stalled, no charges were brought against Dodik. Satko says: all the same, it was not in vain — his statement was widely discussed, and Dodik stopped publicly humiliating Bosniaks. Although he still denies the genocide.

On April 23, 2024, the National Assembly of the Republika Srpska unanimously adopted the Final Report of the "Independent International Commission of Inquiry into the Suffering of All Peoples in the Srebrenica Region from 1992 to 1995". It was written by the pro-Serbian government of the republic — the term "genocide" in relation to Srebrenica was called incorrect in the document.

The only place in the Republika Srpska where the genocide is officially recognized is the Memorial Complex in Potočari. It is under the federal protection of Bosnia and Herzegovina — Republika Srpska cannot influence it. People from different countries come to the memorial, sometimes whole classes of children are brought, among the visitors there are Serbs. But mostly from Serbia, because the local Bosnian Serbs hardly visit the memorial — they can be harassed for that.

The memorial in Potočari consists of a museum and a huge cemetery where the victims of the genocide are buried. Their relatives come there for the graves.

Getty Images / «Babel'»


30 years have passed since the war. Victims and criminals often meet just on the streets. Human rights activist Velma Šarić says: she knows of a case where a rape victim goes to the post office every month to pay utility bills, and her abuser is sitting at the cash register.

"She meets this person and canʼt do anything," says Šarić. She explains that in Bosnia the victims have never received compensation or reparations.

Satko Mujagić met his abusers twice on the streets of Prijedor. For example, the same Duško Tadić, who was released in 2008.

"I saw him in Banja Luka once. I was driving, and he was walking down the street. I drove past and didnʼt stop, I donʼt know what to talk to him about," Satko recalls.

But Satko finally tried to talk to Momčilo Gruban. It was on July 20, 2017, at the commemoration of the victims of Omarska — bodies were buried from a recently opened mass grave. Satko was sitting in a cafe on the central street of Prijedor with a Dutchman he knew. He asked how Satko would react if he saw one of his abusers. Mujagić did not answer because he did not know. In a few minutes, he went to the counter to order coffee and saw Gruban on the street.

"I was shocked. This is Gruban, this is Čkalja — that was the nickname he had in those days. It was his change that hit me hard, — recalls Satko. — I asked: "Do you remember me? Court in Sarajevo". Gruban remembered. He has already served his term.”

"Actually, I had only one question for him: did it all have to go this far?", Satko recalls the conversation. Gruban shook his head and answered "No". "So what was that?" "It was crazy, people went crazy," Gruban replied.

A Dutch friend of Mujagić took a picture of the moment when Satko was talking to Momcilo Gruban.

Satko told Gruban about a conversation he had with his youngest daughter, Mila, when they were driving around the country. "She looked around and then said: ʼWhy was it necessary to expel all of you and kill you, if Bosnia is so big?ʼ" Gruban answered briefly: "I was glad to see you, maybe we could have some coffee?". Satko was confused and answered: "Maybe." It was obvious from his intonation that this was a bad idea.

Gruban did not apologize. "I think his words about madness meant that it shouldnʼt have happened and that he doesnʼt support it now," Mujagić reflects.

Not all of Satkoʼs perpetrators ended up in prison. "I donʼt even know the name of the person who beat me. He was two years older, I know the village where he comes from. But many camp guards never stood trial, only the most cold-blooded killers. I think all guards in Omarska camp killed: you canʼt be one of them if youʼre different," says Satko.

Alexander, who separated Satko from his family and put him on a bus to the camp, was also not judged by anyone. Satko thought more than once whether he should contact the prosecutorʼs office about him.

"I testified against the head of the camp, against other murderers. Compared to them, what Alexander did was not such a big deal. I never saw him killing anyone," says Satko. Alexander was a part of the squad that is mentioned in the courts and probably there was some investigation but he is free and lives in Canada.

Mujagić has another unsolved story that prevents him from feeling that justice is proven. He dreams of finding the remains of his great-grandmother Zlate Krkić, who remained in Kozarac captured by the Serbs in May 1992, and burying her. She is the oldest missing resident of the city.

"I am not asking who killed her and how, I will not prosecute anyone in court. But itʼs time to bury her," says Mujagić.

Memorial to the victims in Kozarac.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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