April 6 marks the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Bosnian war, an international armed conflict that lasted from 1992 to 1995 and led to ethnic cleansing of Bosnians.
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, at least 70 per cent of whom were Bosniaks.
Following the recognition of Bosnia as an independent state in 1992, Bosnian Serbs, with the support of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, launched a campaign to ethnically cleanse Bosnian territory.
More than two million people became refugees during the conflict, according to the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR).
Disintegration of Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia was formed after the First World War, including six Slavic groups with the official Serbo-Croatian language.
During World War II, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was founded, a federation divided along ethnic lines into six republics: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.
The republic was under the control of communist leader Josip Broz Tito from 1944 until his death in 1980. After Tito’s death, ethno-nationalist tensions began to rise as the republics drifted apart.
In 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia, marking the beginning of the country’s collapse. In 1992, Macedonia followed suit.
On March 1, 1992, a referendum on independence was held in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in which 99.7% of citizens voted in favor of secession from Yugoslavia. Bosnian Serbs wanted to remain part of Yugoslavia and boycotted the vote.
Bosnia’s move towards independence was driven by Serbia’s aggressive separatist policies, in which Milosevic planned to unite the territories of Bosnian and Croat Serbs. In Bosnia, the Serb Autonomous Province (SAO), the governing unit, was already established by Serb branches 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. After the recognition, Bosnian Serb troops launched an attack on Sarajevo.
In early April 1992, Bosnian Serb troops began what was to be the city’s longest siege in modern warfare at the time. Bosnian Serb militants, backed by the Yugoslav army, cut off electricity and water in the city during a 43-month siege. Between 1992 and 1995, 11,000 people were killed in Sarajevo.
Key players in the Bosnian war
Ethnonationalism played a major role in the Bosnian war, when Serbia and Croatia violated Bosnia’s borders to promote their nationalist programs.
The UN embargo 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 armaments from the Yugoslav People’s Army, the fourth largest army in Europe at the time.
Here are some of the key players during the Bosnian war:
Slobodan Milosevic – The President of Serbia was the most influential figure during the war in Bosnia and the Balkan conflicts in the 1990s. Milosevic played a crucial role in fueling ethnic tensions in the region.
Alia Izetbegovich – The first president of Bosnia led the country to independence in a 1992 referendum. He was one of three leaders negotiating the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords.
Franjo Tudjman – The leader of the Croatian nationalists was a key participant in the “joint criminal campaign” for the ethnic cleansing of Bosnians, supported the Bosnian Croats during the war in Bosnia, and negotiated a peace agreement during the Dayton Accords.
Radovan Karadzic – The leader of the Bosnian Serbs was responsible for the massacre that took place in Srebrenica. After the war, Karadzic went underground before being arrested in 2008.
Ratka Mladic – The Bosnian Serb military leader, known as the “Butcher of Bosnia”, Mladic commanded the Bosnian Serb army during the conflict. Together with Karadzic, he was responsible for planning the genocide in Srebrenica.
Radzislaw Krstic – The Bosnian Serb commander was involved in the killing of Bosnians.
Chronology of major events of the war
March 1 – Bosnians and Bosnian Croats vote for independence from Yugoslavia.
April 4-5 – The siege of Sarajevo begins under the leadership of Radovan Karadzic.
April 6 – The European Community recognizes Bosnia’s independence.
May – The UN is imposing sanctions on Serbia for supporting insurgents in Bosnia and Croatia.
October – Croatian forces launch a surprise attack on Bosniaks in the municipality of Prozor, marking the start of the Croat-Bosnian war in Bosnia, often referred to as war-to-war.
January – Peaceful efforts in Bosnia have failed.
April 16 – The UN declares Srebrenica a safe zone under the protection of the UN Force. Troops are deployed, but the city is cut off, and only a few humanitarian convoys reach the area.
May 6 – The UN includes the cities of Sarajevo, Zepa, Gorazde, Tuzla and Bihac in the safe zones.
March – The United States is leading an agreement that ends the Bosnian Croat war and leads to a federation.
March – Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, has ordered the cutting off of Srebrenica and Zepa, and aid envoys have not reached the area.
July 9 – Karadzic orders to seize Srebrenica.
July 11 – Under General Ratko Mladic’s command, Serbian troops seize Srebrenica and systematically kill more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys. The International Court of Justice in The Hague later declared it genocide in 2005. Bosnian women and girls were raped en masse.
November 21 – Following the airstrikes, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic agree to a US-mediated agreement.
December 14 – The Dayton Peace Accords were signed in Paris. The agreement divided the country into two administrative units: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has a predominantly Bosniak and Croat population, and Republika Srpska (Republika Srpska), with a majority Serb population, some of which are a direct result of ethnic cleansing.
Accused of war crimes
In 1993, the UN established the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to deal with war crimes committed during the Balkan conflicts. The tribunal lasted 24 years, from 1993 to 2017.
Witnesses and victims provided evidence of the atrocities of the war, in which 161 people were accused – 90 were convicted, 19 were acquitted, 20 were acquitted, 17 died before sentencing, 13 were transferred to other courts, two were transferred.
The tribunal recorded four types of crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of the laws / customs of war and serious violations of the Geneva Convention.
Among those tried by the tribunal were:
Slobodan Milosevic – production was stopped in 2006 after his death.
Radovan Karadzic – sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Ratka Mladic – sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity and genocide.
On February 26, 2007, the International Court of Justice (CU) officially recognized the Srebrenica massacre as genocide. In June of that year, survivors and family members of Srebrenica victims filed a complaint with the UN and the Netherlands for failing to protect Srebrenica civilians and for reporting war crimes.
On June 27, 2017, the Hague Court of Appeal ruled that the Dutch government was partly responsible for the deaths of 350 Bosnian men and boys during the Srebrenica genocide.