The story of Nusreta Sivac
Not long after Serb forces took control of the town of Prijedor, in the northwest of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the life of Nusreta Sivac took a tragic turn.
In April 1992, Nusreta, a Bosnian Muslim judge, was informed by a group of Serb soldiers that she could no longer work at the Municipality Court.
She recalled how fearful she was of the uncertainty that lay ahead. “I thought that was the worst thing that could ever happen to me and later I realized that was only an introduction to the worst thing that could ever happen to a human being.”
Nusreta spoke of her ordeal at one of the side events of the Durban Review Conference entitled “Voices- Everyone affected by racism has a story that should be heard”.
She described what happened. During that time, Muslims and Croats who constituted other components of the population in Prejidor, were subjected to limited freedom of movement. They were forced to wear white arm bands and to display white flags outside their windows. Houses owned by Muslims and Croats were looted and burned and their owners were taken to concentration camps in Keraterm, Omarska, Prijedor and Trnopolje.
Two months after Prijidor was taken, Nusreta was summoned for what she thought would be questioning at the police station, but instead found herself ushered onto a bus escorted by Serb military. It was only when she arrived at the destination that she realised she had been taken into a concentration camp in the mining town of Omarska.
Nusreta was one of the 36 women and some 3500 men in the camp. “Sometimes an entire family would be detained”, she recalled, “but they could not be together as men and women were separated.”
She remembers poor sanitary conditions and the inhumane treatment of detainees at the camp who received only one meal a day and were frequently beaten and tortured. The rooms the women slept in were used for questioning during the day. “Every day, detainees were questioned, during which they were beaten and tortured, and we would hear them scream,” she said. “When we would come up to our rooms to sleep, we had to clean the rooms first because there was blood everywhere.”
Closing her eyes, Nusreta recalled her daily routine for the two months she was detained at the camp. She would start her day counting the number of people who had been killed during the night. “We would see them on the grass in front of the ‘white house’… where the worst torture was committed. The killed men would be placed in the trucks and they would be taken somewhere. In Omarska, persons were dying mostly of torture.”
Nusreta and the other women had to work and clean and do everything they were asked by the camp guards. “The worst were the nights for women,” she said, “because the guards would come to the rooms and take us somewhere in the camp and rape. That happened on a regular basis.”
In early August 1992, the Red Cross and European press visited the Omarska concentration camp. It was shut down immediately after. “Five of the women did not survive Omarska,” Nusreta said, “Four of them were later found in a mass grave and one is still missing.”
Nusreta lived to tell of the Omarska atrocities and testified at the International Tribunal at The Hague. “I know that many of the women did not talk about their experience because it is extremely difficult to think and talk about it, even for me today, but I have to be strong and to let my voice be heard.”
She eventually returned to Prejidor but never got her job back at the Municipal Court.
Nusreta expressed concern that some of the perpetrators of the crimes walk free.
She believes that the majority of society does not acknowledge what happened in the camps and that over half a million Bosnian Muslims remain as refugees outside their home country and cannot return.
“We should never close our eyes to what happened. We should condemn it and never allow it to happen again”, Nusreta concluded.
Friday, 26 June is the UN’s International Day in Support of Victims of Torture: a reminder of the global community’s commitment to the eradication of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. 23 June 2009