Bosnian War

Bosnian War
Bosnian War
Part of the Yugoslav Wars
Bosnian war
The executive council building burns after being hit by artillery fire in Sarajevo May 1992; Ratko Mladić with Army of Republika Srpska soldiers; a Norwegian UN soldier in Sarajevo.
Date April 1, 1992 – December 14, 1995
Location Bosnia and Herzegovina
Result Dayton Accords
  • Internal partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina according to the Dayton Accords
  • Deployment of NATO-led IFOR to oversee the peace agreement.
  • Massive civilian casualties for the Bosniak ethnic group.
  • At least 100,000 people killed and over two million displaced.

Bosnia and Herzegovina Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovinaa


 Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia
(up to 1994)



 Republika Srpska
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia FR Yugoslavia

AP Western Bosnia (1993 on)



Bosnia and Herzegovina Republic of
Bosnia and Herzegovina

(bombing operations, 1995)


 Republika Srpska

AP Western Bosnia

Commanders and leaders
Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija Izetbegović
(President of Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Bosnia and Herzegovina Sefer Halilović
(ARBiH Chief of Staff 1992-1993)

Bosnia and Herzegovina Rasim Delić
(ARBiH Commander of the General Staff 1993-1995)

Bosnia and Herzegovina Enver Hadžihasanović
(ARBiH Chief of Staff 1992-1993)

NATO Leighton W. Smith
(Commander AFSOUTH)
...and others

Croatia Franjo Tuđman
(President of Croatia)

Croatia Janko Bobetko
(HV Chief of Staff 1992-1995)

Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia Mate Boban
(President of CR Herzeg-Bosnia)

Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia Milivoj Petković
(HVO Chief of Staff)

Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia Dario Kordić
(Vice president of CR Herzeg-Bosnia)
...and others

SerbiaFederal Republic of Yugoslavia Slobodan Milošević
(President of Serbia)

Republika Srpska Radovan Karadžić
(President of Republika Srpska)

Republika Srpska Ratko Mladić
(VRS Chief of Staff)

Republika Srpska Vojislav Šešelj
(paramilitary leader)

Fikret Abdić (Acting President of AP Western Bosnia)
...and others

~100 tanks
~200,000 infantry
~300 tanks
~70,000 infantry
600-700 tanks
120,000 infantry
Casualties and losses
31,270 soldiers killed
33,071 civilians killed
5,439 soldiers killed
2,163 civilians killed
20,649 soldiers killed
4,075 civilians killed
a The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was at the time was not supported by the majority of Bosnian Croats and Serbs (who each had their own hostile entities). Consequently, it was representative mainly of the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) ethnic group in Bosnia and Herzegovina itself. The post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina encompasses all three Bosnian ethnic groups.

b Between 1994 and 1995, the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was supported by, and was representative of, both ethnic Bosniaks and ethnic Bosnian Croats. This was primarily because of the Washington Agreement.

The Bosnian War or the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina was an international armed conflict that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina between April 1992 and December 1995. The war involved several sides. The main belligerents were the forces of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and those of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat entities within Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska and Herzeg-Bosnia, who were led and supplied by Serbia and Croatia respectively.[1][2][3]

The war came about as a result of the breakup of Yugoslavia. Following the Slovenian and Croatian secessions from Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, the multiethnic Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was inhabited by mainly Muslim Bosniaks (44 percent), Orthodox Serbs (31 percent) and Catholic Croats (17 percent), passed a referendum for independence on 29 February 1992. This was rejected by Bosnian Serb political representatives, who had boycotted the referendum and established their own republic. Following the declaration of independence, Bosnian Serb forces, supported by the Serbian government of Slobodan Milošević and the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) attacked the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to secure Serbian territory and war soon broke out across Bosnia, accompanied by the ethnic cleansing of the Bosniak population, especially in Eastern Bosnia.[4]

It was principally a territorial conflict, initially between the Serb forces mostly organized in the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) on the one side, and the multiethnic Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH) which was largely though not exclusively composed of Bosniaks, and the Croat forces in the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) on the other side. The Croats also aimed at securing parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina as Croatian.[5] The Serb and Croat political leadership agreed on a partition of Bosnia with the Karađorđevo and Graz agreements, resulting in the Croats forces turning on the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Croat-Bosniak war.[6] The war was characterized by bitter fighting, indiscriminate shelling of cities and towns, ethnic cleansing, systematic mass rape and genocide. Events such as the Siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre would become iconic of the conflict.

The Serbs, although initially superior due to the vast amount of weapons and resources provided by the JNA eventually lost momentum as Bosniaks and Croats allied themselves against Republika Srpska in 1994 with the creation of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina following the Washington agreement. After the Srebrenica and Markale massacres, NATO intervened during the 1995 Operation Deliberate Force against the positions of the Army of Republika Srpska, which proved key in ending the war.[7][8] The war was brought to an end after the signing of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina in Paris on 14 December 1995. Peace negotiations were held in Dayton, Ohio, and were finalized on 21 December 1995. The accords are known as the Dayton Agreement.[9] A 1995 report by the Central Intelligence Agency found Serbian forces responsible for 90 per cent of the war crimes committed during the conflict.[10] As of early 2008 the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had convicted 45 Serbs, 12 Croats and 4 Bosniaks of war crimes in connection with the war in Bosnia.[11] The most recent research places the number of killed people at around 100,000–110,000[12][13][14] and the number displaced at over 2.2 million,[15] making it the most devastating conflict in Europe since the end of World War II.



Breakup of Yugoslavia

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina came about as a result of the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Crisis emerged in Yugoslavia with the weakening of the Communist system at the end of the Cold War. In Yugoslavia, the national Communist party, officially called Alliance or League of Communists of Yugoslavia, was losing its ideological potency, while the nationalism, after violence in Kosovo, experienced a renaissance in 1980s.[16] While the goal of Serbian nationalists was centralization of Yugoslavia, other nationalities in Yugoslavia saw federalization and decentralization of the state.[17]

In March 1989, the crisis in Yugoslavia deepened after adoption of amendments to the Serbian constitution that allowed the government of the Serbian republic to impose effective power over the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina.[18] Until that point, their decision-making had been independent. Each also had a vote at the Yugoslav federal level. Serbia, under President Slobodan Milošević, thus gained control over three out of eight votes in the Yugoslav presidency. With additional votes from Montenegro, Serbia was thus able to heavily influence decisions of the federal government. This situation led to objections in other republics and calls for reform of the Yugoslav Federation.

At the 14th Extraordinary Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, on 20 January 1990, the delegations of the republics could not agree on the main issues in the Yugoslav federation. As a result, the Slovenian and Croatian delegates left the Congress. The Slovenian delegation, headed by Milan Kučan demanded democratic changes and a looser federation, while the Serbian delegation, headed by Milošević, opposed it. This is considered the beginning of the end of Yugoslavia.

Moreover, nationalist parties attained power in other republics. Among them, the Croatian Franjo Tuđman's Croatian Democratic Union was the most prominent. On 22 December 1990, the Parliament of Croatia adopted the new Constitution, taking away some of the rights of the Serbs granted by the previous Socialist constitution. This created grounds for nationalist action among the indigenous Serbs of Croatia. Closely following the adoption of the new constitution, Slovenia and Croatia began the process towards independence. On 25 June 1991, both Slovenia and Croatia declared independence which led to the short armed conflict in Slovenia called the Ten-Day War, and all-out war in Croatia in the Croatian War of Independence in areas with substantial Serb populations. The Croatian War of Independence would result in U.N. Security Council Resolution 743 on 21 February 1992, creating the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in accordance with the Secretary-General's report S/23592 of 15 February 1992.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina has historically been a multi-ethnic state. According to the 1991 census, 44% of the population considered themselves Muslim (Bosniak), 31% Serb and 17% Croat, with 6% describing themselves as Yugoslav.[19]

In the first multi-party election that took place in November 1990 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the three largest nationalist parties in the country won, the Party of Democratic Action, the Serbian Democratic Party and the Croatian Democratic Union.[20]

Parties divided the power along the ethnic lines so that the President of the Presidency of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was a Bosniak, president of the Parliament was a Serb and the prime minister a Croat.

Karađorđevo agreement

Discussions between Franjo Tuđman and Slobodan Milošević included "...the partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina between Serbia and Croatia."[21] were held as early as March 1991 known as Karađorđevo agreement. Following the declaration of independence of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbs from B&H with support from Serbia, attacked different parts of the country. The state administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina effectively ceased to function having lost control over the entire territory. The Serbs wanted all lands where Serbs had a majority, eastern and western Bosnia. The Croats and their leader Franjo Tuđman also aimed at securing parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina as Croatian. The policies of the Republic of Croatia and its leader Franjo Tuđman towards Bosnia and Herzegovina were never totally transparent and always included Franjo Tuđman's ultimate aim of expanding Croatia's borders.[22] Bosniaks were an easy target, because the Bosnian government forces were poorly equipped and unprepared for the war.[23]

Independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina

On 15 October 1991, the parliament of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo passed a "Memorandum on the Sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina" by a simple majority.[24][25] The Memorandum was hotly contested by the Bosnian Serb members of parliament, arguing that Amendment LXX of the Constitution required procedural safeguards and a 2/3 majority for such issues, but the Memorandum was debated anyway, leading to a boycott of the parliament by the Bosnian Serbs, and during the boycott the legislation was passed.[26] On 25 January 1992, an hour after the session of parliament was adjourned, the parliament called for a referendum on independence on 29 February and 1 March.[24]

The Bosnian Serb assembly members invited the Serb population to boycott the referendums held on 29 February and 1 March 1992. The turnout to the referendums was reported as 63.7 per cent, with 92.7 per cent of voters voting in favour of independence (implying that Bosnian Serbs, which made up approximately 34% of the population, largely boycotted the referendum).[27] Independence was declared on 5 March 1992 by the parliament. The Serb political leadership used the referendums as a pretext to set up roadblocks in protest.

Establishment of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Serb members of parliament, consisting mainly of the Serb Democratic Party members, but also including some other party representatives (which would form the "Independent Members of Parliament Caucus"), abandoned the central parliament in Sarajevo, and formed the Assembly of the Serb People of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 24 October 1991, which marked the end of the tri-ethnic coalition that governed after the elections in 1990.[28] This assembly established the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 9 January 1992, which became Republika Srpska in August 1992.[29]

Establishment of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia

The objectives of nationalists from Croatia were shared by Croat nationalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina.[30] The ruling party in the Republic of Croatia, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), organized and controlled the branch of the party in Bosnia and Herzegovina. By the latter part of 1991, the more extreme elements of the party, under the leadership of Mate Boban, Dario Kordić, Jadranko Prlić, Ignac Koštroman and local leaders such as Anto Valenta,[30] and with the support of Franjo Tuđman and Gojko Šušak, had taken effective control of the party. This coincided with the peak of the Croatian War of Independence. On 18 November 1991, the party branch in Bosnia and Herzegovina, proclaimed the existence of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia, as a separate "political, cultural, economic and territorial whole", on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[31]

Carrington-Cutileiro Plan

The Lisbon Agreement, also known as the Carrington-Cutileiro plan, named for its creators Lord Peter Carrington and Portuguese Ambassador José Cutileiro, resulted from the EEC-hosted conference held in September 1991 in an attempt to prevent Bosnia and Herzegovina sliding into war. It proposed ethnic power-sharing on all administrative levels and the devolution of central government to local ethnic communities. However, all Bosnia and Herzegovina's districts would be classsified as Bosniak, Serb or Croat under the plan, even where ethnic majority was not evident.

On 18 March 1992, all three sides signed the agreement; Alija Izetbegović for the Bosniaks, Radovan Karadžić for the Serbs and Mate Boban for the Croats.

However, on 28 March 1992, Izetbegović, after meeting with then US ambassador to Yugoslavia Warren Zimmermann in Sarajevo, withdrew his signature and declared his opposition to any type of ethnic division of Bosnia.

What was said and by whom remains unclear. Zimmerman denies that he told Izetbegovic that if he withdrew his signature, the United States would grant recognition to Bosnia as an independent state. What is indisputable is that Izetbegovic, that same day, withdrew his signature and renounced the agreement.[32]

Arms embargo

On 25 September 1991 the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 713 imposing an arms embargo on all of former Yugoslavia. The embargo hurt the Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina the most because Serbia inherited the lion's share of the former JNA arsenal and the Croatian army could smuggle weapons through its coast. Over 55 per cent of the armories and barracks of the former Yugoslavia were located in Bosnia owing to its mountainous terrain, in anticipation of a guerrilla war, but many of those factories were under Serbian control (such as the UNIS PRETIS factory in Vogošća), and others were inoperable due to a lack of electricity and raw materials. The Bosnian government lobbied to have the embargo lifted but that was opposed by the United Kingdom, France and Russia. US proposals to pursue this policy were known as lift and strike. The US congress passed two resolutions calling for the embargo to be lifted but both were vetoed by President Bill Clinton for fear of creating a rift between the US and the aforementioned countries. Nonetheless, the United States used both "black" C-130 transports and back channels including Islamist groups to smuggle weapons to the Bosnian government forces via Croatia.[33]

Course of the war

Alija Izetbegović during his visit to the United States in 1997.

The Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) officially left Bosnia and Herzegovina on 12 May 1992 shortly after independence was declared in April 1992. However, most of the command chain, weaponry, and higher ranked military personnel, including general Ratko Mladić, remained in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Army of Republika Srpska (Vojska Republike Srpske, VRS) as the armed forces of the Republika Srpska. The Croats organized a defensive military formation of their own called the Croatian Defense Council (Hrvatsko Vijeće Obrane, HVO) as the armed forces of the Herzeg-Bosnia. The Bosniaks mostly organized into the Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Armija Republike Bosne i Hercegovine, ARBiH) as the armed forces of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Initially, the ARBiH had a number of non-Bosniaks (around 25 per cent), especially in the 1st Corps in Sarajevo. Sefer Halilović, the Chief of Staff of the Bosnian Territorial Defense, claimed in June 1992 that his forces were 70 per cent Muslim, 18 per cent Croat and 12 per cent Serb.[34] The percentage of Serb and Croat soldiers in the Bosnian army was particularly high in cities such as Sarajevo, Mostar and Tuzla.[35] The deputy commander of the Bosnian Army's Headquarters, was general Jovan Divjak, the highest ranking ethnic Serb in the Bosnian Army. General Stjepan Šiber, an ethnic Croat was the second deputy commander. President Izetbegović also appointed colonel Blaž Kraljević, commander of the Croatian Defence Forces in Herzegovina, to be a member of Bosnian Army's Headquarters, seven days before Kraljević's assassination, in order to assemble multi-ethnic pro-Bosnian defense front.[36] This diversity was to reduce over the course of the war.[34][37]

Various paramilitary units were operating in the Bosnian war: the Serb "White Eagles" (Beli Orlovi), Arkan's "Tigers", "Serbian Volunteer Guard" (Srpska Dobrovoljačka Garda), Bosnians "Patriotic League" (Patriotska Liga) and "Green Berets" (Zelene Beretke), and Croatian "Croatian Defence Forces" (Hrvatske Obrambene Snage), etc. The Serb and Croat paramilitaries involved volunteers from Serbia and Croatia, and were supported by nationalist political parties in those countries. Allegations exist about the involvement of the Serbian and Croatian secret police in the conflict. Forces of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina were divided in 5 corps'. 1st Corps operated in the region of Sarajevo and Gorazde while a stronger 5th Corps was positioned in the western Bosanska Krajina pocket, which cooperated with HVO units in and around Bihać.

The Serbs received the support of Christian Slavic fighters from countries including Russia.[38][39] Greek volunteers of the Greek Volunteer Guard are also reported to have taken part in the Srebrenica Massacre, with the Greek flag being hoisted in Srebrenica when the town fell to the Serbs.[40]

Some radical Western fighters as well as numerous individuals from the cultural area of Western Christianity fought as volunteers for the Croats including Neo-Nazi volunteers from Germany and Austria. Swedish Neo-Nazi Jackie Arklöv was charged with war crimes upon his return to Sweden. Later he confessed he committed war crimes on Bosnian Muslim civilians in Croatian camps Heliodrom and Dretelj as a member of Croatian forces.[41]

The Bosnians received support from Muslim groups. According to some US NGO reports, there were also several hundred Iranian Revolutionary Guards assisting the Bosnian government during the war.[42]

At the outset of the Bosnian war, Serb forces attacked the Bosnian Muslim civilian population in eastern Bosnia.[citation needed] Once towns and villages were securely in their hands, the Serb forces – military, police, the paramilitaries and, sometimes, even Serb villagers – applied the same pattern: houses and apartments were systematically ransacked or burnt down, civilians were rounded up or captured, and sometimes beaten or killed in the process. Men and women were separated, with many of the men massacred or detained in the camps. The women were kept in various detention centers where they had to live in intolerably unhygienic conditions, where they were mistreated in many ways including being raped repeatedly. Serb soldiers or policemen would come to these detention centres, select one or more women, take them out and rape them.[43][44] The Serbs had the upper hand due to heavier weaponry (despite less manpower) that was given to them by the Yugoslav People's Army and established control over most areas where Serbs had relative majority but also in areas where they were a significant minority in both rural and urban regions excluding the larger towns of Sarajevo and Mostar. The Serb military and political leaders, from ICTY received the most accusations of war crimes many of which have been confirmed after the war in ICTY trials.

Most of the capital Sarajevo was predominantly held by the Bosniaks.[citation needed] In the 44 months of the siege, terror against Sarajevo residents varied in intensity, but the purpose remained the same: inflict suffering on civilians to force the Bosnian authorities to accept Serb demands.[45] The VRS surrounded it (alternatively, the Serb forces situated themselves in the areas surrounding Sarajevo the so-called Ring around Sarajevo), deploying troops and artillery in the surrounding hills in what would become the longest siege in the history of modern warfare lasting nearly 4 years. See Siege of Sarajevo.

Numerous cease-fire agreements were signed, and breached again when one of the sides felt it was to their advantage. The UN repeatedly, but unsuccessfully attempted to stop the war and the much-touted Vance-Owen Peace Plan made little impact.


The first casualty in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a point of contention between Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs. Bosniaks and Croats consider the first casualties of the war after the independence declaration to be Suada Dilberović and Olga Sučić, who were shot during a peace march by unidentified Serb gunmen on 5 April in a Holiday Inn hotel under the control of the Serbian Democratic Party.[46][47][48] Serbs consider Nikola Gardović, a groom's father who was killed at a Serb wedding procession on the second day of the referendum, on 1 March 1992 in Sarajevo's old town Baščaršija, to be the first victim of the war.[49]

On 19 September 1991, the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) moved extra troops to the area around the city of Mostar, which was publicly protested by the local government. On 13 October 1991 future president of Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadžić expressed his view about future of Bosnia and Bosnian Muslims: "In just a couple of days, Sarajevo will be gone and there will be five hundred thousand dead, in one month Muslims will be annihilated in Bosnia and Herzegovina".[50]

"Without Serbia, nothing would have happened, we don't have the resources and we would not have been able to make war."

Radovan Karadzic, former president of Republika Srpska, to the Assembly of the Republika Srpska, May 10–11, 1994.[51]

On 7 January 1992, the Serb members of the Prijedor Municipal Assembly and the presidents of the local Municipal Boards of the SDS proclaimed the Assembly of the Serbian People of the Municipality of Prijedor and implemented secret instructions that were issued earlier on 19 December 1991. The "Organisation and Activity of Organs of the Serbian People in Bosnia and Herzegovina in Extraordinary Circumstances" provided a plan for the SDS take-over of municipalities in BiH, it also included plans for the creation of Crisis Staffs.[52] Milomir Stakić, later convicted by ICTY of mass crimes against humanity against Bosniak and Croat civilians, was elected President of this Assembly. Ten days later, on 17 January 1992, the Assembly endorsed joining the Serbian territories of the Municipality of Prijedor to the Autonomous Region of Bosnian Krajina in order to create a separate Serbian state in ethnic Serbian territories.[53]

On 9 January 1992, the Bosnian Serb Assembly adopted a declaration proclaiming the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina ("SR BiH").[29] On 28 February 1992, the Constitution of the SR BiH declared that the territory of that Republic included "the territories of the Serbian Autonomous Regions and Districts and of other Serbian ethnic entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the regions in which the Serbian people remained in the minority due to the genocide conducted against it in World War II", and it was declared to be a part of Yugoslavia. On 12 August 1992, the name of the SR BiH was changed to Republika Srpska ("RS").[52]

During the months of March–April–May 1992 fierce attacks raged in eastern Bosnia as well as the northwestern part of the country. In March attacks by the SDS leaders, together with field officers of the Second Military Command of former JNA, were conducted in eastern part of the country with the objective to take strategically relevant positions and carry out a communication and information blockade. Attacks carried out resulted in a large number of dead and wounded civilians.[54]

In June 1992, the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) originally deployed in Croatia had its mandate extended into Bosnia and Herzegovina, initially to protect the Sarajevo International Airport. In September, the role of UNPROFOR was expanded to protect humanitarian aid and assist relief delivery in the whole Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as to help protect civilian refugees when required by the Red Cross.

1992 ethnic cleansing campaign in Eastern Bosnia

Initially, the Serb forces attacked the non-Serb civilian population in Eastern Bosnia. Once towns and villages were securely in their hands, the Serb forces – military, police, the paramilitaries and, sometimes, even Serb villagers – applied the same pattern: Bosniak houses and apartments were systematically ransacked or burnt down, Bosniak civilians were rounded up or captured, and sometimes beaten or killed in the process. Men and women were separated, with many of the men detained in the camps.[44]

Prijedor region

On 23 April 1992, the SDS decided inter alia that all Serb units immediately start working on the takeover of the Prijedor municipality in co-ordination with JNA. By the end of April 1992, a number of clandestine Serb police stations were created in the municipality and more than 1,500 armed Serbs were ready to take part in the takeover.[53]

A declaration on the takeover prepared by the Serb politicians from SDS was read out on Radio Prijedor the day after the takeover and was repeated throughout the day. In the night of the 29/30 April 1992, the takeover of power took place. Employees of the public security station and reserve police gathered in Cirkin Polje, part of the town of Prijedor. Only Serbs were present and some of them were wearing military uniforms. The people there were given the task of taking over power in the municipality and were broadly divided into five groups. Each group of about twenty had a leader and each was ordered to gain control of certain buildings. One group was responsible for the Assembly building, one for the main police building, one for the courts, one for the bank and the last for the post-office.[53]

Serb authorities set up concentration camps and determined who should be responsible for the running of those camps.[53] Keraterm factory was set up as a camp on or around 23/24 May 1992.[53] The Omarska mines complex was located about 20 km from the town of Prijedor. The first detainees were taken to the camp sometime in late May 1992 (between 26 and 30 May). According to the Serb authorities documents from Prijedor, there were a total of 3,334 persons held in the camp from 27 May to 16 August 1992. 3,197 of them were Bosniaks (i.e. Bosnian Muslims), 125 were Croats.[53] The Trnoplje camp was set up in the village of Trnoplje on 24 May 1992. The camp was guarded on all sides by the Serb army. There were machine-gun nests and well-armed posts pointing their guns towards the camp. There were several thousand people detained in the camp, the vast majority of whom were Bosnian Muslim and some of them were Croats.[53]

ICTY concluded that the takeover by the Serb politicians was as an illegal coup d'état, which was planned and coordinated a long time in advance with the ultimate aim of creating a pure Serbian municipality. These plans were never hidden and they were implemented in a coordinated action by the Serb police, army and politicians. One of the leading figures was Milomir Stakić, who came to play the dominant role in the political life of the Municipality.[53]

JNA under control of Serbia was able to take over at least 60 per cent of the country before 19 May official withdrawn all officers and troops that are not from Bosnia.[55] Much of this is due to the fact that they were much better armed and organized than the Bosniak and Bosnian Croat forces. Attacks also included areas of mixed ethnic composition. Doboj, Foča, Rogatica, Vlasenica, Bratunac, Zvornik, Prijedor, Sanski Most, Kljuc, Brčko, Derventa, Modrica, Bosanska Krupa, Bosanski Brod, Bosanski Novi, Glamoc, Bosanski Petrovac, Cajnice, Bijeljina, Višegrad, and parts of Sarajevo are all areas where Serbs established control and expelled Bosniaks and Croats. Also areas in that were more ethnically homogeneous and were spared from major fighting such as Banja Luka, Bosanska Dubica, Bosanska Gradiska, Bileca, Gacko, Han Pijesak, Kalinovik, Nevesinje, Trebinje, Rudo saw their non-Serb populations expelled. Similarly, the regions of central Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo, Zenica, Maglaj, Zavidovici, Bugojno, Mostar, Konjic, etc.) saw the flight of its Serb population, migrating to the Serb-held areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Croat Defence Council take-overs in Central Bosnia

Pressured and contained by heavily armed Serb forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, the major Croat force – the HVO (Croatian Defence Council) shifted their focus from defending their parts of Bosnia from Serbs to trying to capture remaining territory held by Bosnian Army. It is widely believed that this was due to the Karađorđevo agreement (March 1991) reached between presidents Slobodan Milošević and Franjo Tuđman to split Bosnia between Croatia and Serbia.

To accomplish this, HVO forces would have to both quell dissent from the Croatian Defence Forces (HOS) armed group and defeat the Bosnian Army, since the territory that they wanted was under Bosnian government control. HVO with great engagement from the Military of Republic of Croatia and material support from Serbs,[citation needed] attacked Bosniak civilian population in Herzegovina and in central Bosnia starting an ethnic cleansing of Bosniak populated territories.

The Graz agreement of May 1992 caused deep division inside the Croat community and strengthened the separation group, which led to the conflict with Bosniaks. One of the primary pro-union Croat leaders was Blaž Kraljević, the leader of the Croatian Defence Forces (HOS) armed group, which also had a Croatian nationalist agenda but unlike HVO it fully supported cooperation with the Bosniaks.

In June 1992 the focus switched to Novi Travnik and Gornji Vakuf where the Croat Defence Council (HVO) efforts to gain control were resisted.

On 18 June 1992 the Bosnian Territorial Defence in Novi Travnik received an ultimatum from the HVO that included demands to abolish existing Bosnia and Herzegovina institutions, establish the authority of the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia and pledge allegiance to it, subordinate the Territorial Defense to the HVO and expel Muslim refugees, all within 24 hours. The attack was launched on 19 June. The elementary school and the Post Office were attacked and damaged.[56] Gornji Vakuf was initially attacked by Croats on 20 June 1992, but the attack failed. (See: Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing)

Vastly underequipped Bosnian forces, fighting on two fronts, were able to repel Croats and gain territory against them on every front. At this time, due to its geographic position, Bosnia was surrounded by Croat and Serb forces from all sides. There was no way to import weapons or food. What saved Bosnia at this time was its vast Industrial complex (Steel and Heavy Industries) that was able to switch to military hardware production.

In August 1992, HOS leader Blaž Kraljević was killed by HVO soldiers, which severely weakened the moderate group who hoped to keep the alliance between Bosniaks and Croats alive.[57]

The situation became more serious in October 1992 when Croat forces attacked Bosniak civilian population in Prozor burning their homes and killing civilians. According to Jadranko Prlić indictment, HVO forces cleansed most of the Muslims from the town of Prozor and several surrounding villages.[31]

In October 1992 the Serbs captured the town of Jajce and expelled the Croat and Bosniak population. The fall of the town was largely due to a lack of Bosniak-Croat cooperation and rising tensions, especially over the previous four months.


Territorial settlement claims of Republika Srpska on Bosnia and Herzegovina in January 1993. Serbs are represented by blue, Bosniaks by green, and Croats by orange. Based on the 1981 census of ethnic distribution in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Faded areas are outside of the claims.

On 8 January 1993 the Serbs killed the deputy prime minister of the RBiH Hakija Turajlić after stopping the UN convoy taking him from the airport.[58]

Much of 1993 was dominated by the Croat-Bosniak war. On January 1993 Croat forces attacked Gornji Vakuf, again to connect Herzegovina with Central Bosnia.[31]

On 22 February 1993, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 808 that decided "that an international tribunal shall be established for the prosecution of persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law".

On 15–16 May 96 per cent of Serbs voted to reject the Vance-Owen plan. After the failure of the Vance-Owen peace plan, which practically intended to divide the country into three ethnic parts, an armed conflict sprung between Bosniaks and Croats over the 30 per cent of Bosnia they held. The peace plan was one of the factors leading to the escalation of the conflict, as Lord Owen avoided moderate Croat authorities (pro-unified Bosnia) and negotiated directly with more extreme elements (which were for separation).[59]

On 25 May 1993 the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICYT) was formally established by Resolution 827 of the United Nations Security Council.

In April 1993, the United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 816, calling on member states to enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina. On 12 April 1993, NATO commenced Operation Deny Flight to enforce this no-fly zone.

Gornji Vakuf shelling

Gornji Vakuf is a town to the south of the Lašva Valley and of strategic importance at a crossroads en route to Central Bosnia. It is 48 kilometres from Novi Travnik and about one hour's drive from Vitez in an armoured vehicle. For Croats it was a very important connection between the Lašva Valley and Herzegovina, two territories included in the self-proclaimed Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia. The Croat forces shelling reduced much of the historical oriental center of the town of Gornji Vakuf to rubble.[56]

On 10 January 1993, just before the outbreak of hostilities in Gornji Vakuf, the Croat Defence Council (HVO) commander Luka Šekerija, sent a "Military – Top Secret" request to Colonel Tihomir Blaškić and Dario Kordić, (later convicted by ICTY of war crimes and crimes against humanity i.e. ethnic cleansing) for rounds of mortar shells available at the ammunition factory in Vitez.[56] Fighting then broke out in Gornji Vakuf on 11 January 1993, sparked by a bomb Croats placed in a Bosniak-owned hotel used as a military headquarters. A general outbreak of fighting followed, and there was heavy shelling of the town that night by Croat artillery.[56]

During cease-fire negotiations at the Britbat HQ in Gornji Vakuf, colonel Andrić, representing the HVO, demanded that the ARBiH forces lay down their arms and accept HVO control of the town, threatening that if they did not agree he would flatten Gornji Vakuf to the ground.[56][60] The HVO demands were not accepted by the ARBiH and the attack continued, followed by massacres on Bosnian Muslim civilians in the neighbouring villages of Bistrica, Uzričje, Duša, Ždrimci and Hrasnica.[61][62] During the Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing it was surrounded by the Croatian Army and HVO for seven months and attacked with heavy artillery and other weapons (tanks and snipers). Although Croats often cited it as a major reason for the attack on Gornji Vakuf, the commander of the British Britbat company claimed that there were no Muslim holy warriors in Gornji Vakuf (commonly known as Mujahideen) and that his soldiers did not see any. The shelling campaign and the attacks during the war resulted in hundreds of injured and killed, mostly Bosnian Muslim civilians.[56]

Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing

The Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing campaign against Bosniak civilians was planned by the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia's political and military leadership from May 1992 to March 1993. Fighting by the HVO which erupted the following April, was meant to implement objectives set forth by Croat nationalists in November 1991.[30] The Lašva Valley's Bosniaks were subjected to persecution on political, racial and religious grounds,[63] deliberately discriminated against in the context of a widespread attack on the region's civilian population[64] and suffered mass murder, rape, imprisonment in camps, as well as the destruction of cultural sites and private property. This was often followed by anti-Bosniak propaganda, particularly in the municipalities of Vitez, Busovača, Novi Travnik and Kiseljak. Ahmići massacre in April 1993, was the culmination of the Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing, resulting in mass killing of Bosnian Muslim civilians just in a few hours. The youngest was a three-month-old baby, who was shot to death in his crib, and the oldest was an 81-year-old woman. It is the biggest massacre committed during the conflict between Croats and the Bosnian government (dominated by Bosniaks).

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has ruled that these crimes amounted to crimes against humanity in numerous verdicts against Croat political and military leaders and soldiers, most notably Dario Kordić.[56] Based on the evidence of numerous HVO attacks at that time, the ICTY Trial Chamber concluded in the Kordić and Čerkez case that by April 1993 Croat leadership had a common design or plan conceived and executed to ethnically cleanse Bosniaks from the Lašva Valley. Dario Kordić, as the local political leader, was found to be the planner and instigator of this plan.[56] According to the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Center (IDC), around 2,000 Bosniaks from the Lašva Valley are missing or were killed during this period.[65]

War in Herzegovina

The Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia took control of many municipal governments and services in Herzegovina as well, removing or marginalising local Bosniak leaders. Herzeg-Bosnia took control of the media and imposed Croatian ideas and propaganda. Croatian symbols and currency were introduced, and Croatian curricula and the Croatian language were introduced in schools. Many Bosniaks and Serbs were removed from positions in government and private business; humanitarian aid was managed and distributed to the Bosniaks' and Serbs' disadvantage; and Bosniaks in general were increasingly harassed. Many of them were deported into concentration camps: Heliodrom, Dretelj, Gabela, Vojno and Šunje.

Up till 1993 the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) and Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH) had been fighting side by side against the superior forces of the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) in some areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Even though armed confrontation and events like the Totic kidnappings strained the relationship between the HVO and ARBiH the Croat-Bosniak alliance held in Bihać pocket (northwest Bosnia) and the Bosanska Posavina (north), where both were heavily outmatched by Serb forces.

According to ICTY judgment in Naletilić-Martinović case HVO forces attacked the villages of Sovici and Doljani, about 50 kilometers north of Mostar in the morning on 17 April 1993.[23] The attack was part of a larger HVO offensive aimed at taking Jablanica, the main Bosnian Muslim dominated town in the area. The HVO commanders had calculated that they needed two days to take Jablanica. The location of Sovici was of strategic significance for the HVO as it was on the way to Jablanica. For the ARBiH it was a gateway to the plateau of Risovac, which could create conditions for further progression towards the Adriatic coast. The larger HVO offensive on Jablanica had already started on 15 April 1993. The artillery destroyed the upper part of Sovici. The Bosnian Army was fighting back, but at about five p.m. the Bosnian Army commander in Sovici, surrendered. Approximately 70 to 75 soldiers surrendered. In total, at least 400 Bosnian Muslim civilians were detained. The HVO advance towards Jablanica was halted after a cease-fire agreement had been negotiated.[23]

Siege of Mostar

The Eastern part of Mostar was surrounded by HVO forces for nine months, and much of its historic city was severely damaged in shelling including the famous Stari Most bridge.[31]

Mostar was divided into a Western part, which was dominated by the HVO forces and an Eastern part where the ARBiH was largely concentrated. However, the Bosnian Army had its headquarters in West Mostar in the basement of a building complex referred to as Vranica. In the early hours of 9 May 1993, the Croatian Defence Council attacked Mostar using artillery, mortars, heavy weapons and small arms. The HVO controlled all roads leading into Mostar and international organisations were denied access. Radio Mostar announced that all Bosniaks should hang out a white flag from their windows. The HVO attack had been well prepared and planned.[23]

The HVO took over the west side of the city and expelled thousands of Bosniaks from the west side into the east side of the city.[31] The HVO shelling reduced much of the east side of Mostar to rubble. The JNA demolished Carinski Bridge, Titov Bridge and Lucki Bridge over the river excluding the Stari Most. HVO forces (and its smaller divisions) engaged in a mass execution, ethnic cleansing and rape on the Bosniak people of the West Mostar and its surroundings and a fierce siege and shelling campaign on the Bosnian Government run East Mostar. HVO campaign resulted in thousands of injured and killed.[31]

The ARBiH launched an operation known as Operation Neretva '93 against the HVO and Croatian Army in September 1993 to end the siege of Mostar, and recapture areas of Herzegovina that were included in the self-proclaimed Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia.[66] The operation was stopped by Bosnian authorities after it received information about the massacre against Croat civilians and POWs in the villages of Grabovica and Uzdol.

The HVO leadership (Jadranko Prlić, Bruno Stojić, Milivoj Petković, Valentin Ćorić and Berislav Pušić) and the Croatian Army officer Slobodan Praljak are presently on trial at the ICTY on charges including crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva conventions and violations of the laws or customs of war.[31] Dario Kordić, political leader of Croats in Central Bosnia was convicted of the crimes against humanity in Central Bosnia, i.e. ethnic cleansing and sentenced to 25 years in prison.[56] ARBiH commander Sefer Halilović was charged with one count of violation of the laws and customs of war on the basis of superior criminal responsibility of the incidents during Operation Neretva '93 and found not guilty.

In an attempt to protect the civilians, UNPROFOR's role was further extended in May 1993 to protect the "safe havens" that United Nations Security Council had declared around Sarajevo, Goražde, Srebrenica, Tuzla, Žepa and Bihać in Resolution 824 of 6 May 1993. On 4 June 1993 the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 836 authorized the use of force by UNPROFOR in the protection of the safe zones.[67] On 15 June 1993, Operation Sharp Guard, a naval blockade in the Adriatic Sea by NATO and the Western European Union, began but was lifted on 18 June 1996 on termination of the UN arms embargo.[67]


UN troops on their way up "Sniper Alley" in Sarajevo

Markale massacre

On 5 February 1994 Sarajevo suffered its deadliest single attack during the entire siege with the first Markale massacre, when a 120 millimeter mortar shell landed in the center of the crowded marketplace, killing 68 people and wounding another 144.

On 6 February, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali formally requested NATO to confirm that future requests for air strikes would be carried out immediately.[68] On 9 February 1994, the North Atlantic Council authorised the Commander of Allied Forces Southern Europe (CINCSOUTH), U.S. Admiral Jeremy Boorda, to launch air strikes - at the request of the UN - against artillery and mortar positions in or around Sarajevo determined by UNPROFOR to be responsible for attacks against civilian targets in that city.[67][69] Only Greece failed to support the use of airstrikes, but did not veto the proposal.[68] The Council also issued an ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs demanding the removal of heavy weapons around Sarajevo by midnight of 20–21 February or face air strikes.[68] On 12 February, Sarajevo enjoyed its first casualty free day since April 1992.[68]

Washington Agreement

The Croat-Bosniak war officially ended on 23 February 1994 when the Commander of HVO, general Ante Roso and commander of Bosnian Army, general Rasim Delić, signed a ceasefire agreement in Zagreb. On 18 March 1994 a peace agreement—the Washington Agreement— mediated by the USA between the warring Croats (represented by the Republic of Croatia) and the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was signed in Washington and Vienna.[70] The Washington Agreement ended the war between Croats and Bosniaks and divided the combined territory held by Croat and Bosnian government forces into ten autonomous cantons, establishing the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This reduced the warring parties to the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Army of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina composed of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH) and the Croatian Defence Council (HVO), and the Republika Srpska in the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS).


NATO became actively involved, when its jets shot down four Serb aircraft over central Bosnia on 28 February 1994 for violating the UN no-fly zone.[71]

On 12 March 1994, the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) made its first request for NATO air support, but close air support was not deployed, however, owing to a number of delays associated with the approval process.[72] On 20 March an aid convoy with medical supplies and doctors reached Maglaj, a city of 100,000 people, which had been under siege since May 1993 and had been surviving off food supplies dropped by US aircraft.[70] A second convoy on 23 March was hijacked and looted.[70]

On 10 and 11 April 1994 UNPROFOR called in air strikes to protect the Goražde safe area, resulting in the bombing of a Serbian military command outpost near Goražde by 2 US F-16 jets.[67][70][72] This was the first time in NATO's history it had ever done so.[70] This resulted in the taking of 150 U.N. personnel hostage on 14 April.[67][72] On 16 April a British Sea Harrier was shot down over Goražde by Serb forces.[70] On 15 April the Bosnian government lines around Goražde broke.[70]

Around 29 April a Danish contingent (Nordbat 2) on peacekeeping duty in Bosnia, as part of UNPROFOR's Nordic battalion located in Tuzla, was ambushed when trying to relieve a Swedish observation post (Tango 2) that was under heavy artillery fire by the Bosnian Serb Šekovići brigade at the village of Kalesija, but the ambush was dispersed when the UN forces retaliated with heavy fire in what would be known as Operation Bøllebank.

On 12 May, the US Senate adopted S. 2042 from Sen. Bob Dole to unilaterally lift the arms embargo against the Bosnians, but was repudiated by President Clinton.[73][74] Pub.L. 103-337 was signed by the President on 5 October 1994 and stated that if the Bosnian Serbs had not accepted the Contact Group proposal by 15 October the President should introduce a UN Security Council proposal to end the arms embargo and that if it was not passed by 15 November only funds required by all UN members under Resolution 713 could be used to enforce the embargo, effectively ending the arms embargo.[75]

On 5 August, at the request of UNPROFOR, NATO aircraft attacked a target within the Sarajevo Exclusion Zone after weapons were seized by Bosnian Serbs from a weapons collection site near Sarajevo.[67] On 22 September 1994 NATO aircraft carried out an air strike against a Bosnian Serb tank at the request of UNPROFOR.[67]

On 12–13 November, the US unilaterally lifted the arms embargo against the government of Bosnia.[75][76]

Operation Amanda was an UNPROFOR mission led by Danish peacekeeping troops, with the aim of recovering an observation post near Gradačac, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on 25 October 1994.[77]

On 19 November the North Atlantic Council approved the extension of Close Air Support to Croatia for the protection of UN forces in that country.[67] NATO aircraft attacked the Udbina airfield in Serb-held Croatia on 21 November, in response to attacks launched from that airfield against targets in the Bihac area of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[67] On 23 November, after attacks launched from a surface-to-air missile site south of Otoka (north-west Bosnia and Herzegovina) on two NATO aircraft, air strikes were conducted against air defence radars in that area.[67]


Seated from left to right: Slobodan Milošević, Alija Izetbegović, Franjo Tuđman signing the final peace agreement in Paris on 14 December 1995.

The war continued through most of 1995.

In July 1995 Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) forces under general Ratko Mladić occupied the UN "safe area" of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia where around 8,000 men were killed in the Srebrenica massacre (most women were expelled to Bosniak-held territory and some of them were raped and killed).[78] The United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), represented on the ground by a 400-strong contingent of Dutch peacekeepers, Dutchbat, failed to prevent the town's capture by the VRS and the subsequent massacre.[79][80][81][82] The ICTY ruled this event as genocide in the Krstić case.

In line with the Croat-Bosniak agreement, Croatian forces operated in western Bosnia in Operation Summer '95 and in early August launched Operation Storm, taking over the Serb Krajina in Croatia. With this, the Bosniak-Croat alliance gained the initiative in the war, taking much of western Bosnia from the VRS in several operations, including: Operation Mistral and Operation Sana. These forces now came to threaten the Bosnian Serb capital Banja Luka with direct ground attack.

VRS forces committed several major massacres during 1995: Tuzla massacre (on 25 May), the Srebrenica massacre and the second Markale massacre.

After the second Markale massacre, NATO responded by opening wide air strikes in Operation Deliberate Force against Bosnian Serb infrastructure and units in September.

At that point, the international community pressured Milošević, Tuđman and Izetbegović to the negotiation table and finally the war ended with the Dayton Peace Agreement signed on 21 November 1995. The final version of the peace agreement was signed 14 December 1995 in Paris.

Impact of the war

Civil war or a war of aggression

Because the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a consequence of the instability in the wider region of the former Yugoslavia, and due to the involvement of neighboring countries Croatia and Serbia, there was long-standing debate as to whether the conflict was a civil war or a war of aggression on Bosnia by neighbouring states. Academics Steven Burg and Paul Shoup argue that:

From the outset, the nature of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was subject to conflicting interpretations. These were rooted not only in objective facts on the ground, but in the political interests of those articulating them.[83]

On the one hand, the war could be viewed as "a clear-cut case of civil war – that is, of internal war amongst groups unable to agree on arrangements for sharing power".[83] David Campbell is critical of narratives about "civil war", which he argues often involve what he terms "moral levelling", in which all sides are "said to be equally guilty of atrocities", and "emphasize credible Serb fears as a rationale for their actions".[84] In contrast to the civil war explanation, Bosniaks, many Croats, western politicians and human rights organizations claimed that the war was a war of Serbian and Croatian aggression based on the Karađorđevo and Graz agreements, while Serbs often considered it a civil war.[citation needed] Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats enjoyed substantial political and military backing from Serbia and Croatia, and the decision to grant Bosnia diplomatic recognition also has implications for the international interpretation of the conflict. As Burg and Shoup state:

From the perspective of international diplomacy and law...the international decision to recognize the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina and grant it membership in the United Nations provided a basis for defining the war as a case of external aggression by both Serbia and Croatia. With respect to Serbia, the further case could be made that the Bosnian Serb army was under the de facto command of the Yugoslav army and was therefore an instrument of external aggression. With respect to Croatia, regular Croatian army forces violated the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, lending further evidence in support of the view that this was a case of aggression.[83]

Sumantra Bose, meanwhile, argues that it is possible to characterise the Bosnian War as a civil war, without necessarily agreeing with the narrative of Serb and Croat nationalists. He states that while "all episodes of severe violence have been sparked by 'external' events and forces, local society too has been deeply implicated in that violence" and therefore argues that "it makes relatively more sense to ragard the 1992–95 conflict in Bosnia as a 'civil war' – albeit obviously with a vital dimension that is territorially external to Bosnia".[85] In 2010, Bosnian Commander Ejup Ganić was detained in London due to a Serbian extradition request for alleged war crimes. Judge Timothy Workman, however, decided that Ganić should be released because Serbia's request was "politically motivated". In his decision, he also characterized the Bosnian War to have been an international armed conflict, since Bosnia declared independence on 3 March 1992.[86]

Academic Mary Kaldor argues that the Bosnian War is an example of what she terms new wars, which are neither civil nor inter-state, but rather combine elements of both.[87]


Calculating the number of deaths that resulted from the conflict has been subject to considerable and highly politicised debate.[88] There are large discrepancies between estimates of the total number of casualties, ranging from 25,000 to 329,000. These are partly the result of the use of inconsistent definitions of who can be considered victims of the war. Some research calculated only direct casualties of the military activity while other also calculated indirect casualties, such as those who died from harsh living conditions, hunger, cold, illnesses or other accidents indirectly caused by the war conditions. Original higher numbers were also used as many victims were listed twice or three times both in civilian and military columns as little or no communication and systematic coordination of these lists could take place in wartime conditions; one valid form of historical revision involves identifying where a given victim is separately identified in multiple primary lists, and correcting the resulting overcount; in particular, the RDC and ICTY's demographic unit performed such forensic revision.[12][89]

The death toll was originally estimated in 1994 at around 200,000 by Cherif Bassouni, head of the UN expert commission investigating war crimes.[90] According to Prof. Steven L. Burg and Prof. Paul S. Shoup (1999),[91]

The figure of 200,000 (or more) dead, injured, and missing was frequently cited in media reports on the war in Bosnia as late as 1994. The October 1995 bulletin of the Bosnian Institute for Public Health of the Republic Committee for Health and Social Welfare gave the numbers as 146,340 killed, and 174,914 wounded on the territory under the control of the Bosnian army. Mustafa Imamovic gave a figure of 144,248 perished (including those who died from hunger or exposure), mainly Muslims. The Red Cross and the UNHCR have not, to the best of our knowledge, produced data on the number of persons killed and injured in the course of the war. A November 1995 unclassified CIA memorandumg estimated 156,500 civilian deaths in the country (all but 10,000 of them in Muslim- or Croat-held territories), not including the 8,000 to 10,000 then still missing from Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves. This figure for civilian deaths far exceeded the estimate in the same report of 81,500 troops killed (45,000 Bosnian government; 6,500 Bosnian Croat; and 30,000 Bosnian Serb).

The Obermayer et al. research puts the figure of victims to 176,000 and Ewa Tabeau's research (Office of the Prosecutors at the Hague Tribunal) places the minimum number of victims to 104,732.[12][90] She notes that the numbers should not be confused with "who killed who", because thousands of Serbs were killed by Serb army during the shelling of the besieged Sarajevo, Tuzla and other multi-ethnic cities.[92] The authors of this report say that the actual death toll may be slightly higher.[93]

Casualty figures according to the Demographic Unit at the ICTY[94][95]
(For the Bosnian War)
Bosniaks c. 68,101
Croats c. 8,858
Serbs c. 22,779
Others (mostly Muslim names) c. 4,995
Casualty figures according to RDC
(For the Bosnian War)
(as reported in June 2009)[96]
Bosniaks 64,341 66.2%
Serbs 24,726 25.4%
Croats 7,602 7.8%
other 547 0.5%
Total civilians
Bosniaks 33,071 83.3%
Serbs 4,075 10.2%
Croats 2,163 5.4%
others 376 0.9%
Total soldiers
Bosniaks 31,270 54.4%
Serbs 20,649 35.9%
Croats 5,439 9.5%
others 171 0.3%
unconfirmed 4,000

On 21 June 2007, the Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo published the most extensive research on Bosnia-Herzegovina's war casualties titled: The Bosnian Book of the Dead – a database that reveals "a minimum of" 97,207 names of Bosnia and Herzegovina's citizens killed and missing during the 1992–1995 war. An international team of experts evaluated the findings before they were released. More than 240,000 pieces of data have been collected, processed, checked, compared and evaluated by an international team of experts to produce the final number of over 97,000 victim's names—victims of all nationalities. The research has shown that most of the 97,207[97] documented casualties (civilians and soldiers) during Bosnian War were Bosniaks (66 per cent), followed by Serbs (25 per cent), Croats (8 per cent) and a small number of others such as Albanians or Romani people.[98] Bosniaks also suffered massive civilian casualties (83 per cent) compared to Serbs (10 per cent) and Croats (5 per cent). At least 30 per cent of the Bosniak civilian victims were women and children.[99]

In a statement on 23 September 2008 to the United Nations Dr Haris Silajdžić, as head of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Delegation to the United Nations, 63rd Session of the General Assembly, said that "According to the ICRC data, 200,000 people were killed, 12,000 of them children, up to 50,000 women were raped, and 2.2 million were forced to flee their homes. This was a veritable genocide and sociocide".[100]

There are no precise statistics dealing with the casualties of the Croat-Bosniak conflict along ethnic lines. The RDC's data on human losses in the regions caught in the Croat-Bosniak conflict as part of the wider Bosnian War, however, can serve as a rough approximation. According to this data, in Central Bosnia most of the 10,448 documented casualties (soldiers and civilians) were Bosniaks (62 per cent), with Croats in second (24 per cent) and Serbs (13 per cent) in third place. The municipalities of Gornji Vakuf and Bugojno also geographically located in Central Bosnia (known as Gornje Povrbasje region), with the 1,337 documented casualties are not included in Central Bosnia statistics, but in Vrbas region statistics. Approximately 70–80 per cent of the casualties from Gornje Povrbasje were Bosniaks. In the region of Neretva river of 6,717 casualties, 54 per cent were Bosniaks, 24 per cent Serbs and 21 per cent Croats. The casualties in those regions were mostly but not exclusively the consequence of Croat-Bosniak conflict. To a lesser extent the conflict with the Serbs also resulted in a number of casualties included in the statistics. For instance, a number of Serbs were massacred by Croat forces in June 1992 in the village of Čipuljić located in Bugojno municipality.[101]

There were also significant casualties on the part of International Troops in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some 320 soldiers of UNPROFOR were killed during this conflict in Bosnia.[citation needed]

The UNCHR stated that the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina forced more than 2.2 million people to flee their homes, making it the largest displacement of people in Europe since the end of World War II.[15]

War crimes

Ethnic cleansing

Ethnic cleansing was a common phenomenon in the war. This typically entailed intimidation, forced expulsion and/or killing of the undesired ethnic group as well as the destruction or removal of the physical vestiges of the ethnic group, such as places of worship, cemeteries and cultural and historical buildings. Academics Matjaž Klemenčič and Mitja Žagar argue that: "Ideas of nationalistic ethnic politicians that Bosnia and Herzegovina be reorganized into homogenous national territories inevitably required the division of ethnically mixed territories into their Serb, Croat, and Muslim parts".[19]

According to numerous ICTY verdicts and indictments, Serb[102][103][104] and Croat[23][56][105] forces performed ethnic cleansing of their territories planned by their political leadership to create ethnically pure states (Republika Srpska and Herzeg-Bosnia). Furthermore, Serb forces committed genocide in Srebrenica at the end of the war.[106] A 1995 report by the Central Intelligence Agency found Serbian forces responsible for 90 percent of the war crimes committed during the conflict.[10]

Based on the evidence of numerous HVO attacks, the ICTY Trial Chamber concluded in the Kordić and Čerkez case that by April 1993 Croat leadership had a common design or plan conceived and executed to ethnically cleanse Bosniaks from the Lašva Valley in Central Bosnia. Dario Kordić, as the local political leader, was found to be the planner and instigator of this plan.[56]


Exhumations in Srebrenica, 1996

A trial took place before the International Court of Justice, following a 1993 suit by Bosnia and Herzegovina against Serbia and Montenegro alleging genocide. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling of 26 February 2007 indirectly determined the war's nature to be international, though clearing Serbia of direct responsibility for the genocide committed by the forces of Republika Srpska. The ICJ concluded, however, that Serbia failed to prevent genocide committed by Serb forces and failed to punish those who carried out the genocide, especially General Ratko Mladić, and bring them to justice.

A telegram sent to the White House on 8 February 1994 and penned by US Ambassador to Croatia Peter W. Galbraith stated that genocide was occurring. The telegram cited "constant and indiscriminate shelling and gunfire" of Sarajevo by Karadzic's Yugoslav People Army; the harassment of minority groups in Northern Bosnia "in an attempt to force them to leave"; and the use of detainees "to do dangerous work on the front lines" as evidence that genocide was being committed.[107] In 2005, the United States Congress passed a resolution declaring that "the Serbian policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing meet the terms defining genocide".[108]

Despite the evidence of many kinds of war crimes conducted simultaneously by different Serb forces in different parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially in Bijeljina, Sarajevo, Prijedor, Zvornik, Banja Luka, Višegrad and Foča, the judges ruled that the criteria for genocide with the specific intent (dolus specialis) to destroy Bosnian Muslims were met only in Srebrenica or Eastern Bosnia in 1995.[109] The court concluded that the crimes committed during the 1992–1995 war, may amount to crimes against humanity according to the international law, but that these acts did not, in themselves, constitute genocide per se.[110] The Court further decided that, following Montenegro's declaration of independence in May 2006, Serbia was the only respondent party in the case, but that "any responsibility for past events involved at the relevant time the composite State of Serbia and Montenegro".[111]

Mass rape and psychological oppression

Although during the Bosnian War many women were raped on all sides, Muslim and Catholic women were particularly targeted by Serb forces.[112] Estimates of the numbers raped range from 20,000 to 50,000.[113]

Common profound complications among surviving women and girls include gynecological, physical and psychological (post traumatic) disorders, as well as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The survivors often feel uncomfortable/frustrated/sickened with men, sex and relationships; ultimately affecting the growth/development of a population and/or society as such (thus constituting a slow genocide according to some). In accordance with the Muslim society, most of the girls not married were virgins at the time of rape; further traumatizing the situation. Mass rapes were mostly done in Eastern Bosnia (during Foča massacres), and in Grbavica during the Siege of Sarajevo. Women and girls were kept in various detention centres where they had to live in intolerably unhygienic conditions and were mistreated in many ways including being repeatedly raped. Serb soldiers or policemen would come to these detention centres, select one or more women, take them out and rape them. All this was done in full view, in complete knowledge and sometimes with the direct involvement of the Serb local authorities, particularly the police forces. The head of Foča police forces, Dragan Gagović, was personally identified as one of the men who came to these detention centres to take women out and rape them. There were numerous rape camps in Foča. "Karaman's house" was one of the most notable rape camps. While kept in this house, the girls were constantly raped. Among the women held in "Karaman's house" there were minors as young as 12 and 14 years of age.[44][114][115]

Muslim women were specifically targeted, as rape was a way Serbs could assert superiority and victory over the Bosniaks. For instance, girls and women selected by convicted war criminal Dragoljub Kunarac or his men, were systematically taken to the soldiers’ base, a house in Osmana Đikić street no 16. There, girls and women, who Kunarac knew were civilians, were raped by his men or by the convicted himself. Serb soldiers demonstrated a total disregard for Bosniaks in general, and Bosniak women in particular. Serb soldiers removed many Muslim girls from various detention centres and kept some of them for various periods of time, for him or his soldiers to rape.[44]

The other example includes Radomir Kovač, convicted also by ICTY. While four girls were kept in his apartment, the convicted Radomir Kovač abused them and raped three of them many times, thereby perpetuating the attack upon the Bosnian Muslim civilian population. Kovač would also invite his friends to his apartment, and he sometimes allowed them to rape one of the girls. Kovač also sold three of the girls. Prior to their being sold, Kovač had given two of these girls to other Bosnian Serb soldiers who abused them for more than three weeks before taking them back to Kovač, who proceeded to sell one and give the other away to acquaintances of his.[44]

Prosecutions and legal proceedings

Radovan Karadžić (left), former president of Republika Srpska, and Ratko Mladić (right), former Chief of Staff of the Army of the Republika Srpska, are currently under trial.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established in 1993 as a body of the UN to prosecute war crimes committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and to try their perpetrators. The tribunal is an ad hoc court which is located in The Hague, the Netherlands.

According to legal experts, as of early 2008, 45 Serbs, 12 Croats and 4 Bosniaks were convicted of war crimes by the ICTY in connection with the Balkan wars of the 1990s.[11] Both Serbs and Croats were indicted and convicted of systematic war crimes (joint criminal enterprise), while Bosniaks were indicted and convicted of individual ones. Most of the Bosnian Serb wartime leadership Biljana Plavšić,[116] Momčilo Krajišnik,[117] Radoslav Brđanin,[103] Duško Tadić[118] were indicted and judged guilty for war crimes and ethnic cleansing. The former president of Republika Srpska Radovan Karadžić is currently under trial.[119] The top military general Ratko Mladić is also under trial by the ICTY in connection with the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre.[120] Slobodan Milošević was charged with war crimes in connection with the war in Bosnia, including grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, crimes against humanity and genocide,[121] but died in 2006 before the trial could finish.[122] Some high ranking Croat political leaders (Dario Kordić) were convicted of war crimes, while some (Jadranko Prlić, Bruno Stojić, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petković, Valentin Corić, and Berislav Pušić) are presently on trial at the ICTY. After the death of Alija Izetbegović, The Hague revealed that he was under investigation for war crimes; however the prosecutor did not find enough evidence in Izetbegović's lifetime to issue an indictment.[123] Genocide is the most serious war crime Serbs were convicted of. Crimes against humanity (i.e. ethnic cleansing), a charge second in gravity only to genocide, is the most serious war crime Croats were convicted of. Breaches of the Geneva Conventions is the most serious war crime Bosniaks were convicted of.[124]


On 6 December 2004, Serbian president Boris Tadić made an apology in Bosnia and Herzegovina to all those who suffered crimes committed in the name of the Serb people.[125]

Croatia's president Ivo Josipović apologized in April 2010 for his country's role in the Bosnian War. Bosnia and Herzegovina's president Haris Silajdžić in turn praised relations with Croatia, remarks that starkly contrasted with his harsh criticism of Serbia the day before. "I'm deeply sorry that the Republic of Croatia has contributed to the suffering of people and divisions which still burden us today", President Ivo Josipović told Bosnia and Herzegovina's parliament.[126]

On 31 March 2010, the Serbian parliament adopted a declaration "condemning in strongest terms the crime committed in July 1995 against Bosniak population of Srebrenica" and apologizing to the families of the victims, the first of its kind in the region. The initiative to pass a resolution came from President Boris Tadić, who pushed for it even though the issue was politically controversial. In the past, only human rights groups and non-nationalistic parties had supported such a measure.[127]

In popular culture


The Bosnian War has been depicted in a number of films including Hollywood films such as Savior, starring Dennis Quaid and Stellan Skarsgård as mercenaries employed by the Bosnian Serb army and Nataša Ninković as raped Bosnian Serb woman and The Hunting Party, about an attempt at catching the accused war criminal Radovan Karadžić, The Peacemaker, and Behind Enemy Lines, which is about a downed US Navy pilot who uncovers a massacre while on the run from Serb troops who want him dead. There are a number of British films such as Welcome to Sarajevo, which is about the life of Sarajevo citizens during the siege, Beautiful People directed by the Bosnian director Jasmin Dizdar, the award-winning British television drama, Warriors, aired on BBC One in 1999 about the Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing, Serbian film Pretty Village, Pretty Flame, or Spanish film Territorio Comanche, which shows the story of a Spanish TV crew during the siege of Sarajevo.

Bosnian director Danis Tanović's No Man's Land won the Best Foreign Language Film awards at the 2001 Academy Awards and the 2002 Golden Globes. The Polish film Demony wojny według Goi ("Demons of War", 1998), set during the Bosnian conflict, portrays a Polish group of IFOR soldiers who accidentally come to help a pair of journalists tracked by a local warlord whose crimes they had taped. Grbavica, about the life of a single mother in contemporary Sarajevo in the aftermath of systematic rape of Bosniak women by Serbian troops during the war, won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Short films such as In the Name of the Son, about a father who murders his son during the Bosnian War, and 10 Minutes, which contrasts 10 minutes of life of a Japanese tourist in Rome with a Bosnian family during the war, received acclaim for their depiction of the war.

Documentaries include Bernard-Henri Lévy's Bosna! about Bosnian resistance against well equipped Serbian troops at the beginning of the war, Slovenian documentary Tunel upanja (A Tunnel of Hope) about the Sarajevo Tunnel constructed by the besieged citizens of Sarajevo to link Sarajevo, which was entirely cut-off by Serbian forces, with the Bosnian government territory, "Sarajevo my love"(in a quest of Inela Nogic)about beauty queen of besieged Sarajevo Inela Nogic and her destiny after the war, produced by Serbian television station RTV B92,and British documentary A Cry from the Grave about the Srebrenica massacre, as well as BBC's lengthy series The Death of Yugoslavia, documenting the outbreak of the war from the earliest roots of the conflict, in the 1980s. The foreign point of view of Portuguese director Joaquim Sapinho's documental film diary Bosnia Diaries, generated much controversy, being an unengaged European look over the Bosnian conflict in the first person[128]. Silverbullet Films in currently working on a documentary titled, "Village of the Forgotten Widows" which will hopefully be able to shine light on the women who lost everything.

A number of Western films made the Bosnian conflict the background of their stories – some of those include Avenger, based on Frederick Forsyth's novel in which a mercenary tracks down a Serbian warlord responsible for war crimes, and The Peacemaker, in which a Serbian activist emotionally devastated by the losses of war plots to take revenge on the United Nations by exploding a nuclear bomb in New York. The Whistleblower tells the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac, a UN peacekeeper that uncovered a human-trafficking scandal involving the United Nations in post-war Bosnia. Shot Through the Heart is a 1998 TV film directed by David Attwood, shown on the BBC and HBO in 1998, which covers the Siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War from the perspective of two Olympic-level Yugoslavian marksmen, one whom becomes a sniper.

Part 6 of the BBC Masterpiece Theatre mini-series Prime Suspect follows British DCI Jane Tennison (played by Helen Mirren) as she travels to the region to investigate the conflict.


Aubrey Verboven's Border Crossings - An Aid Worker's Journey into Bosnia provides one of the most detailed chronicles of the war in the Bihac Pocket.

Semezdin Mehmedinović's Sarajevo Blues and Miljenko Jergović's Sarajevo Marlboro are among the best known and critically praised books written during the war in Bosnia.

Zlata's Diary is a published diary kept by a young girl, Zlata Filipović, which chronicles her life in Sarajevo from 1991–1993. Because of her diary, she is sometimes referred to as "The Anne Frank of Sarajevo".

"Remember Sarajevo" by Roger M. Richards, is an eBook of photographs and text from the siege of Sarajevo.

Plays about the war include Necessary Targets, written by Eve Ensler. It has also been suggested that "Caryl Churchill"'s Far Away is a response to the Bosnian War.

A book on the Bosnian War called My WarGone by, I Miss it so by Anthony Loyd depicts the view of a freelance war photographer.

Winter Warriors – Across Bosnia with the PBI by Les Howard, is a factual account of a British Territorial (reserve) infantry soldier who volunteered to serve as a UN Peacekeeper in the latter stages of the war, and also during the first stages of the NATO led Dayton Peace Accord. This critically acclaimed work gives an in depth feel to the perils of peacekeeping, the harsh landscape and the resolve of the British soldier, a much overlooked quality that contributed to a lasting peace.

Pretty Birds, by Scott Simon, depicts a teenage girl in Sarajevo, once a basketball player on her high school team, becomes a sniper.

The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway, is a novel following the stories of four people living in Sarajevo during the war.

Life's Too Short to Forgive, written in 2005 by Len Biser, follows the efforts of three people—a courageous Bosnian woman soldier, a former UNPROFOR Lieutenant, and a private citizen—who unite to assassinate Karadzic to stop Serb atrocities.

Fools Rush In, written by Bill Carter, tells a story of a man who helped bring U2 to a landmark Sarajevo concert.

Evil Doesn't Live Here, by Daoud Sarhandi and Alina Boboc, presents a large number of posters portraying the war, from all sides in the conflict and many regions throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Avenger by Frederick Forsyth.

Balkan, In Memoriam, by Sandra Balsells, a testimonial stirred about the evolution of the old Yugoslavia since the disintegration of the country in 1991 until the fall of Milosevic in 2000.

"Hotel Sarajevo" by Jack Kersh

Top je bio vreo by Vladimir Kecmanović, a story of a Bosnian Serb boy in the part of Sarajevo held by Bosnian Muslim forces during the Siege of Sarajevo.

I Bog je zaplakao nad Bosnom (And God cried over Bosnia), written by Momir Krsmanović, is a depiction of war that mainly focuses on the crimes committed by Muslim people.

The war in Eastern Bosnia is a subject of Joe Sacco's graphic novel Safe Area Goražde.

Dampyr is an Italian comic book, created by Mauro Boselli and Maurizio Colombo and published in Italy by Sergio Bonelli Editore about Harlan Draka, half human, half vampire, who wages war on the multifaceted forces of Evil. The first two episodes are located in Bosnia and Herzegovina (#1 Il figlio del Diavolo) i.e. Sarajevo (#2 La stirpe della note) during the Bosnian war.

"Blasted", by playwright Sarah Kane, is in part about the Bosnian War.

Goodbye Sarajevo - A True Story of Courage, Love and Survival by Atka Reid and Hana Schofield and published in 2011, is the story of two sisters from Sarajevo and their separate experiences of the war.


The 2006 Annie Leibovitz collection, A Photographer's Life, includes photographs of Sarajevo during this period. "Return with Honor" by: Captain Scott O'Grady.

1994, Bosnia, War in Europe - Images by Wolfgang Bellwinkel and Peter Maria Schäfer, expose


U2's Miss Sarajevo is among the best known pieces of music about the war in Bosnia. The song features Bono and Luciano Pavarotti, and is a song that Bono cites as his favourite.[129] Other songs include "Bosnia" by The Cranberries.

Savatage recorded a concept album entitled Dead Winter Dead, which was set in the Balkan War. One of the songs from this album, "Christmas Eve in Sarajevo", also appears on the first album by the Trans Siberian Orchestra.[130]

In State Radio's album titled Let It Go, the song Bohemian Grove references the war, saying in the first verse, "Could've stopped Sarajevo, we must confess, but we were planning our next invasion."

Other media

Niko Bellic, the protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV, fought in the Bosnian war before his immigration to the United States.

See also


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