Bosnian War

Bosnian War
Part of the Yugoslav Wars

The executive council building burns after being hit by artillery fire in Sarajevo May 1992; Ratko Mladić with Army of Republika Srpska officers; a Norwegian UN soldier in Sarajevo.
Date6 April 1992 – 14 December 1995
(3 years, 8 months, 1 week and 6 days)
LocationBosnia and Herzegovina

Military stalemate



Bosnia and Herzegovina Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia


Republika Srpska
Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia SFR Yugoslavia
Republic of Serbian Krajina


Bosnia and Herzegovina Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovinaa


 Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia


Republika Srpska
Republic of Serbian Krajina
AP Western Bosnia (from 1993)
Supported by:
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia FR Yugoslavia


Bosnia and Herzegovina Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina
(bombing operations, 1995)


Republika Srpska
Republic of Serbian Krajina
AP Western Bosnia
Supported by:
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia FR Yugoslavia
Commanders and leaders

Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija Izetbegović
(President of Bosnia and Herzegovina) Bosnia and Herzegovina Haris Silajdžić
(Prime Minister 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

Pakistan General Javed Nasir
(director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence)

Croatia Franjo Tuđman
(President of Croatia) Croatia Gojko Šušak
(Minister of Defence 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

Federal Republic of YugoslaviaSerbia Slobodan Milošević
(President of Serbia) Republika Srpska Radovan Karadžić
(President of Republika Srpska) Republika Srpska Ratko Mladić
(VRS Chief of Staff) Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Momčilo Perišić
(VJ Chief of Staff) Federal Republic of YugoslaviaSerbia Vojislav Šešelj
(paramilitary leader)

Fikret Abdić (Acting President of AP Western Bosnia)

and others
110,000 troops
100,000 reserves
40 tanks
30 APCs[3]
45,000–50,000 troops[4]
75 tanks
50 APCs
200 artillery pieces[5]
15,000 troops[6]
80,000 troops
300 tanks
700 APCs
800 artillery pieces[7]
AP Western Bosnia:
4,000–5,000 troops[8]
Casualties and losses
30,521 soldiers killed
31,583 civilians killed[1][2]
6,000 soldiers killed
2,484 civilians killed[1][2]
21,173 soldiers killed
4,179 civilians killed[1][2]
additional 5,100 killed in unknown circumstances[9]

a From 1992 to 1994, the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was not supported by the majority of Bosnian Croats and Serbs (who each had their own hostile entities). Consequently, it represented mainly the Bosniak 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 represented, both ethnic Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats. This was primarily because of the Washington Agreement.

The Bosnian War was an international armed conflict that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995. Following a number of violent incidents in early 1992, the war is commonly viewed as having started on 6 April 1992. The war ended on 14 December 1995. 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.[10][11][12]

The war was part of the breakup of Yugoslavia. Following the Slovenian and Croatian secessions from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, the multi-ethnic Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina – which was inhabited by mainly Muslim Bosniaks (44 percent), as well as Orthodox Serbs (32.5 percent) and Catholic Croats (17 percent) – passed a referendum for independence on 29 February 1992.

This was rejected by the political representatives of the Bosnian Serbs, who had boycotted the referendum. Following Bosnia and Herzegovina's declaration of independence (which gained international recognition), the Bosnian Serbs, led by Radovan Karadžić and supported by the Serbian government of Slobodan Milošević and the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), mobilised their forces inside the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to secure Serb territory, then war soon spread across the country, accompanied by the ethnic cleansing of the Bosniak and Croat population, especially in eastern Bosnia and throughout the Republika Srpska.[13]

The conflict was initially between the Yugoslav Army units in Bosnia which later changed the name into the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) on the one side, and the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH) which was largely 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.[14] The Serb and Croat political leadership had agreed on a partition of Bosnia with the Karađorđevo and Graz agreements, resulting in the Croat forces turning against the ARBiH and the Croat–Bosniak war.[15] The Bosnian War was characterised by bitter fighting, indiscriminate shelling of cities and towns, ethnic cleansing and systematic mass rape, mainly perpetrated by Serb, and to a lesser extent, Croat[16] and Bosniak[17] forces. Events such as the Siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre later became iconic of the conflict.

The Serbs, although initially militarily superior due to the weapons and resources provided by the JNA, eventually lost momentum as the Bosniaks and Croats allied themselves against the Republika Srpska in 1994 with the creation of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina following the Washington agreement. Pakistan defied the UN's ban on supply of arms to Bosnian Muslims and General Javed Nasir later claimed that Pakistan's intelligence agency, ISI, had airlifted anti-tank weapons and missiles to Bosnia which ultimately turned the tide in favour of Bosnian Muslims and forced the Serbs to lift the siege.[18][19][20] After the Srebrenica and Markale massacres, NATO intervened in 1995 with Operation Deliberate Force targeting the positions of the Army of the Republika Srpska, which proved key in ending the war.[21][22] 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 finalised on 21 November 1995.[23] According to a report compiled by the UN, and chaired by M. Cherif Bassiouni, while all sides committed war crimes during the conflict, Serbian forces were responsible for ninety percent of them, whereas Croatian forces were responsible for six percent, and Bosniak forces four percent.[24] The report echoed conclusions published by a Central Intelligence Agency estimate in 1995.[25][26]

By 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.[27] The most recent estimates suggest that around 100,000 people were killed during the war.[28][29] Over 2.2 million people were displaced,[30] making it the most devastating conflict in Europe since the end of World War II.[31][32] In addition, an estimated 12,000–20,000 women were raped, most of them Bosniak.[33][34]


There is debate over the start date of the Bosnian War. Klejda Mulaj notes that clashes between Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats started in late February 1992, and that "full-scale hostilities had broken out by 6 April",[6] the same day that the United States[35] and European Economic Community (EEC)[36] recognised Bosnia and Herzegovina.[37][38] Mulaj reports that Misha Glenny gives a date of 22 March, Tom Gallagher gives 2 April, while Mary Kaldor and Laura Silber and Allan Little give 6 April.[39] Philip Hammond noted that "Bosnian Serbs argue that it started on 1 March 1992, with the shooting of a guest at a Serbian wedding", but that "others maintain that it began with the recognition by the EEC of Bosnia-Herzegovina as an independent state, on 6 April", claiming that the most common view is that the war started on 6 April 1992.[37]

Serbs consider Nikola Gardović, a groom's father killed at a wedding procession on the second day of the Bosnian independence referendum, 1 March 1992, in Baščaršija, to have been the first victim of the war.[40] The Sijekovac killings of Serbs took place on 26 March and the Bijeljina massacre (of mostly Bosniaks) on 1–2 April. Some Bosniaks consider the first casualties of the war to be Suada Dilberović and Olga Sučić, both shot during a peace march on 5 April at a hotel under the control of the Serbian Democratic Party.[41][42][43]

The war was brought to an end by the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, negotiated at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio between 1 and 21 November 1995 and signed in Paris on 14 December 1995.[44]


Breakup of Yugoslavia

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina came about as a result of the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. A crisis emerged in Yugoslavia as a result of the weakening of the confederational system at the end of the Cold War. In Yugoslavia, the national communist party, the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, was losing its ideological potency. Meanwhile, ethnic nationalism experienced a renaissance in the 1980s, after violence broke out in Kosovo.[45] While the goal of Serbian nationalists was the centralisation of Yugoslavia, other nationalities in Yugoslavia aspired to the federalisation and the decentralisation of the state.[46]

Bosnia and Herzegovina, a former Ottoman province, has historically been a multi-ethnic state. According to the 1991 census, 44% of the population considered themselves Muslim (Bosniak), 32.5% Serb and 17% Croat, with 6% describing themselves as Yugoslav.[47]

In March 1989, the crisis in Yugoslavia deepened after the adoption of amendments to the Serbian Constitution which allowed the government of Serbia to dominate the provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina.[48] Until then, Kosovo and Vojvodina's decision-making had been independent and both autonomous provinces also had a vote at the Yugoslav federal level. Serbia, under newly elected 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 the decisions of the federal government. This situation led to objections from the other republics and calls for the 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 facing the Yugoslav federation. As a result, the Slovene and Croatian delegates left the Congress. The Slovene delegation, headed by Milan Kučan demanded democratic changes and a looser federation, while the Serbian delegation, headed by Milošević, opposed it.

In the first multi-party election, in November 1990, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, votes were cast largely according to ethnicity, leading to the success of the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action, the Serbian Democratic Party and the Croatian Democratic Union.[49]

Parties divided power along ethnic lines so that the President of the Presidency of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was a Bosniak, the president of the Parliament was a Serb and the prime minister a Croat. Separatist nationalist parties attained power in other republics, including Croatia and Slovenia.[50]

Beginning of the Yugoslav Wars

In March 1991, discussions between Franjo Tuđman and Slobodan Milošević, which became known as the Karađorđevo agreement, reportedly included "...the partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina between Serbia and Croatia."[51] On 25 June 1991, both Slovenia and Croatia declared independence, which led to a short armed conflict in Slovenia called the Ten-Day War, and an all-out war in Croatia in the Croatian War of Independence in areas with a substantial ethnic Serb population. In the second half of 1991, the war was intensifying in Croatia. The Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) also attacked Croatia from Bosnia-Herzegovina.[52]

SAO Bosanska Krajina, SAO Herzegovina, SAO North-Eastern Bosnia, and SAO Romanija were self-declared Serbian Autonomous Oblasts formed in mid-1991 on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In September 1991, the European Economic Community hosted a conference in an attempt to prevent Bosnia and Herzegovina sliding into war. It resulted in the Lisbon Agreement, also known as the Carrington-Cutileiro plan, named for its creators Lord Carrington and Portuguese Ambassador José Cutileiro. They proposed ethnic power-sharing on all administrative levels and the devolution of central government to local ethnic communities. The plan envisaged that all Bosnia and Herzegovina's districts would be classified as Bosniak, Serb or Croat, even where no ethnicity had a majority.

On 25 September 1991, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 713, imposing an arms embargo on all of the former Yugoslav territories. The embargo hurt the Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina the most because the Republic of Serbia inherited the lion's share of the Yugoslav People Army's arsenal and the Croatian Army could smuggle weapons through its coast. Over 55% of the armories and barracks of the former Yugoslavia were located in Bosnia, owing to its mountainous terrain in anticipation of a guerrilla war had Yugoslavia been invaded, but many of those factories (such as the UNIS PRETIS factory in Vogošća) were under Serb control, and others were inoperable due to a lack of electricity and raw materials.

On 19 September 1991, the JNA moved extra troops to the area around the city of Mostar, which was publicly protested by the local government. On 20 September 1991, the JNA transferred troops to the front at Vukovar via the Višegrad region of northeastern Bosnia. In response, local Croats and Bosniaks set up barricades and machine-gun posts. They halted a column of 60 JNA tanks but were dispersed by force the following day. More than 1,000 people had to flee the area. This action, nearly seven months before the start of the Bosnian War, caused the first casualties of the Yugoslav Wars in Bosnia.[53]

Five days later, the JNA attacked the Croat village of Ravno in eastern Herzegovina on their way to attack Dubrovnik, and in the first days of October it leveled it, killing eight Croat civilians. The objectives of the nationalists in Croatia were shared by Croat nationalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina.[54] The ruling party in the Republic of Croatia, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), organised 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, as well as local leaders such as Anto Valenta,[54] 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 6 October 1991, Bosnian president Alija Izetbegović gave a televised proclamation of neutrality that included the statement:

Remember, this is not our war. Let those who want it to have it. We do not want that war.[55]

Massacres continued, and over the next few days the JNA leveled another 21 Croat villages in eastern Herzegovina.[52] On 13 October 1991, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić speaking about the future of Bosnian Muslims if war with them were to break out, said: "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".[56]

In the meantime, president Alija Izetbegović made the following statement before the Bosnian parliament on October 14 with regard to the JNA:

Do not do anything against the Army. (…) the presence of the Army is a stabilizing factor to us, and we need that Army (…). Until now we did not have problems with the Army, and we will not have problems later.[57]

Final political crisis

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.[58][59] 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. The Memorandum was debated anyway, leading to a boycott of the parliament by the Bosnian Serbs, and during the boycott the legislation was passed.[60] The Serb members of parliament, consisting mainly of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) 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, marking the end of the tri-ethnic coalition that had governed after the elections in 1990.[61]

On 18 November 1991, the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina established the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia, and its founding document said: "The Community shall respect the democratically elected government of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina as long as Bosnia-Herzegovina remains an independent state in relation to former or any future Yugoslavia."[62] Herzeg-Bosnia was not the only Croat community on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Croatian Community of Bosanska Posavina was established to "unify all political activities in the defence of Bosnia and Herzegovina and to strengthen the Croatian population in it".[63]

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 and included plans for the creation of Crisis Staffs.[64] Milomir Stakić, later convicted by ICTY of mass crimes against humanity against Bosniak and Croat civilians, was elected President of this Assembly.[65]

On 9 January 1992, the Assembly of the Serb People of Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted a declaration proclaiming the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina ("SR BiH", later Republika Srpska).[66] The Arbitration Commission of the Peace Conference on Yugoslavia in its 11 January 1992 Opinion No. 4 on Bosnia and Herzegovina stated that the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina should not be recognised because the country had not yet held a referendum on independence.[67]

On 17 January 1992, the Prijedor Serb 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 Serb territories.[65]

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.[58] The Croatian War of Independence would result in United Nations Security Council Resolution 743 on 21 February 1992, which created the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in accordance with the Secretary-General's report S/23592 of 15 February 1992. 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.[64]

The Bosnian Serb assembly members advised Serbs to boycott the referendums held on 29 February and 1 March 1992. The turnout to the referendums was reported as 63.7%, with 92.7% of voters voting in favour of independence (implying that Bosnian Serbs, which made up approximately 34% of the population, largely boycotted the referendum).[68] The Serb political leadership used the referenda as a pretext to set up roadblocks in protest. Independence was formally declared by the Bosnian parliament on 3 March 1992.[69][70]

Unrest in SR Bosnia and Herzegovina

On 1 March, amidst the political crisis, Ramiz Delalić, a member of the Bosniak paramilitary group "Green berets" and a former gangster, opened fire from his Volkswagen while passing by a Serbian wedding ceremony in downtown Sarajevo. The groom's father, Nikola Gardović, was fatally wounded. Radenko Miković, a Serbian Orthodox priest was wounded, but survived the attack.[71][72] The attack caused a public outcry in the Serbian community.

On 18 March 1992, all three sides signed the Lisbon 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 the 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.[73]

In late March 1992, there was fighting between Serbs and combined Croat and Bosniak forces in and near Bosanski Brod,[74] resulting in the killing of Serb villagers in Sijekovac.[75] Serb paramilitaries committed the Bijeljina massacre, most of the victims of which were Bosniaks, on 1–2 April 1992.[76]

Warring factions

Bosnia and Herzegovina received international recognition on 6 April 1992.[69][70]

The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was admitted as a member State of the United Nations on 22 May 1992.[77] On 12 August 1992, the name of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was changed to Republika Srpska (RS).[64][66]

The Bosnian government lobbied to have the arms embargo lifted, but that was opposed by the United Kingdom, France and Russia. U.S. 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 Bosnian-Muslim forces, as well as allowed Iranian-supplied arms to transit through Croatia to Bosnia.[78][79][80] However, in light of widespread NATO opposition to American (and possibly Turkish) endeavors in coordinating the "black flights of Tuzla", the United Kingdom and Norway expressed disapproval of these measures and their counterproductive effects on NATO enforcement of the arms embargo.[81] Inter Services Intelligence also played an active role during 1992–1995 and secretly supplied the Muslim fighters with arms, ammunition and guided anti tank missiles to give them a fighting chance against the aggression.

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 Tuđman towards Bosnia and Herzegovina were never totally transparent and always included Tuđman's ultimate aim of expanding Croatia's borders.[82] The Bosnian government forces were poorly equipped and unprepared for war.[83]

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 newly created Bosnian Serb republic. The Croats organised a defensive military formation of their own called the Croatian Defense Council (Hrvatsko Vijeće Obrane, HVO) as the armed forces of Herzeg-Bosnia. The Bosniaks mainly organised 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, 25% of the ARBiH was composed of non-Bosniaks, especially in the 1st Corps in Sarajevo. Sefer Halilović, Chief of Staff of the Bosnian Territorial Defense, claimed in June 1992 that his forces were 70% Muslim, 18% Croat and 12% Serb.[84]

The percentage of Serb and Croat soldiers in the Bosnian Army was particularly high in Sarajevo, Mostar and Tuzla.[85] 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 a multi-ethnic pro-Bosnian defense front.[86] This diversity was to reduce over the course of the war.[84][87]

Heavily damaged apartment buildings near Vrbanja bridge in the Grbavica district on the left bank of the Miljacka river.

Various paramilitary units were operated during 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.

Forces of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina were divided into 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 support from Christian Slavic fighters from various countries in Eastern Europe.[88][89] Greek volunteers of the Greek Volunteer Guard were reported to have taken part in the Srebrenica Massacre, with the Greek flag being hoisted in Srebrenica when the town fell to the Serbs.[90]

Some individuals from other European countries, volunteered to fight for the Croat side, including Neo-Nazis, such as Jackie Arklöv, who was charged with war crimes upon his return to Sweden. Later he confessed he committed war crimes on Bosnian Muslim civilians in the Heliodrom and Dretelj camps as a member of Croatian forces.[91]

The Bosnians received support from Muslim groups. Pakistan supported Bosnia while providing technical and military support. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) allegedly ran an active military intelligence program during the Bosnian War which started in 1992 lasting until 1995. Executed and supervised by Pakistani General Javed Nasir, the program provided logistics and ammunition supplies to various groups of Bosnian mujahideen during the war. The ISI Bosnian contingent was organized with financial assistance provided by Saudi Arabia, according to the British historian Mark Curtis.[92] According to some US NGO reports, there were also several hundred Iranian Revolutionary Guards assisting the Bosnian government during the war.[93] Other foreign Muslim fighters also joined the ranks of the Bosnian Muslims, including from the Lebanese guerrilla organization Hezbollah.[94] These were reserved for duties requiring close combat engagements, simply because their skill and experience was too valuable to be wasted in other less complicated duties.

In his book The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President from 2009, historian and author Taylor Branch, a friend of U.S. President Bill Clinton, made public more than 70 recorded sessions with the president during his presidency from 1993 through 2001.[95][96] According to a session taped on 14 October 1993, it is stated that:

Clinton said U.S. allies in Europe blocked proposals to adjust or remove the embargo. They justified their opposition on plausible humanitarian grounds, arguing that more arms would only fuel the bloodshed, but privately, said the president, key allies objected that an independent Bosnia would be "unnatural" as the only Muslim nation in Europe. He said they favored the embargo precisely because it locked in Bosnia's disadvantage. [..] When I expressed shock at such cynicism, reminiscent of the blind-eye diplomacy regarding the plight of Europe's Jews during World War II, President Clinton only shrugged. He said President François Mitterrand of France had been especially blunt in saying that Bosnia did not belong, and that British officials also spoke of a painful but realistic restoration of Christian Europe. Against Britain and France, he said, German chancellor Helmut Kohl among others had supported moves to reconsider the United Nations arms embargo, failing in part because Germany did not hold a seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Taylor Branch, The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President[97]

Course of the war


At the outset of the Bosnian war, Serb forces attacked the Bosnian Muslim civilian population in eastern Bosnia.[98][99] 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 camps. Women and children were kept in various detention centres 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 or girls, take them out and rape them.[98][99] Serbs had the upper hand due to heavier weaponry (though lower manpower) that was given to them by the Yugoslav People's Army and established control over most areas where Serbs were the majority but also in areas where they were a significant minority in both rural and urban regions except the larger towns of Sarajevo and Mostar.

A victim of a mortar attack delivered to a Sarajevo hospital in 1992.

The Siege of Sarajevo started in early April 1992. Most of the capital Sarajevo was held by the Bosniaks. 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.[100] 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 four years.[101]

A funeral during the Siege of Sarajevo in 1992

In April attacks by the SDS leaders, together with field officers of the Second Military Command of 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.[102]

In May 1992, units of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) stationed in Sarajevo found themselves repeatedly under attack. On 2 May, Bosniak forces consisting of "Green Berets" and "Patriotic League", opened fire on a column of eight JNA MEDEVAC vehicles in Vojvode Stepe street.[103] This attack caused the JNA to retreat to Serb-held positions in Lukavica district. On 3 May, 1992 Yugoslav People's Army column incident in Sarajevo happened. "Green Berets" and "Patriotic League" attacked a JNA convoy moving out of Lukavica through Dobrovoljačka street, thereby killing 42 soldiers and officers, wounding dozens and capturing over 200 soldiers, most of them ethnic Serbs.[104]

During April–May 1992 fierce attacks raged in eastern Bosnia as well as the northwestern part of the country.

On 4 May 1992, Goražde was besieged by the VRS.[105] VRS began a campaign of indiscriminate shelling, often hitting civilian buildings and inflicting mass casualties. In return, the local units of the Bosnian Ministry of the Interior (MUP) began a campaign of retribution against the Bosnian Serb civilians who were still living in the city. Dozens of local Serbs were arrested and executed in the local school; a hundred more, including women and children, were forcibly held as human shield to protect the police station from shelling.[106][107] In August 1992, 1st and 31st Drina Strike Brigades of the ARBiH successfully accomplished the Operation Circle, thereby pushing the VRS forces out of the eastern suburbs.[108]

On 11 May 1992, soldiers of the ARBiH attacked JNA barracks in Bosanska Krupa and transported the captured JNA reservists into a newly formed concentration camp "Silos" in Tarčin. Additional 11 JNA reservists were brought in from the barracks in Zovik and Hadžići. The camp was later used to imprison Serbian civilians, mostly elderly people from the neighbouring communities.[109] Until 27 January 1996, when the camp was finally closed down, reported 23 prisoners were killed within the walls of the camp.[110] In 2011, eight former ARBiH soldiers were arrested for the crimes at "Silos" and the trial began in July 2013.[111]

On 15 May 1992, Yugoslav People's Army column was ambushed in Tuzla. 92nd Motorized JNA Brigade (stationed in "Husinska buna" barracks in Tuzla) received orders to leave the city of Tuzla and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and to enter Serbia. An agreement was made with the Bosnian government that JNA units will be allowed until 19 May to leave Bosnia peacefully. Despite the agreement, the convoy was attacked in Tuzla's Brčanska Malta district with rifles and rocket launchers; mines were also placed along its route. 52 JNA soldiers were killed and over 40 were wounded, most of them ethnic Serbs.[112][113]

Model of the Čelebići camp, near Konjic, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Presented as evidence in the Mucić et al. trial. (Photograph provided courtesy of the ICTY)

From May to December 1992, the Bosnian Ministry of the Interior (MUP), Croatian Defence Council (HVO) and later the Bosnian Territorial Defence Forces (TO) operated the Čelebići prison camp. It was used to detain 700 Bosnian Serb prisoners of war arrested during military operations that were intended to de-block routes to Sarajevo and Mostar in May 1992 that had earlier been blocked by Serb forces. Of these 700 prisoners, 13 died while in captivity.[114] Detainees at the camp were subjected to torture, sexual assaults, beatings and otherwise cruel and inhuman treatment. Certain prisoners were shot and killed or beaten to death.[115][116]

By June 1992, the number of refugees and internally displaced persons had reached 2.6 million.[117]

The Graz agreement was signed between the Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat leaders in early May 1992. The Croat-Bosniak War began in June 1992. By September 1992, Croatia had accepted 335,985 refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina, mostly Bosniak civilians (excluding men of drafting age).[118] The large number of refugees significantly strained the Croatian economy and infrastructure.[119]

Then-U.S. Ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, tried to put the number of Muslim refugees in Croatia into a proper perspective in an interview on 8 November 1993. He said the situation would be the equivalent of the United States taking in 30,000,000 refugees.[120] The number of Bosnian refugees in Croatia was at the time surpassed only by the number of the internally displaced persons within Bosnia and Herzegovina itself, at 588,000.[118] Serbia took in 252,130 refugees from Bosnia, while other former Yugoslav republics received a total of 148,657 people.[118]

In June 1992, the Bosnian Serbs started Operation Vrbas '92 and Operation Koridor. The reported deaths of twelve newborn babies in Banja Luka hospital due to a shortage of bottled oxygen for incubators was cited as an immediate cause for the action,[121] but the veracity of these deaths has since been questioned. Borisav Jović, a contemporary high-ranking Serbian official and member of the Yugoslav Presidency, has claimed that the report was just wartime propaganda, stating that Banja Luka had two bottled oxygen production plants in its immediate vicinity and was virtually self-reliant in that respect.[122] Operation Koridor began on 14 June 1992, when 16th Krajina Motorized Brigade of the VRS, aided by a VRS tank company from Doboj, began the offensive near Derventa. The operation was a complete success for the VRS. The Croatian army (ZNG) lost, according to Croatian sources, around 12.000 men and it was pushed out from the cities of Brčko, Brod and Derventa back into Croatia.[123] The Croatian Defence Council (HVO) was pushed out of Odžak but still controlled Orašje. ARBiH suffered heavy losses.

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.[99]

Prijedor region

Main article: Prijedor massacre
Detainees at the Trnopolje camp, near Prijedor. (Photograph provided courtesy of the ICTY)

On 23 April 1992, the SDS decided inter alia that all Serb units would immediately prepare to take over the Prijedor municipality in co-ordination with the 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.[65]

A declaration on the takeover prepared by the Serb politicians from the SDS was read out on Radio Prijedor the day after the takeover and was repeated throughout the day. During the night of 29–30 April 1992, the takeover took place. Employees of the public security stations 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.[65]

Serb authorities set up concentration camps and determined who should be responsible for the running of those camps. The Keraterm factory was set up as a camp on or around 23–24 May 1992.[65] The Omarska mine 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 Serb authorities' documents from Prijedor, 3,334 persons were held in the camp from 27 May to 16 August 1992. 3,197 of them were Bosniaks (i.e. Bosnian Muslims), and 125 were Croats. 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 them were Bosnian Muslims; some were Croats.[65]

The ICTY concluded that the Serb takeover 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.[65]

JNA troops under control of Serbia took over at least 60 percent of Prijedor try before the official withdrawal on 19 May of all non-Bosnian soldiers.[124] Much of this was due to their being much better armed and organised than the Bosniak and Bosnian Croat forces. They attacked areas of mixed ethnic composition. Doboj, Foča, Rogatica, Vlasenica, Bratunac, Zvornik, Prijedor, Sanski Most, Ključ, Brčko, Derventa, Modriča, Bosanska Krupa, Bosanski Brod, Bosanski Novi, Glamoč, Bosanski Petrovac, Čajniče, Bijeljina, Višegrad, Donji Vakuf, and parts of Sarajevo are areas where Serbs established control and expelled Bosniaks and Croats. More ethnically homogeneous areas were spared major fighting such as Banja Luka, Bosanska Dubica, Bosanska Gradiška, Bileća, Gacko, Han Pijesak, Kalinovik, Nevesinje, Trebinje, and Rudo and their non-Serb populations expelled. The regions of central Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo, Zenica, Maglaj, Zavidovići, Bugojno, Mostar, Konjic, etc.) saw the flight of ethnic Serbs, migrating to 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. To accomplish this, HVO forces would have to both quell dissent from the moderate Croatian Defence Forces (HOS) armed group and defeat the Bosnian Army, as the territory the HVO wanted was under the control of the Bosnian government. The HVO, with great support from the Croatian military, 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, 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.[125]

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 heavy industrial complex that was able to switch to military hardware production. In August 1992, HOS leader Blaž Kraljević was killed by HVO soldiers, severely weakening the moderate group which had hoped to keep the alliance between Bosniaks and Croats alive.[126]

In October 1992, Croat forces attacked Bosniaks in Prozor, killing civilians and burning homes. According to the ICTY indictment of Jadranko Prlić, HVO forces cleansed most Muslims from the town of Prozor and several surrounding villages.[63]


On 7 January 1993, 8th Operational Unit Srebrenica, a unit of the ARBiH under the command of Naser Orić, massacred between 46 and 49 Serbian civilians in the village of Kravica near Bratunac.[127][128] In 2006, Orić was found guilty by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on the charges of not preventing the massacre and subsequently sentenced to two years in prison.[129]

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.[130]

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 in the first half of 1993 made little impact. Much of 1993 was dominated by the Croat-Bosniak War. In January 1993, Croat forces attacked Gornji Vakuf, to separate Herzegovina from Bosnia.[63]

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% of Serbs voted to reject the Vance-Owen peace plan. After the failure of this plan, which would have resulted in the division of the country into three ethnic entities, an armed conflict sprang up between Bosniaks and Croats over the 30 percent of Bosnia the latter 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 (who were in favour of separation).[131]

On 25 May 1993 the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) 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.[131]

Kravica attack

Main article: Kravica attack (1993)

The Kravica attack was an attack on the Bosnian Serb village of Kravica by the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH) on Orthodox Christmas Day, 7 January 1993. The attack was organized to coincide with the Serbian Orthodox Christmas, leaving the Serbs unprepared for any attack. There was one survivor, who happened to be in his water main hole. All the homes were systematically torched, while the Muslim armed group posed for pictures showing their work. Another hugely important fact is that Bosnian Muslim armed groups used the Srebrenica safe zone to carry out attacks on Serb villages including Kravica, massacre civilians and torch homes, and then flee back into the Srebrenica Pink Zone before the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) could catch them. Srebrenica, a UN safe zone, should not have had under any circumstances armed men/military present in it because it was a Pink Zone. In total, more than 3,000 Serbs were massacred and hundreds of villages raised to the ground in this region between 1992 and 1995. This was the main reason why VRS decided to assault Srebrenica in July 1995 and capture those responsible. Many of the VRS soldiers that liberated Srebrenica in 1995 had their family members massacred by armed groups that staged attacks out of Srebrenica.[127]

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 centre of the town of Gornji Vakuf to rubble.[125]

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 (the latter 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.[125] 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.[125]

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.[125][132] The HVO demands were not accepted by the ARBiH and the attack continued, followed by massacres of Bosnian Muslim civilians in neighbouring villages such as Bistrica, Uzričje, Duša, Ždrimci and Hrasnica.[133][134]

During the Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing, the area was surrounded by the Croatian Army and the 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 Bosnian mujahideen, and who, according to Richard Holbrooke, were actually Al-Qaeda)[135]| and that his soldiers did not see any. The shelling campaign and the attacks during the war resulted in hundreds of injured and killed, mainly Bosnian Muslim civilians.[125]

Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing

Bodies of people killed by the Croats in April 1993 around Vitez. (Photograph provided courtesy of the ICTY)

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.[54] The Lašva Valley's Bosniaks were subjected to persecution on political, and religious grounds,[136] deliberately discriminated against in the context of a widespread attack on the region's civilian population[137] 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, shot to death in his crib, and the oldest was an 81-year-old woman. It was the worst massacre committed during the conflict between Croats and the Bosniak-dominated government.

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.[125] Based upon the evidence of numerous HVO attacks at that time, the ICTY Trial Chamber concluded in the Kordić and Čerkez case that by April 1993 the 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.[125] 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.[138]

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.

According to the ICTY judgement in Naletilić-Martinović, HVO forces attacked the villages of Sovici and Doljani, about 50 kilometers north of Mostar in the morning on 17 April 1993.[83] 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.[83]

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.[63] 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.[83]

The HVO took over the west side of the city and expelled thousands of Bosniaks to the east side.[63] The HVO shelling reduced much of the east side of Mostar to rubble. In 1992, JNA demolished Carinski Bridge, Titov Bridge and Lucki Bridge over the river, and, in 1993, HVO demolished the Stari Most.[139] 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.[63]

The ARBiH launched an operation known as Operation Neretva '93 against the HVO and the Croatian Army in September 1993 to end the siege of Mostar, and recapture areas of Herzegovina included in the self-proclaimed Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia.[140] 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 went 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.[63] 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.[125] 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 acquitted.

UN Safe Areas

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 authorised the use of force by UNPROFOR in the protection of the safe zones.[141] 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.[141]

The Croatian Defence Council (HVO) and Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH) did continue to fight 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 in central Bosnia 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.


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

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

Radovan Karadžić, former president of Republika Srpska, to the Assembly of the Republika Srpska, May 10–11, 1994.[142]

The forced deportations of Bosniaks from Serb-held territories and the resulting refugee crisis continued to escalate. Thousands of people were being bused out of Bosnia each month, threatened on religious grounds. In turn, in mid-1994, Croatia was strained by 500,000 refugees, and the Croatian authorities forbade entry to a group of 462 refugees fleeing northern Bosnia, and forcing UNPROFOR to improvise shelter for them.[143]

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 centre 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.[144]

On 9 February 1994, NATO authorised the Commander of Allied Forces Southern Europe (CINCSOUTH), US 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.[141][145] Only Greece failed to support the use of air strikes, but did not veto the proposal.[144]

NATO 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.[144] On 12 February, Sarajevo enjoyed its first casualty free day since April 1992;[144] the war is widely considered to have begun on 6 April 1992.[146] The large-scale removal of Bosnian-Serb heavy weapons began on 17 February 1994.[144]

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.[147]

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.[148]

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, owing to a number of delays associated with the approval process.[149]

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. A second convoy on 23 March was hijacked and looted.[147]

On 10–11 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.[141][147][149] This was the first time in NATO's history it had ever done so.[147] This resulted in the taking of 150 U.N. personnel hostage on 14 April.[141][149] On 16 April a British Sea Harrier was shot down over Goražde by Serb forces. On 15 April the Bosnian government lines around Goražde broke.[147]

Around 29 April 1994, 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. 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 it was repudiated by President Clinton.[150][151] 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.[152]

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. On 22 September 1994 NATO aircraft carried out an air strike against a Bosnian Serb tank at the request of UNPROFOR.[141]

On 12–13 November, the US unilaterally lifted the arms embargo against the government of Bosnia.[152][153]

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.[154]

On 19 November 1994, the North Atlantic Council approved the extension of Close Air Support to Croatia for the protection of UN forces in that country.[141] 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. 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.[141]


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

The war continued until November 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, where some were raped and killed).[155] 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.[156][157][158][159]

The ICTY ruled this event as genocide in the Krstić case. In line with the Croat-Bosniak Split 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 2 and Operation Sana. VRS forces committed several major massacres during 1995: the Tuzla massacre on 25 May, the Srebrenica massacre and the second Markale massacre on 28 August. On 30 August, the Secretary General of NATO announced the start of in Operation Deliberate Force, widespread airstrikes against Bosnian Serb positions supported by UNPROFOR rapid reaction force artillery attacks.[160]

On 14 September 1995, the NATO air strikes were suspended to allow the implementation of an agreement with Bosnian Serbs for the withdrawal of heavy weapons from around Sarajevo. Twelve days later, on 26 September, an agreement of further basic principles for a peace accord was reached in New York City between the foreign ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and the FRY.[161] A 60-day ceasefire came into effect on 12 October, and on 1 November peace talks began in Dayton, Ohio.[161] 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.

Following the Dayton Agreement, a NATO led Implementation Force (IFOR) was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina. This 80,000 strong unit, heavily armed and mandated to fire at will when necessary for the successful implementation of the operation, was deployed in order to enforce the peace, as well as other tasks such as providing support for humanitarian and political aid, reconstruction, providing support for displaced civilians to return to their homes, collection of arms, and mine and unexploded ordnance (uxo) clearing of the affected areas.

Impact of the war


A grave digger at a cemetery in Sarajevo, 1992
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Percent Change of Ethnic Bosniaks from 1991 to 2013

Calculating the number of deaths resulting from the conflict has been subject to considerable, highly politicised debate sometimes "fused with narratives about victimhood", from the political elites of various groups.[162] Estimates of the total number of casualties have ranged from 25,000 to 329,000. The variations are partly the result of the use of inconsistent definitions of who can be considered victims of the war, as some research calculated only direct casualties of military activity while other research included those who died from hunger, cold, disease or other war conditions. Early overcounts were also the result of many victims being entered in both civilian and military lists because little systematic coordination of those lists took place in wartime conditions. The death toll was originally estimated in 1994 at around 200,000 by Cherif Bassiouni, head of the UN expert commission investigating war crimes.[163]

Prof. Steven L. Burg and Prof. Paul S. Shoup, writing in 1999, observed about early high figures:

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 memorandum 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).
Steven L. Burg and Paul S. Shoup, The War in Bosnia-Herzegovina[164]

RDC figures

Dead or disappeared figures according to RDC
(as reported in June 2012) [1]
Total dead or disappeared
(total includes unknown status below, percentages ignore 'unknowns')
Bosniaks 62,01361.4%
Other ethnicities5710.6%
(percentages are of civilian dead)
Other ethnicities4701.2%
(percentages are of military dead)
Other ethnicities1010.2%
Unknown status
(percentage is of all dead or disappeared)
Ethnicity unstated5,1005%

In June 2007, the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Center published extensive research on Bosnia-Herzegovina's war deaths, (also called The Bosnian Book of the Dead ), a database that initially revealed a minimum of 97,207 names of Bosnia and Herzegovina's citizens confirmed as killed or missing during the 1992–1995 war.[165][166] The head of the UN war crimes tribunal's Demographic Unit, Ewa Tabeau, has called it "the largest existing database on Bosnian war victims"[167] and it is considered the most authoritative account of human losses in the Bosnian war.[168] More than 240,000 pieces of data were collected, checked, compared and evaluated by an international team of experts in order to produce the 2007 list of 97,207 victims' names.

The RDC 2007 figures stated that these were confirmed figures and that several thousand cases were still being examined. All of the RDC figures are believed to be a slight undercount as their methodology is dependent on a family member having survived to report the missing relative, though the undercount is not thought to be statistically significant.[1] At least 30 percent of the 2007 confirmed Bosniak civilian victims were women and children.[165]

The RDC published periodic updates of its figures until June 2012, when it published its final report.[169] The 2012 figures recorded a total of 101,040 dead or disappeared, of whom 61.4 percent were Bosniaks, 24.7 percent were Serbs, 8.3 percent were Croats and less than 1 percent were of other ethnicities, with a further 5 percent whose ethnicity was unstated.[1]

Civilian deaths were established as 38,239, which represented 37.9 percent of total deaths. Bosniaks accounted for 81.3 percent of those civilian deaths, compared to Serbs 10.9 percent and Croats 6.5 percent.[1] The proportion of civilian victims is, moreover, an absolute minimum because the status of 5,100 victims was unestablished[1] and because relatives had registered their dead loved ones as military victims in order to obtain veteran's financial benefits or for 'honour' reasons.[170][171]

Both the RDC and the ICTY's demographic unit applied statistical techniques to identify possible duplication caused by a given victim being recorded in multiple primary lists, the original documents being then hand-checked to assess duplication.[171][172]

Some 30 categories of information existed within the database for each individual record, apart from basic personal information, these included place and date of death and (in the case of soldiers), the military unit to which the individual belonged.[171] This has allowed the database to present deaths by gender, military unit, year and region of death,[2] in addition to ethnicity and 'status in war' (civilian or soldier). The information category intended to describe which military formation caused the death of each victim, was the most incomplete and was deemed unusable.[171]

ICTY figures

ICTY death figures[173](issued by the Demographic Unit in 2010)
Total killed
Bosniaks c. 68,101
Serbs c. 22,779
Croats c. 8,858
Others c. 4,995
Civilians killed
Soldiers killed
(includes Police)

2010 research for the Office of the Prosecutors at the Hague Tribunal, headed by Ewa Tabeau, pointed to errors in earlier figures and calculated the minimum number of victims as 89,186, with a probable figure of around 104,732.[173][174] Tabeau noted the numbers should not be confused with "who killed who", because, for example, many Serbs were killed by the Serb army during the shelling of Sarajevo, Tuzla and other multi-ethnic cities.[175] The authors of this report said that the actual death toll may be slightly higher.[173][176]

These figures were not based solely on 'battle deaths', but included accidental deaths taking place in battle conditions and acts of mass violence. Specifically excluded were "non-violent mortality increases" and "criminal and unorganised violence increases”. Similarly 'military deaths' included both combat and non-combat deaths.[173]

Other statistics

There are no statistics dealing specifically with the casualties of the Croat-Bosniak conflict along ethnic lines. However, according to The RDC's data on human losses in the regions, in Central Bosnia 62 percent of the 10,448 documented deaths were Bosniaks, while Croats constituted 24 percent and Serbs 13 percent. The municipalities of Gornji Vakuf and Bugojno are geographically located in Central Bosnia (known as Gornje Povrbasje region), but the 1,337 region's documented deaths are included in Vrbas regional statistics. Approximately 70–80 percent of the casualties from Gornje Povrbasje were Bosniaks. In the region of Neretva river, of 6,717 casualties, 54 percent were Bosniaks, 24 percent Serbs and 21 percent Croats. The casualties in those regions were mainly, but not exclusively, the consequence of Croat-Bosniak conflict.

According to the UN, there were 167 fatalities amongst UNPROFOR personnel during the course of the force's mandate, from February 1992 to March 1995. Of those who died, three were military observers, 159 were other military personnel, one was a member of the civilian police, two were international civilian staff and two were local staff.[177]

In a statement in September 2008 to the United Nations General Assembly, Dr Haris Silajdžić, 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".[178] However, Silajdžić and others have been criticised for inflating the number of fatalities to attract international support.[179] An ICRC book published in 2010 cites the total number killed in all of the Balkan Wars in the 1990s as "about 140,000 people".[180]

Many of the 34,700 people who were reported missing during the Bosnian war remain unaccounted for. In 2012 Amnesty reported that the fate of an estimated 10,500 people, most of whom were Bosnian Muslims, remained unknown.[181][182] Bodies of victims are still being unearthed two decades later. In July 2014 the remains of 284 victims, unearthed from the Tomasica mass grave near the town of Prijedor, were laid to rest in a mass ceremony in the northwestern town of Kozarac, attended by relatives.[183]

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.[30]

War crimes

Ethnic cleansing

Ethnic distribution at the municipal level in Bosnia and Herzegovina before (1991) and after the war (1998)

Ethnic cleansing was a common phenomenon in the war. This entailed intimidation, forced expulsion, or killing of the unwanted ethnic group as well as the destruction of the places of worship, cemeteries and cultural and historical buildings of that ethnic group. Academics Matjaž Klemenčič and Mitja Žagar argue that: "Ideas of nationalistic ethnic politicians that Bosnia and Herzegovina be reorganised into homogenous national territories inevitably required the division of ethnically mixed territories into their Serb, Croat, and Muslim parts".[47]

According to numerous ICTY verdicts and indictments, Serb[184][185][186] and Croat[83][125][187] forces performed ethnic cleansing of their territories planned by their political leadership to create ethnically pure states (Republika Srpska and Herzeg-Bosnia). Serb forces carried out the atrocities known as the "Srebrenica genocide" at the end of the war.[188] The Central Intelligence Agency claimed, in a 1995 report, that Bosnian Serb forces were responsible for 90 percent of the ethnic cleansing committed during the conflict.[26]

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.[125]

Though comparatively rare, there were also cases of pro-Bosniak forces having 'forced other ethnic groups to flee' during the war.[17]


Exhumations in Srebrenica, 1996
The skull of a victim of the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre in an exhumed mass grave outside of Potočari, 2007

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 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 responsible, and bring them to justice. A telegram sent to the White House on 8 February 1994 and penned by U.S. 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.[189] In 2005, the United States Congress passed a resolution declaring that "the Serbian policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing meet the terms defining genocide".[190]

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.

The court concluded 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.[191] 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".[192]

Mass rape and psychological oppression

The ethno-religious warfare in Bosnia and Herzegovina led to a widespread implementation of rape as a systematic instrument of war. Estimates of the number of women and girls raped range from 20,000 to 50,000,[193] overwhelmingly Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim).[194][195][196] This has been referred to as "Mass rape"[197] [198][199][200][201] and occasionally "Genocidal rape",[202][203][204] particularly with regard to the coordinated use of rape as a weapon of war by Serb armed forces.[198][199][200][201][205][206] For the first time in judicial history, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) declared that "systematic rape", and "sexual enslavement" in time of war was a crime against humanity, second only to the war crime of genocide.[198]

Common complications among surviving women and girls include psychological, gynaecological and other physical disorders, as well as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The survivors often feel uncomfortable or sickened with men, sex and relationships; ultimately affecting the growth and development of a population or society as such (thus constituting a slow genocide according to some). In accordance with the norms of Muslim society, most of the unmarried girls were virgins at the time of rape. Mass rapes were the most systematic in Eastern Bosnia (e.g. during the Foča and Višegrad 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.[99][207]

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 #16, where girls and women, whom 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 Bosniak girls from various detention centres and kept some of them for various periods of time, for him or his soldiers to rape.[99]

The other example include Radomir Kovač, also convicted by the 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 Bosniak 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.[99]

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 on 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.[208]

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.[27] 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,[209] Momčilo Krajišnik,[210] Radoslav Brđanin,[185] and Duško Tadić[211] were indicted and judged guilty for war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

The former president of Republika Srpska Radovan Karadžić is currently under trial,[212] as is Ratko Mladić, on trial by the ICTY, charged with crimes in connection with the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre.[213] Paramilitary leader Vojislav Šešelj has been on trial since 2007 accused of being a part of a joint criminal enterprise to ethnically cleanse large areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina of non-Serbs.[214] The Serbian president 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,[215] but died in 2006 before the trial could finish.[216]

In May 2013, the ICTY found that Croatian leader Franjo Tuđman took part in the war crimes against the non-Croat population of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[217]

After the death of Alija Izetbegović, The Hague revealed that he was under investigation for war crimes; however the prosecutor did not find sufficient evidence in Izetbegović's lifetime to issue an indictment.[218] Other Bosniaks who were convicted of or are under trial for war crimes include Rasim Delić, chief of staff of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who was sentenced to 3 years' imprisonment on 15 September 2008 for his failure to prevent the Bosnian mujahideen members of the Bosnian army from committing crimes against captured civilians and enemy combatants (murder, rape, torture).[219] Enver Hadžihasanović, a general of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was sentenced to 3.5 years for authority over acts of murder and wanton destruction in Central Bosnia.[220] Hazim Delić was the Bosniak Deputy Commander of the Čelebići prison camp, which detained Serb civilians. He was sentenced to 18 years by the ICTY Appeals Chamber on 8 April 2003 for murder and torture of the prisoners and for raping two Serbian women.[221][222] Serbs have accused Sarajevo authorities of practicing selective justice by actively prosecuting Serbs while ignoring or downplaying Bosniak war crimes.[223]

Mourners at the reburial ceremony for an exhumed victim of the Srebrenica massacre.

Genocide at Srebrenica is the most serious war crime that any 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 that any Croats were convicted of. Breaches of the Geneva Conventions is the most serious war crime that Bosniaks were convicted of.[224]


A cemetery in Mostar flying the flag of Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (left), the flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the flag of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina

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.[225]

Croatia's president Ivo Josipović apologised in April 2010 for his country's role in the Bosnian War. Bosnia and Herzegovina's then-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", Josipović told Bosnia and Herzegovina's parliament.[226]

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.[227]

Civil war or a war of aggression

Due to the involvement of Croatia and Serbia, there has been a 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.
Steven L. Burg and Paul S. Shoup, The War in Bosnia-Herzegovina[164]

On the one hand, the war could be viewed as "a clear-cut case of civil war – that is, of internal war among groups unable to agree on arrangements for sharing power".[164]

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 "emphasise credible Serb fears as a rationale for their actions".[228]

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.
Steven L. Burg and Paul S. Shoup, The War in Bosnia-Herzegovina[164]

Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats enjoyed substantial political and military backing from Serbia and Croatia, and the decision to grant Bosnia diplomatic recognition also had 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.
Steven L. Burg and Paul S. Shoup, The War in Bosnia-Herzegovina[164]

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 regard the 1992–95 conflict in Bosnia as a 'civil war' – albeit obviously with a vital dimension that is territorially external to Bosnia".[229]

In 2010, Bosnian Commander Ejup Ganić was detained in London on a Serbian extradition request for alleged war crimes. Judge Timothy Workman decided that Ganić should be released after ruling that Serbia's request was "politically motivated". In his decision, he characterised the Bosnian War to have been an international armed conflict as Bosnia had declared independence on 3 March 1992.[230]

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.[231]

In popular culture


The Bosnian War has been depicted in a number of films including Hollywood films such as The Hunting Party, starring Richard Gere as journalist Simon Hunt in his bid to apprehend suspected war criminal and former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadžić; Behind Enemy Lines, loosely based on the Mrkonjić Grad incident, tells about a downed US Navy pilot who uncovers a massacre while on the run from Serb troops who want him dead; The Peacemaker, starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman, is a story about a US Army colonel and a White House nuclear expert investigating stolen Russian nuclear weapons obtained by a revenge-fueled Yugoslav diplomat, Dušan Gavrić.

In the Land of Blood and Honey, is a 2011 American film written, produced and directed by Angelina Jolie; the film was Jolie's directorial debut and it depicts a love story set against the mass rape of Muslim women in the Bosnian War. The Spanish/Italian 2013 film Twice Born, starring Penélope Cruz, based on a book by Margaret Mazzantini. It tells the story of a mother who brings her teenage son to Sarajevo, where his father died in the Bosnian conflict years ago.

British films include Welcome to Sarajevo, about the life of Sarajevans during the siege. The Bosnian-British film Beautiful People directed by Jasmin Dizdar portrays the encounter between English families and arriving Bosnian refugees at the height of the Bosnian War. The film was awarded the Un Certain Regard at the 1999 Cannes Festival. The Spanish film Territorio Comanche shows the story of a Spanish TV crew during the siege of Sarajevo. The Polish film Demons of War (1998), set during the Bosnian conflict, portrays a Polish group of IFOR soldiers who come to help a pair of journalists tracked by a local warlord whose crimes they had taped.

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 Bosnian film 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.

The film The Perfect Circle, directed by Bosnian filmmaker Ademir Kenović, tells the story of two boys during the Siege of Sarajevo and was awarded with the François Chalais Prize at the 1997 Cannes Festival.

The Serbian-American film Savior, directed by Predrag Antonijević, tells the story of an American mercenary fighting on the side of the Bosnian Serb Army during the war. Pretty Village, Pretty Flame directed by Serbian filmmaker Srđan Dragojević, presents a bleak yet darkly humorous account of the Bosnian War. The Serbian film Life Is a Miracle, produced by Emir Kusturica, depicts the romance of a pacific Serb station caretaker and a Muslim Bosniak young woman entrusted to him as a hostage in the context of Bosniak-Serb border clashes; it was nominated at the 2004 Cannes 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.

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 Yugoslav man 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 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.

Drama series

The award-winning British television series, Warriors, aired on BBC One in 1999. It tells the story of a group of British peacekeepers during the Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing. Many of the war's events were depicted in the Pakistani drama series, Alpha Bravo Charlie, written and directed by Shoaib Mansoor in 1998. Produced by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the series showed several active battlefield events and the involvement of Pakistan military personnel in the UN peacekeeping missions. Alpha Bravo Charlie was presented on Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV).

In 2014, in Poland, a computer game, "This War of Mine", was invented, based on the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, focused on the civilian population that survives in the besieged city.[232]


The BBC documentary series, The Death of Yugoslavia, covers the collapse of Yugoslavia from the roots of the conflict in the 1980s, to the subsequent wars and peace accords, a BBC book was issued with the same title. Other documentaries include Bernard-Henri Lévy's Bosna! about Bosnian resistance against well equipped Serbian troops at the beginning of the war; the Slovenian documentary Tunel upanja (A Tunnel of Hope) about the Sarajevo Tunnel constructed by the besieged citizens of Sarajevo to link Sarajevo, with Bosnian government territory; the British documentary A Cry from the Grave about the Srebrenica massacre. 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.[233] Silverbullet Films worked on a documentary, Village of the Forgotten Widows, which depicts the suffering of women affected by the Srebrenica massacre. Watchers of the Sky is a 2014 documentary about the life of Raphael Lemkin and his efforts to establish genocide as a legal concept in international law. The film discusses the events in Srebrenica and General Mladić's involvement in the killings.


Semezdin Mehmedinović's Sarajevo Blues and Miljenko Jergović's Sarajevo Marlboro are among the best known 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 to 1993. Because of the diary, she is sometimes referred to as "The Anne Frank of Sarajevo". The Bosnia List by Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro chronicles the war through the eyes of a Bosnian refugee returning home for the first time after 18 years in New York.

Other works about the war include:


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.[237] Other songs include "Bosnia" by The Cranberries and "Sarajevo" by UHF.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Calic, Marie–Janine (2012). "Ethnic Cleansing and War Crimes, 1991–1995". In Ingrao, Charles W.; Emmert, Thomas A. Confronting the Yugoslav Controversies: A Scholars' Initiative. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press. pp. 139–140. ISBN 978-1-55753-617-4. Footnotes in source identify numbers as June 2012.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Spolna i nacionalna struktura žrtava i ljudski gubitci vojnih formacija (1991–1996)". Prometej.
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