Bosnia and Herzegovina (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
At the beginning of April 1992, Serb forces swept through much of Bosnia and Herzegovina, systematically brutalizing and expelling non-Serbs and, in particular, Bosnian Muslims, in a campaign of terror. In the process, the term etnio šnje (ethnic cleansing) passed from Serbo-Croat into English to encapsulate the brutality of a conflict in which the principal aim was to erase all traces of a culture. Meanwhile, the name Bosnia and Herzegovina became synonymous with killing, cruelty, and human suffering on an almost unprecedented scale.
In response to the atrocities committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to assist post-war reconciliation, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was set up in The Hague to try perpetrators of war crimes, including genocide. The war itself lasted three years and nine months and only ended after NATO intervention, first with an air campaign in August and September 1995, and then with the deployment of a peacekeeping force in December of that year, following agreement on a peace plan negotiated in Dayton, Ohio.
The Bosnian question boils down to two issues: how 2.2 million Muslim Slavs could live amid 4.5 million Christian Croats and 8.5 million Christian Serbs in the wider region of the former Yugoslavia; and how 750,000 Christian Croats and 1.3 million Christian Serbs could live together with 1.9 million Bosnian Muslims within Bosnia and Herzegovina itself. Depending on where borders are drawn and whether they are respected, Muslims either form a minority squeezed between two more powerful ethnic groups, or they comprise a relative majority in a territory shared with two large minority communities, both of which generally consider the neighboring states of Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro to be their mother countries.
Of Bosnia and Herzegovina's 109 pre-war municipalities, 37 had an absolute Muslim majority, 32 an absolute Serb majority, and 13 an absolute Croat majority. A further 15 municipalities had a simple Muslim majority, 5 had a simple Serb majority, and 13 had a simple Croat majority. With the exception of Croatpopulated Western Herzegovina, an absolute majority rarely accounted for more than 70 percent of the population and, as often as not, neighboring municipalities had majorities of one of the republic's other peoples. Therefore, Bosnia and Herzegovina could not fragment neatly along ethnic lines, because there were no ethnic lines to fragment along. Dividing Bosnia and Herzegovina into ethnic territories would inevitably be messy and would require massive population transfers.
In the early 1990s, the fundamental cause of conflict in the former Yugoslavia was not simply the drive by the country's Serbs to forge their own national state at the expense of their neighbors. Structurally speaking,
Although Bosnians had lived together in apparent harmony before the war, ethnic identities formed over centuries of Ottoman rulehen each religious community was governed separately under its own spiritual rulersemained strong. As a result, when elections took place in November 1990, the vote was divided along ethnic lines. Although the ethnically based parties ostensibly formed a coalition and governed together, they rapidly fell out with one another, and politics descended into a "zero-sum" game.
Western media generally portrayed the Bosnian War as a conflict between nationalistsn particular Serbs, but also Croatseeking to destroy the multi-ethnic Bosnian state and the predominantly Muslim Sarajevo government, which formally espoused multi-ethnicity. This reflected the brutality of the siege of Sarajevo, witnessed by journalists, and the massive ethnic-cleansing campaign of the first months of fighting. However, most media failed to cover the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, which was probably unstoppable in the absence of the preventive deployment of international forces. In the early 1990s, the key international institutions and the world's most powerful countries possessed neither the capabilities nor the mindset for such intervention, with the result that international diplomacy also contributed to the impending catastrophe.
In the 1990 elections, many Bosnians, especially those of mixed ethnic origins or from the cities, did vote for nonethnic parties, choosing instead one of two former communist options. These people were genuinely committed to a multinational state, but they represented an increasingly marginalized group and had no influence on the events leading to their country's disintegration. In many ways, Bosnia and Herzegovina was in an impossible and untenable position as soon as the rest of Yugoslavia broke apart. All three ethnically based parties behaved as if they believed that they were locked in a struggle for survival. The moderation of the Bosnian Muslim leadership and the extremism of their Serb counterparts reflected, in part, the reality of the situation that the rival leaders faced.
The debate over the future of the Yugoslav federation was effectively a question of life and death for Bosnia and Herzegovina. For this reason, the Bosnian Muslim leader, Alija Izetbegovi who was also Bosnia and Herzegovina's president, joined his Macedonian counterpart, Kiro Gligorov, in a failed eleventh hour initiative to save a "Yugoslav state community" in June 1991. Although Izetbegovisupported the continued existence of some form of Yugoslavia, he was not prepared to see Bosnia and Herzegovina remain in a Serbdominated country in the event of Slovene and Croatian secession. He opted instead for independence. In preparation, he and his party, the SDA, attempted to push a declaration of sovereignty through the Bosnian parliament in the first half of 1991. As war loomed and it became clear that Bosnia and Herzegovina's Serbs were well armed and willing to use force, Izetbegovisaw the best way to advance his aims was by internationalizing the Bosnian question.
The Bosnian Serb leadership, under Radovan Karadzic, had made elaborate advance preparations for the disintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A month before the 1990 elections, they formed a Serb National Council within Bosnia and Herzegovina, and by September 1991 they had set up four so-called Serb Autonomous Authorities, which were effectively self-governing Serb entities. In October 1991 a new, self-appointed Assembly of the Serb Nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared that the Bosnian Serbs would remain with other Serbs as part of Yugoslavia, and staged a referendum among Serbs to endorse this decision, which provided near unanimous support. On December 21, 1991, the Assembly proclaimed the creation of the Serb Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on January 9, 1992, they declared independence. Many Bosnian Serbs had been mobilized by the Yugoslav Peoples Army (YPA) to fight in Croatia and still retained their weapons. The YPA in Bosnia and Herzegovina effectively turned itself into a Bosnian Serb Army by deploying Bosnian Serbs in their home republic in place of Serbs from elsewhere. The Bosnian Serb leadership was in a position to fight to achieve its aims.
Bosnian Croats formed two of their own Autonomous Authorities in November 1991 and were equally adamant that they should not end up in a rump, Serbdominated state. The community and its leadership were, however, internally divided. A moderate faction represented the two-thirds of Bosnian Croats who lived as a minority among Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia. An extreme faction represented the third who lived in western Herzegovina and formed a large majority of the population there. The Bosnian Croat faction was politically dominant until February 1992, and, like the Muslim leadership, generally pursued a cautious line because of the vulnerability of most Croats in the event of hostilities. That month, however, the moderate Croat leader, Stjepan Kljujic, was ousted at the wishes of Croatian president Franjo Tudjman and replaced by Mate Boban, a Herzegovinian radical. Many Herzegovinian Croats fought in Croatia during the Croatian War and had returned home armed and willing to continue the struggle.
In the course of the Croatian War, which ended after the Sarajevo Accord of January 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina's communities effectively split into three hostile, armed camps, with the bulk of the weapons in Bosnian Serb hands. A United Nations (UN) arms embargo against the whole of the former Yugoslavia was imposed in September 1991, ensuring that the imbalance in weaponry became a permanent feature of the conflict. The best internal hope for avoiding conflict would probably have been agreement among the nationalist parties to create government mechanisms that would protect the interests of each ethnic community. A constitutional commission was formed early in 1991, but the parties failed to agree on whether the Bosnian state should be a republic of citizens or nations, let alone the manner in which power should be exercised by the central and provincial governments. A Council on National Equality, intended to ensure that no legislation undermined any of Bosnia and Herzegovina's nations, failed to come into operation, and each nationalist party sought to achieve its own aims, largely irrespective of the potential impact on the other two peoples.
The best external hope for avoiding conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina was the European Community's Conference on Yugoslavia, headed by former North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) secretary-general Lord Peter Carrington. Although it sought an overarching solution to all conflicts then undermining the country, it failed to halt escalating fighting in Croatia and was unable to influence Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. An arbitration commission set up within the Conference under the French jurist Robert Badinter determined in late November 1991 that Yugoslavia was in the process of dissolution. Against Carrington's (and for that matter Izetbegovis) wishes, Germany recognized Croatian independence on December 23, 1991, followed by the rest of the European Community on January 15, 1992. The Badinter Commission suggested the holding of a referendum to determine the popular will about independence for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Although referenda are arguably the worst possible tool for resolving identity-related questions, both the European Community (EC) and the United States gave their support to the Bosnian vote. In his desperation to prevent Bosnia and Herzegovina ending up in a rump Yugoslavia, Izetbegovidecided that the referendum should go ahead "even if the devil is knocking at our door." As expected, Serbs boycotted the vote and Muslims voted for independence. The swing vote was that of the Croats, most of whom would probably have preferred something other than Bosnian independence, but sided with the Muslims to avoid the risk of coming under Serb domination. Close to 63 percent of voters supported independence. On March 3, 1992, Izetbegovideclared independence. The move was ratified by the parliament a day later, in the absence of the Serb deputies.
The international community refused to recognize Bosnia and Herzegovina, but a war did not break out after the referendum. War erupted only when irregulars from Serbia proper under General Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan entered northeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina in Bijeljina on April 2, 1992, and carried out a premeditated massacre of Muslims. This triggered large-scale ethnic cleansing of both Muslims and Croats in areas earmarked for a Greater Serbia. The campaign entailed, above all, the systematic expulsion of non-Serbs and included large-scale rape, the creation of internment camps, and other well-publicized atrocities. Summary executions took place, but were not the rule. Selected killings, usually of leading Muslims and Croats, were designed to frighten their victims' ethnic kin into leaving of their own accord. The exercise was also a lucrative enterprise for the ethnic cleansers, who appropriated any valuables left behind. The EC and the United States recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina on April 6, 1992, hoping to dampen the flames of conflict, but achieving the opposite.
With the outbreak of war, international efforts to end the conflict intensified in the framework of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia, which was headed by both an EC and a UN representative. UN peacekeepers were deployed, but only to provide humanitarian aid. International efforts amounted to little more than persuading the Bosnian Serbs to make some territorial concessions and forcing the Bosnian Muslims to accept the resulting deal. It was almost a recipe for failure.
The Vance-Owen peace plan (named after its principal authors: former UK Foreign Secretary David Owen and former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance) attempted to devise a reasonably equitable solution after more than a year of fighting. It failed to win sufficient international backing, however, and was rejected by the belligerents. This contributed to the outbreak of a second war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, this time between Croats and Muslims. The Croat-Muslim alliance had always been one of convenience, and was exhibiting strains even during the initial Serb offensive in which Croats and Muslims fought on the same side. It broke down completely when Croats began unilaterally to implement elements of the Vance-Owen plan that effectively gave them control over contested territory in Herzegovina.
In 1995 the U.S. Congress pushed a policy of "Lift and Strike." It wished to lift the arms embargo against the region while striking the Bosnian Serbs from the air. To achieve this, an extraction force would have to be deployed to assist the withdrawal of the UN peacekeepers on the ground. Three events prevented the policy from being implemented: Croatian offensives of May and August 1995 changing the geographic balance on the ground, the taking of UN hostages by Bosnian Serbs in May 1995, and the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995. Some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were summarily executed in the single greatest atrocity of the wars of Yugoslavia's dissolution. The massacre led to the first genocide ruling at the International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). In response to these three events, NATO launched the first air campaign of its history on August 31, 1995. The campaign lasted two weeks and succeeded in shattering Bosnian Serb communications, helped the Croats and Muslims reverse some of the Serb gains from the beginning of the war and, most importantly, paved the way for the peace negotiations in Dayton, Ohio, that eventually brought the Bosnian War to an end.
The Dayton Agreement came into force on December 20, 1995. It defined Bosnia and Herzegovina as a single state with three main constituent peoplesroats, Muslims, and Serbsut divided into two entities. One was the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, comprising 51 percent of the territory; the other was the Republika Srpska, with 49 percent. Both entities have their own armed forces (the Federation army is effectively divided into Croat and Muslim forces), whose strength is regulated and related to that of the neighboring states. The country that emerged out of Dayton nevertheless inherited the political independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of the previous state, the republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Dayton Agreement contains eleven annexes. Only the first concerns the cease-fire and military matters; the remaining ten cover civilian aspects of the peace plan, including the right of displaced Bosnians to return to their homes or to be compensated for the loss of their property. The condition of the country has depended as much on the manner in which the civilian side of the peace plan has been implemented, as on the political structures contained within it.
Bosnia and Herzegovina's central institutions are weak and government is handled by complex, power-sharing mechanisms. This means that the system requires broad agreement and consensus to function. However, given enduring animosities and a lack of trust, such consensus has not existed. The Dayton Agreement, therefore, includes provision for international involvement in all aspects of the peace process, with overall coordination entrusted to a so-called High Representative, under the authority of the UN Security Council.
The scale of the international presence, although critical to the peace process, has in some ways been counterproductive for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Domestic institutions and politicians have given up much of the responsibility for governing their own country. Nonetheless, the massive international stake has led key players to declare the peace process a success, irrespective of how it is actually evolving, since failure would reflect badly on those states people, organizations, and countries responsible for the agreement. Unsurprisingly, the peace remains fragile. After all, the settlement was agreed to by the very individuals who were responsible for the war: Izetbegovi Milosevic, and Tudjman.
SEE ALSO Crimes Against Humanity; Ethnic Groups; Genocide; International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia; Izetbegovi Alija; Milosevic, Slobodan; Rape; Srebrenica; Tudjman, Franjo; Yugoslavia
Burg, Steven L., and Paul S. Shoup (1999). The War in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Ethnic Conflict and International Intervention. New York: M. E. Sharpe.
Donia, Robert J., and John V. A. Fine (1994). Bosnia-Hercegovina: A Tradition Betrayed. London: Hurst.
Malcolm, Noel (1994). Bosnia: A Short History. London: Macmillan.
Christopher Michael Bennett