6 April marks 30 years since the start of the Bosnian War, an international armed conflict that lasted from 1992 to 1995 and saw the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks.
According to an analysis by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), more than 100,000 people were killed during the Bosnian War, and at least 70 percent of them were Bosniaks.
Following the recognition of Bosnia as an independent state in 1992, Bosnian Serbs, supported by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, began a campaign to ethnically purge Bosnian territory.
According to the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR), more than two million people became refugees during the conflict.
break up of yugoslavia
Yugoslavia was formed after World War I, consisting of six Slavic groups whose official language was Serbo-Croatian.
During World War II, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was established – a federation subdivided along ethnic lines to include six republics – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.
From 1944 until his death in 1980, the republic was under the control of communist leader Josip Broz Tito. After Tito’s death, ethno-nationalist tensions began to rise as the republics drifted away from each other.
In 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence from Yugoslavia – this would be the beginning of the dissolution of the state. In 1992, Macedonia followed suit.
On 1 March 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina held an independence referendum in which 99.7 percent of the people voted in favor of seceding from Yugoslavia, with 63.4 percent of the vote. The Bosnian Serbs wanted to remain part of Yugoslavia and boycotted the vote.
Bosnia’s move toward independence was inspired by Serbia’s aggressive separatist policies, in which Milosevic planned to unite the Bosnian and Croatian Serb regions. In Bosnia, the Serb Autonomous Oblast (SAO), a governing entity, had already been established by separatist Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia in the early 1990s.
In April 1992, the United States and the European Economic Community recognized Bosnia as an independent state. Following recognition, Bosnian Serb forces began an attack on Sarajevo.
In early April 1992, Bosnian Serb forces began the longest siege of the city in modern warfare at the time. Bosnian Serb fighters backed by Yugoslav forces cut off power and water to the city in a 43-month siege. From 1992 to 1995, 11,000 people were killed in Sarajevo.
Key Players in the Bosnian War
Ethnicism played a large part in the Bosnian War, with Serbia and Croatia breaching Bosnia’s borders to further their nationalist agenda.
A United Nations ban on arms sales to the entire Yugoslav federation was imposed by the Security Council in 1991, leaving Bosnians defenseless against Serbian and Croatian aggressors. Serbia, on the other hand, inherited military infrastructure and weapons from the JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) – the fourth strongest army in Europe at the time.
Some of the major players during the Bosnian War are as follows:
Slobodan Milosevic The President of Serbia was the most influential figure during the Bosnian War and the Balkan conflicts during the 1990s. Milosevic played a key role in escalating ethnic tensions in the region.
Alija Izetbegovic Bosnia’s first president gave independence to the country in a 1992 referendum. He was one of three leaders who negotiated the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords.
Franjo Tudjman – Croatia’s nationalist leader was a major participant in a “joint criminal venture” to ethnically purge Bosniaks, supported Bosnian Croats during the Bosnian War, and also negotiated a peace deal during the Dayton Accords.
Radovan Karadzik Bosnian Serb leaders were responsible for the massacre that unfolded in Srebrenica. After the war, Karadzik went underground before being arrested in 2008.
Ratko Mladik – The Bosnian Serb military leader known as the “Butcher of Bosnia”, Mladi commanded the Bosnian Serb army during the conflict. Along with Karadzik, he was responsible for planning the Srebrenica massacre.
Radislav Kristik Bosnian Serb commander was involved in the killing of Bosniaks.
Timeline of major events during the war
March 1 – Bosniaks and Bosniak Croats voted for independence from Yugoslavia.
April 4-5 – The Siege of Sarajevo begins under the leadership of Radovan Karadzik.
6 April – The European Community recognizes Bosnia’s independence.
May – UN sanctions Serbia for supporting rebels in Bosnia and Croatia.
October – The Croatian army launched a surprise attack on Bosniaks in the municipality of Przor, marking the beginning of the Croatia–Bosniak War in Bosnia, often referred to as the War Within.
January – Peace efforts fail in Bosnia
16 April – The United Nations declares Serebrenica a protected area under the protection of the United Nations Security Forces. Troops are deployed, however, the city is cut off with only a few humanitarian convoys arriving in the area.
May 6 – The cities of Sarajevo, Zepa, Gorazde, Tuzla and Bihak are included in the United Nations Protected Areas.
March – The US leads an agreement that ends the Bosniak–Croatia War and results in a federation.
March – The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzik, orders the complete cut-off of Srebrenica and Zepa and orders the envoys to stop reaching those areas.
9 July – Karadzik issued an order to overtake Serebrenica.
11 July – Under the command of General Ratko Mladi, Serb forces captured Srebrenica and systematically killed over 8,000 Bosniak men and boys. It was later ruled genocide by international courts in The Hague in 2005. Bosniak women and girls were gang-raped.
21 November – After the airstrikes, Bosniak President Alija Izetbegovi, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic agreed to an agreement to be mediated by the US.
14 December – The Dayton Peace Accord is signed in Paris. The agreement divided the country into two administrative entities: the Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with mainly Bosniaks and Croatian populations, and the unit of “Republika Srpska” (Republic of Serbia) with a majority Serb population – by some as a direct result. Seen as ethnic cleansing.
war crimes charges
In 1993, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established by the United Nations to deal with war crimes committed during conflicts in the Balkans. The tribunal ran for 14 years from 1993 to 2017.
Witnesses and victims provided evidence of war atrocities in which 161 persons were indicted – 90 were sentenced, 19 were acquitted, 20 were withdrawn, 17 died before sentencing Thi, 13 were referred to other courts, and two were reconsidered.
Four types of offenses were recorded in the Tribunal – genocide, crimes against humanity, violation of laws/customs of war and serious violations of the Geneva Convention.
Among those tried by the Tribunal were:
Slobodan Milosevic Proceedings were terminated in 2006 after his death.
Radovan Karadzik – Sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes, crimes against humanity and committing genocide.
Ratko Mladik – Sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity and committing genocide.
On 26 February 2007, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) formally recognized the massacre at Srebrenica as a genocide. In June of the same year, family members and survivors of Serebrenica’s victims filed a complaint against the United Nations and the Netherlands for failing to protect civilians in Serebrenica and for failing to report war crimes.
On June 27, 2017, the Hague Court of Appeal ruled that the Dutch government was partially responsible for the deaths of 350 Bosniak men and boys during the Srebrenica massacre.