Bosnian Croat authorities and forces, established, supported and operated a system of ill-treatment, involving a network of prisons, concentration camps and other detention facilities (including, without limitation, the Heliodrom Camp, Ljubuski Prison, Dretelj Prison, Gabela Prison and Vojno Camp) to arrest, detain and imprison thousands of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), including women, children and elderly. Many of the imprisoned and detained Bosniaks were kept in horrible conditions and deprived of basic human necessities, such as adequate food, water and medical care. Many suffered inhumane treatment and physical and psychological abuse, including beatings and sexual assaults.
Dretelj is a village located in Capljina Municipality, approximately 1.5 kilometers from Čapljina town. Čapljina [Cha-p-l-yeena] is a town located in southern Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Dretelj District Military Prison (“Dretelj Prison”) was part of, or located alongside, the Dretelj Barracks, and consisted of five tin hangars and two ammunition storage tunnels.
The HVO detained Bosniak [Bosnian Muslim] men at the Dretelj Prison primarily from April to September 1993, with some Bosniaks being detained there until approximately April 1994. The prison population at Dretelj Prison peaked on 11 July 1993, when the HVO detained approximately 2,270 Bosniak men at the prison. After that, the detainee population averaged about 1,700 Bosniak men.
During the time from 30 June until mid-July 1993, the Croat forces conducted mass arrests of Bosniak men, including Bosniak members of the Croatian Defence Council, and detained many of them at Dretelj Prison. The Croat authorities held and continued to detain Bosniak and men at the Dretelj Prison irrespective of their civilian or military status, including a number of boys younger than sixteen and men older than sixty.
The Croat authorities authorities made no bona fide or adequate effort to distinguish military detainees from civilians, or to provide generally for the release of civilian detainees. During August and September 1993, the HVO criteria for releasing Bosniak men from detention included being married to a Croat woman or possessing a visa and letter of guarantee to leave Bosnia and Herzegovina to another country. Many Bosniaks detained at Dretelj Prison were deported by the Croat authorities to other countries, via the Republic of Croatia.
Conditions at Dretelj Prison were harsh and unhealthy due to overcrowding, bad ventilation, no beds and insufficient bedding, and inadequate sanitary facilities. The HVO provided the detainees with insufficient food and water and often made them eat under cruel and humiliating circumstances. In the heat of mid-July 1993, the HVO kept detainees locked up without food and water for a number of days, resulting in the death of at least one Bosnian Muslim detainee.
Throughout the time that Bosniaks were detained at Dretelj Prison, members of the Croat forces, including the prison warden and members of various Croat forces not attached to the prison, subjected detainees to beatings and cruel treatment, including constant fear of physical and mental abuse. Bosniak detainees were sometimes forced
or instigated to beat or abuse other Bosniak detainees. Bosniak detainees held in the isolation cell were particularly brutalised. Bosniak detainees were harassed, subjected to ethnic insults and humiliated. The HVO acts and practices resulted in the serious injury and death of many Bosnian Muslim civilians.
The HVO denied international observers and humanitarian organisations access to Dretelj Prison until approximately August 1993. At the end of August 1993, the HVO moved detained Muslim clerics, detainees in the worst physical condition and detainees held in the isolation cell to another location (Silos) in Capljina, in order to conceal them from representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross who visited the prison in early September 1993.