Ahmet Makitan was arrested in January following an investigation by the Swedish National War Crimes Commission (Rikskriminalpolisens krigsbrottskommission) carried out with the help of the United Nations International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague.
When the trial began, Makitan sat between one of his attorneys and a female interpreter. Wearing a green shirt and with his back turned toward the plaintiffs and the gallery of the Stockholm District Court, Makitan listened to the prosecutors opening statements in Swedish.
In a trial expected to last at least five months, Makitan will be made to answer accusations that he committed genocide. He will also meet several of the victims he is accused of torturing face to face when they are called to testify at the trial.
A former soldier with the Croatian defence force HOS, Makitan has been charged
with “aggravated war crimes and abduction,” and stands accused of torturing Serb prisoners, including civilians, between May and August 1992, court documents showed.
Makitan, who was 25 at the time, allegedly committed the crimes while working as a guard at the Dretelj detention camp in southern Bosnia near the Neretva river, which served as a border line between the Serb and Bosnian-Croat fighters.
According to the charge sheet, which is based on witness accounts from around 30 former Serb prisoners, Makitan helped imprison civilians without due process and hold them hostage with the aim of using them for prisoner exchanges.
As an HOS guard at the camp, he also stands accused of inflicting serious injury on prisoners, depriving them of food and water and sufficient medical attention and making them do forced labour.
Prosecutors spend around 30 minutes on Wednesday reviewed cases in which Makitan, who was born in Bosnia Herzogovina and moved to Sweden in 2001 before taking citizenship in 2006, is accused of abusing and humiliating prisoners at the camp during the spring and summer of 1992.
Prosecutor Magnus Elving also did his best to explain why a Swedish court in 2010 is confronted with the bloody history of the Balkans in the 1990s.
“War criminals shouldn’t feel safe by fleeing. There shouldn’t be safe havens for war criminals anywhere,” said Elving, according to the TT news agency.
The indictment covers 21 victims who were held at the camp, and each one has detailed the abuses which Makitan is alleged to have committed. In addition, between ten and twenty witnesses from a number of different countries will be called to testify.
The Serbian victims, who will be represented by a number of Swedish lawyers during the trial, are demanding joint compensation from Makitan of around 5 million kronor ($750,000).
During the morning’s proceedings, Makitan only made one statement through his attorney Ola Salomonsson: that he objects to the accusations.
The prosecutor also emphasized that this is the first trial in Sweden of someone has been charged with war crimes.
“This is a small, rather crude field in Swedish courts,” said Elving.