Kemal Mehinovic, a Bosniak (Bosnian citizen of Muslim Slavic ancestry), was born in 1956 in Bosanski Samac in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Prior to the break up of the former Yugoslavia in 1991, almost 17,000 Bosnian Croats (Catholics) and Bosnian Muslims, of a total population of about 33,000, lived in and around Bosanski Samac. By May 1995, as a result of the armed conflict in the area and the genocidal "ethnic cleansing" campaign engaged in by the Bosnian Serb military, fewer than 300 Bosnian Croat and Muslim residents remained in the municipality.
On May 27, 1992, Mehinovic, a baker and restaurant owner, was taking a mid-day nap at home when Serb police and soldiers knocked on his door. They arrested him (without a warrant), beat him in front of his wife and children and then took him to the police station to be interrogated. He was kept at the police station or at a nearby warehouse for the next six months. During that time he was kept in squalid living conditions with little food and no medical care. He endured mock executions, extreme verbal abuse, and brutal beatings and torture (including blows to the genitals and beatings with metal pipes, wooden batons and other implements), much at the personal hands of Nikola Vuckovic. Mehinovic had known Vuckovic prior to the outbreak of hostilities. He had employed Vuckovic’s brother-in-law at his bakery before the war.
Over the next two years, Mehinovic was transported to a series of labor camps, detention centers and concentration camps. In early 1993, Mehinovic was found guilty of killing Serb children in a Serb show-trial without witnesses or evidence, and was sentenced to death.
Mehinovic was released in Sarajevo as part of an exchange with Serb prisoners in October 1994 – two-and-a-half years from the time he was initially arrested by the Serb police. Upon release, he walked over one hundred miles into Croatia to find and be reunited with his family. He and his family arrived in the U.S. as refugees on July 12, 1995.
Since coming to the United States, Mehinovic has done building maintenance and worked as a delivery driver. Mehinovic has suffered permanent physical and emotional injuries as a result of the abuse he suffered by Vuckovic and others and is currently not working due to his disabilities. He remains a leader within the Bosnian community, and was responsible for helping 100 of his neighbors to flee Bosnia. Mehinovic currently resides with his family in Utah.
In early 1998, Kemal contacted CJA. He had learned that Vuckovic was living in the Atlanta area. CJA filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta on behalf of Kemal and three other Bosniaks who had also been tortured by Vuckovic in detention camps from 1992-94.
On April 29, 2002, the trial judge issued a 90+ page judgment finding Vuckovic liable for severe acts of physical and mental torture that amounted to crimes against humanity because they were committed in furtherance of the Bosnian Serb government’s campaign of "ethnic cleansing." The judge ordered Vuckovic to pay $35 million to each of the four plaintiffs.
To learn more, read Kemal’s Journey Home, a series of articles published in the Salt Lake Tribune that follows Kemal’s 10-week journey back to Bosnia after his experience in Serb concentration camps in search of his wife and children.