There are a series of graves of war victims in the village of Kevljani, 15 kilometres from the city of Prijedor in north-west Bosnia and Herzegovina. Investigators from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY found and exhumed the grave sites from May 25 to and June 15, 1999. One of the graves was discovered in a meadow next to a largely-destroyed mosque and a Muslim cemetery.
Kevljani is five kilometres from the Omarska iron ore mine, which was the site of a Bosnian Serb-run detention camp. Many people who were held between May and August 1992 at Omarska and at a nearby Bosnian Serb-run detention camp, Keraterm, were reported missing.
Investigators established that one of the sites at which former Omarska camp detainees who disappeared were buried was Kevljani. Evidence found at the site, such as traces left by excavators, indicated that the graves had been dug up again in order to rebury the bodies elsewhere.
Some of the bodies had been dismembered when they were dug up, leaving isolated bone parts. The exhumation team discovered 72 complete or nearly complete bodies in 15 different graves. Expert analysis of soil and building materials confirmed a connection with the Omarska camp.
Today the gravesite is marked with a memorial plaque in front of the mosque, next to the destroyed minaret. The text on the plaque says: “At this site, a mass grave with 146 bodies of innocent victims was found. Two hundred metres away is Stari Kevljani, the largest mass grave found in Bosanska Krajina, with 456 victims from the Prijedor municipality.”
A witness at the trial of Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic trial testified that torture and killings happened daily in the Omarska camp. Up to 6,000 people were held at camp while it was open for a period of three months in 1992. Mass executions also started at the end of July 1992. Detainees were forced to clean the areas where people were killed and load their bodies onto trucks to be taken away.
The camp was closed on August 21, 1992 after visiting British journalists exposed the inhumane conditions and war crimes in the camp. The detainees were then transferred to other camps in the area. According to the Regional Union of Associations of Detainees from the Banja Luka Region, around 700 people held at the Omarska camp died, although not all of them were killed inside the camp itself.
The ICTY has convicted 11 people of committing crimes at detention camps in the Prijedor area, and the Bosnian state court has convicted four more. Zeljko Mejakic, the highest-ranking official at the Omarska detention camp, was sentenced to 21 years in prison for crimes against humanity.
Prijedor is the area with the largest number of convicted war criminals in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A total of 37 Bosnian Serbs have been found guilty of committing crimes in the area and have been sentenced to a total of 617 years in prison. The ICTY gave Milomir Stakic, wartime president of the Serb-controlled Prijedor municipality Crisis Staff, the highest sentence for crimes in Prijedor – 40 years in prison.