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Bosnia and Herzegovina: the painful memories of a former detainee

18-03-2005 Feature

Sadika Hajruli was born during the last year of World War 2, in January 1945. Almost 50 years later, she found herself the victim of another war that brought nothing but turmoil and suffering to her life. By Sanela Bajrambasic of the ICRC's Sarajevo delegation.


© ICRC / Sanela Bajrambasic ref. ba-e-00011 

When the conflict erupted in her homeland Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, 48-year old Sadika and her husband of 33 years, Kerim, an electrician, were working in a sawmill near the capital, Sarajevo. The couple and their two sons lived in a house Kerim had built in the settlement of Hadzici some 15 minutes outside Sarajevo.

" He was a very pleasant companion " , stressed Sadika repeatedly. " He would never yell at me or at our sons. "

Shortly after the war started, Sadika's life turned into a nightmare of detention and ill treatment. For several hours, I made her relive the painful memories of four years of torture and beatings all over again. Yet she was always pleasant and eager to put me at ease.

Telling me about the horrible things done to her, she actually apologised for forgetting what she wanted to say next.

" The woman who detained me liked to beat my head against the wall " , Sadika explained apologetically as if she had offended me by revealing such a disturbing detail of her personal history. 

" I was the first woman detained in Hadzici. When they came to arrest Kerim in 1992, I did not want to let my husband go, so they said I had to come along with him. For two months, we were detained together inside the Hadzici Sports Centre.

When the soldiers came again to take my Kerim away I couldn't trick them a second time, they didn't want to take me as well " , explained Sadika when prompted by her young grandson who was drinking coffee with her when I arrived for the interview. 

Shortly afterwards Sadika was taken out of the sports centre.

" I was among ten women and a man detained in several neighbouring houses in Hadzici, sometimes two per house, sometimes one. Only another Catholic woman and I survived to the end.

©ICRC / Sanela Bajrambasic ref. ba-e-00012 
  A souvenir of better days.    

" They forced us to serve the families occupying the houses. On its own, this would have been OK, given the circumstances, but I guess war brings out the worst in people. The woman I was forced to work for lived with her son and daughter-in-law. Almost every day she beat me with a wooden stick, and she rarely gave me anything to eat. I was stuck with her for the biggest part of my life in detention " .

The ICRC finally managed to register Sadika as a detainee in September 1994, more than two years after her arrest. She clearly remembers two of the ICRC delegates who visited her, Pierre and Ivan.

" They were wonderful, and treated me as if they were my brothers. " Until her release in January 1996, ICRC delegates visited Sadika twelve times.

Her four long years as a prisoner left her with a broken arm and fist, a spine injury, and problems with her skull.

It has now been 10 years since the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended. After her release, Sadika returned to the house Kerim built for her and her sons. Everything seems unchanged, except that no trace of her husband has ever been found. For Sadika, life " is never going to be the same again, ever " .