Photographers' Blog

My weekend at the “Hague Hilton”

By Damir Sagolj

I have followed their bloody trail for 20 years now.

As a Bosnian and as a photojournalist, I have tracked them through the ruins of Sarajevo — the target of concealed snipers and heavy artillery from the hills — to the mass graves of eastern Bosnia and the villages that were ethnically cleansed and destroyed forever, past houses, now owner-less, that nobody will rebuild and churches, barren of worshipers.

I visited every single corner of the Balkans’ “vukojebina” — literally, where wolves f** — a term that perfectly captures these remote, forgotten places, far from civilization. Always too late to be a victim, but early enough to see and feel. I followed war crimes with the passion of a journalist and the guilt of a survivor.

That road ends at “The Hague Hilton”, as the detention unit of the war crimes tribunal is sometimes called. There, 40 or so accused war criminals — innocent until proved guilty — live in harmony and comfort awaiting their sentence.

As I entered, the first journalist ever allowed to report from inside, I had butterflies in my stomach. For I am a prisoner of my past. Some of the people detained here were accused of crimes against members of my family. We lived through the siege of Sarajevo. My Muslim relatives — my grandmother, my uncle and others — were forced from their homes and ended up in Sweden. Croat relatives on my father’s side were driven out — different armies, different turf. Some of my relatives were killed, and found in mass graves later.

I had already been tested. The previous day, in the corridors of the tribunal building, I bumped into Radovan Karadzic. A brief encounter, our eyes locked, and then he said a hello. I said nothing, my cameras stilled. I thought, “he looks so arrogant, so confident, even in handcuffs he dwarfs the guards”. And then he was gone, escorted to his chair in the courtroom.

Cricket snippets

We’re into March, and the ICC Cricket World Cup is well under way. Just 32 more days to go (yes, thirty-two!) until the tournament comes to a close with a final showdown in Mumbai on April 2.

Reuters’ lean mean team of photographers have fanned out across three countries in the subcontinent – India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – as we get stuck into covering the first round of the tournament. Photographers Adnan Abidi, Andrew Biraj, Amit Dave, Andrew Caballero-Reynolds, Dinuka Liyanawatte, Rupak De Chowdhury, Danish Siddiqui and myself have started crisscrossing our territories. Philip Brown, who is on an “embed” with the English cricket team, has already covered two cities. Altaf Bhat in New Delhi is anchoring the operation as the main editor for the tournament with me lending a hand on days when I’m not on the move, shooting training or covering a match.

Covering cricket in the subcontinent is not as straightforward as one might think – for one thing, we’re worried about tight travel schedules and the possibility of flight delays – which thankfully haven’t happened yet.