Sweden’s first war crimes trial underway

The trial of a 43-year-old Swedish citizen charged with war crimes started in Stockholm on Wednesday. He is accused of torturing inmates while working as a guard at a Bosnian prison camp in 1992.

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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Growing up without a father: A Bosnian story

IN MY VOICE: SI scholarship student Nikola Hajdin examines the long-lasting effects that growing up without a father had on a generation of children raised during and after the war in Bosnia in the early 1990s.

Growing up without a father: A Bosnian story
A 1995 photo of a graveyard established at what was once part of the Olympic Sports Complex in Sarajevo. File photo: Wikipedia

During the war in Bosnia (1992–1995), both children and adolescents experienced: ‘wounding of one’s father’, ‘father loss because of killing or missing and loss of immediate or extended family member(s)’, ‘unwillingly leaving home’, ‘separation from family and friends’, ‘forced expulsion from home’, ‘living in collective refugee settlements’, ‘refugee problems and life in a small room in foreign countries’.

Moreover, children experienced: ‘severe fear’, ‘shelling and firing very close to children and firing their houses, devastation and ruins’, ‘killing of close relatives and other people’, ‘mother’s crying and severe sadness’ as described in a 2011 study entitled “Psychological consequences of war-traumatized children and adolescents in Bosnia and Herzegovina” by Hasanovíc.

There are many more similar instances, each of them certainly deserving sufficient attention. However, what strikes me the most is the fact that after more than 20 years there has not been even one serious discussion about the issues of the children who have lost their fathers during the war.

Apart from futile attempts for legal remedies by national legislation, this group has been constantly neglected by the society in which they live.

A life without a dad

Children who lost their father suffered different trauma than other children who were also affected by war. The majority of them did not fully recover even after almost 20 years had passed. Their problems range from the lack of self-esteem to the high unemployment rate within this group.

In 2002, Hasanovíc conducted a study on children traumatized during the war. The findings revealed the presence of war trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. The study concluded that children who had lost father and lived with the surviving parent showed a higher prevalence of PTSD than other children who lived in the orphanages or with both parents during the war.

After being in exile, when war came to its end, some of the displaced people returned to their homes. Children who returned and had lost their father were sad and depressed considerably more often. Losing a parent increased their trauma to a higher degree. They had sleeping disturbances more often than the children without such loss. Even the children who lost both of their parents coped better with problems of sleeping disturbance and digestion problems.

A mother’s and father’s love

One of the reasons for having a very high degree of PTSD symptoms is the fact that those children lived in ‘vulnerable families’. Those are the families that were grieving the loss of family member on a daily basis for a long period of time.

An interesting part of study relates to depression. Symptoms of depression were similar with children who did not lose their fathers and those who did but lived with their mothers. A mother is capable to some extent to supplant the role of a male character and, as this study proves, can alleviate the sadness of a child caused by the war.
Notwithstanding the importance of the mother’s role in one’s childhood, growing up without a father can be not only traumatic, but it can also affect the social aspect of a child’s life. Overall, both mother’s and father’s love equally affects their children’s behavior and emotional stability.

However, in patriarchal societies — as in the case of Bosnia — ‘the withdrawal of a father's love seems to play a bigger role in kids' problems with personality and psychological adjustment, delinquency, and substance abuse,’ says study coauthor Ronald P. Rohner, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Study of Parental Acceptance and Rejection at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

Growing up without a father in Bosnia can mark conspicuously one’s life and leave him or her with the lack of social skills and proper mental health.

This begs the question of where children who lost their father stand now in the society, 20 years after the armistice. The answer entails a rather comprehensive analysis including a mainly sociological and psychological approach. Nonetheless, a small contribution could be made in next few paragraphs.

Broken Bosnian dreams

The vast majority of them are unemployed; a lack of social skills remarkably influenced their unemployed status. Moreover, since every post-communist country is plagued by a high degree of corruption, and Bosnia, unfortunately, is not an exception, it is almost impossible to find a job if one doesn’t have relatives who are in a position to provide you with required connections. How can a person in a patriarchal society have such connections and maintain a job, if he or she does not have a father? Who is going to advocate for him or her in a system where everyone is preoccupied with their own problems?

In a way, and I do believe that most of the children whose fathers died would agree on this with me, one could argue that they are discriminated against as a group! No wonder why they still struggle with PTSD and feelings of depression because they cannot fit into the society. Many of them are drug addicts and alcoholics. There is a grant of approximately €100 from the government which they receive every month. But can money compensate their loss and the far-reaching consequences on their personalities?

The Bosnian dream for those children includes only an honest job where the salary could suffice for rent and a hot meal on the table. No more than that. Is it too much to ask? No miracle will happen and yet they stopped believing in such dreams a long time ago. There isn’t anyone willing to lead them out of the misery and bring to justice those who directly benefit from their despair. Depression is their comfort. There is nothing fancy about it. It’s as simple as it looks. It’s not an American story with a happy ending. It’s a Bosnian one…

Nikola Hajdin is a second year student in the International Human Rights Master Programme at Lund University. He is an SI scholarship holder from Serbia.