In 1991, Yugoslavia's republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina (Bosnia) had a population of 4 million, composed of three main ethnic groups: Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim, 44%), Serb (31%), and Croat (17%), as well as Yugoslav (8%).
On April 5, 1992, the government of Bosnia declared its independence from Yugoslavia. Immediately, Bosnian Serb leaders launched a war to create a separate state. They targeted Bosniak and Croatian civilians in areas under their control, in what has become known as "ethnic cleansing."
During the conflict (1992-95), an estimated 100,000 people were killed; 80% of the civilians killed were Bosniaks. In July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces killed as many as 8,000 Bosniaks from Srebrenica. It was the largest massacre in Europe since the Holocaust.
Monday, July 11, 2011 marks the sixteen-year anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica. During the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, Srebrenica was one of a few lone Bosniak holdouts in the east. Completely surrounded by Bosnian Serb forces, the town was declared a safe haven in 1993, to be protected and disarmed by United Nations soldiers.
In the days after the town fell in 1995, some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were systematically murdered.
This year’s anniversary comes amidst two important developments. First, is Serbia’s arrest and transfer to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia of the wartime Bosnian Serb leader, Ratko Mladic. Indicted for multiple crimes, including genocide not only at Srebrenica, but also in other areas, Mladic was removed from the courtroom due to his disruptive behavior in his first appearance before the judges.
Second, is the decision a Dutch court rendered that Dutch peacekeepers were responsible for some of the deaths in Srebrenica. The court’s decision clears the way for compensation for some relatives of victims from Srebrenica. This case has gone on for nine years and was led by Hasan Nuhanovic, who describes in this video the moment when his family was forced off the UN compound by Dutch soldiers.
Today is a day to remember those who were killed at Srebrenica and to honor their surviving relatives, who have struggled for years to uncover the truth of what happened.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum welcomes the news of today’s arrest in Serbia of Ratko Mladic, the former chief of staff of the Bosnian Serb Army who was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. He is expected to be extradited to The Hague to stand trial there.
Michael Abramowitz, director of the Committee on Conscience, the Museum’s genocide prevention program said, “This arrest is significant, and coming sixteen years after Mladic’s indictment, is long overdue. Holding perpetrators of genocide accountable for their actions, and seeking justice for the victims, no matter how long it takes, sends the strongest message that the world will not tolerate these heinous crimes, and stands as a warning to those who may perpetrate them in the future.”
Abramowitz continued, “This case is important because, along with the ongoing trial of Radovan Karadzic, it could offer a judgment on whether the behavior of Serbian leaders during the wider Bosnian war constituted genocide.”
Mladic, the chief military leader of the Bosnian Serb army, was arrested in Serbia by authorities who claimed for years that he was not in their territory. With Mladic’s arrest, the ICTY has only one indictee still at large, Goran Hadzic.
With the arrest of Mladic and the on-going trial of Radovan Karadzic, the chief civilian leader of the Bosnian Serbs, the ICTY is finally bringing to justice the highest level of the Bosnian Serb wartime leadership.
His trial, in addition to the on-going Karadzic trial, will include a review of the patterns and intention behind atrocities during the Bosnian war, including whether they constitute genocide. Previously, trials at the ICTY have found that genocide occurred only in one case: Srebrenica in 1995.
As the highest commanding officer of the Bosnian Serb Army, Mladic oversaw a conflict marked by ethnic cleansing, siege warfare, massive abuses against civilians and genocide. The areas in the north around Prijedor and Banja Luka became the sites of concentration camps, like Omarksa, Manjaca, and Trnopolje, where Bosnian Muslims and Croats endured torture, beatings, near-starvation conditions, and murder. The capital Sarajevo and other key cities were surrounded – water, electricity and food supplies were cut off entirely or diminished to a mere trickle and the civilians’ lives were at constant risk through bombardment and snipers. An estimated 10,000 people died in Sarajevo alone. In the east, Bosnian Serb forces together with paramilitary units from Serbia, claimed huge swaths of land as part of the so-called “Serb Republic,” and forcibly displaced the Muslims and Croat populations through murder, torture, rape, intimidation and theft.
Mladic is indicted for genocide for these overall patterns of assault against entire ethnic groups. He is also charged for genocide at Srebrenica, the largest massacre in Europe since World War II. Throughout the conflict, Bosnian Serb forces treated civilians from other ethnic groups as legitimate targets in their goal of creating an ethnically homogeneous mini-state, which they largely succeeded in accomplishing and was confirmed through the internationally brokered peace process held at Dayton, OH.
In addition, Mladic is charged with war crimes for taking UN military observers and peacekeepers hostage in May 1995 and tethering them to military targets, in an attempt to deter NATO bombing.
On October 3rd, Bosnian citizens voted in a bewildering array of elections at the federal and entity level (Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation) that reflected the nation’s troubling, deep divisions. Voters from the Bosniak-Croat Federation largely turned to moderate politicians, while Bosnian Serbs re-elected their nationalist party, which continues to call openly for secession.
Next month marks the 15th anniversary of the end of the Bosnian war, and the nation remains trapped by its convoluted and unwieldy government and the hyper-nationalist politicians in Republika Srpska (RS), who actively work towards the dissolution of the nation. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, former RS prime minister and its newly elected president, Milorad Dodik shared “his opinion that in 15 years the state of Bosnia-Hercegovina will no longer exist.”
Dysfunction, corruption, and patronage run deeply through the administration of both of Bosnia’s entities. A new report from the International Crisis Group (ICG) describes the Bosniak-Croat Federation as “a dense bureaucracy, whose various parts function in competition or open conflict with one another, and a suffocating thicket of confusing and often contradictory legislation and regulation. Federation administrative bloat and disorder make Bosnia’s larger entity one of Europe’s worst places to do business and choke its people’s economic potential.” Bosnia, which hopes for EU membership, faces an economic crisis with 40% unemployment and stagnant growth.
But alongside the gloomy assessment, the ICG report shares a piece of good news:
A March 2010 survey found that while Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks do not share a common vision of the state’s future constitutional arrangement, they also do not object to close relationships with each other and that, “primarily different political interests, rather than ethnic hatred, lie behind differences in visions of a common state.” Reported ethnic incidents remain relatively scarce, though they increased in 2008 and 2009.
Sunday, July 11, 2010 marked the fifteen-year anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica. During the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, Srebrenica was one of a few lone Bosniak holdouts in the east. Completely surrounded by Bosnian Serb forces, the town was declared a safe haven in 1993, to be protected and disarmed by United Nations soldiers.
In the days after the town fell in 1995, some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were systematically murdered.
Each year at Potocari — a memorial site and cemetery at the former UN base outside Srebrenica, where many survivors last saw their loved ones — exhumed remains are buried. This year, another 775 coffins were added to the nearly 4,000 others in the cemetery. Among them were Hasan Nuhanovic’s brother and mother, finally laid to rest beside his father’s grave.
Many dignitaries attended the ceremony, including U.S. Ambassador Charles English, who read a statement from President Obama, and Serbian President Boris Tadic, who stated his presence was an “act of reconciliation.” The Bosnian Serbs were represented at the ceremony by a low-level delegation, headed by the deputy president of their portion of Bosnia. (After the war ended, a peace agreement negotiated the establishment of two state entities inside Bosnia.) The day before the ceremony, in a deliberate provocation, the Serb Democratic Party — a political party established by the former Bosnia Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic — had honored the Bosnian Serb deputy president.
Although there have been many significant gains since the war ended, Bosnia remains, in many ways, divided by the legacy of the war.
On Thursday, July 15th, the Museum will host a conference to explore this legacy and reexamine U.S. and European policy towards the Balkan region. Join us at the program or online shortly thereafter to access transcripts and videos from the event.
On June 10, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted two Bosnian Serbs of genocide and sentenced them to life imprisonment for the 1995 murder of as many as 8,000 men and boys from Srebrenica, the largest massacre in Europe since World War II. If the judgments are upheld, they will become the first ever genocide convictions by the ICTY. High-ranking security officers with the Bosnian Serb army, Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara were both convicted of genocide, extermination, murder, and persecution.
“The scale and nature of the murder operation, with the staggering number of killings, the systematic and organised manner in which it was carried out, the targeting and relentless pursuit of the victims, and the plain intention — apparent from the evidence — to eliminate every Bosnian Muslim male who was captured or surrendered proves beyond reasonable doubt that this was genocide,” the Trial Chamber of the court found.
The court found that Beara was “the driving force behind the murder enterprise” and “had the clearest overall picture of the massive scale and scope of the killing operation.” Of Popovic, the court said that he “knew that the intent was not just to kill those who had fallen into the hands of the Bosnian Serb Forces, but to kill as many as possible with the aim of destroying the group. Popovic’s ensuing robust participation in all aspects of the plan demonstrates that he not only knew of this intent to destroy, but also shared it.”
In order to issue a genocide conviction, the courts must find that the perpetrator possessed the “intent to destroy,” which is required by the definition of genocide. In earlier cases, courts have set a high standard for assessing this very specific state of mind: it must be the only inference based on the facts and circumstances.
The ICTY also convicted a third Bosnian Serb officer, Drago Nikolic, of aiding and abetting genocide. All three officers were in the chain of command under General Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military leader, who remains at large.
The court’s affirmation that the crime of genocide was committed at Srebrenica may influence the ongoing trial at the ICTY of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, arrested in July 2008. In 2001, the court convicted General Radislav Kristic of genocide, but his conviction was overturned on appeal and reduced to aiding and abetting genocide.
Addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, emphasized — above all other parallel risks — the potential for mass killing or genocide in South Sudan. His analysis came as part of the Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Blair discussed the definition, triggers, strategies, and recent cases of mass killing:
The mass killing of civilians — defined as the deliberate killing of at least 1,000 unarmed civilians of a particular political identity by state or state-sponsored actors in a single event or over a sustained period — is a persistent feature of the global landscape. Within the past three years, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sudan all suffered mass killing episodes through violence, starvation, or deaths in prison camps. Sri Lanka may also have experienced a mass killing last spring: roughly 7,000 civilians were killed during Colombo’s military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), according to UN estimates.
The risk for mass killing is driven by the presence of ongoing internal conflict or regime crises, combined with relatively poor socioeconomic conditions, international isolation, recent protest activity, discriminatory policies, or frequent leadership turnover. In such contexts, mass killings are typically deliberate strategies by new or threatened elites to assert state or rebel authority, to clear territory of insurgents, or to deter populations from supporting rebel or antigovernment movements.
Looking ahead over the next five years, a number of countries in Africa and Asia are at significant risk for a new outbreak of mass killing. All of the countries at significant risk have or are at high risk for experiencing internal conflicts or regime crises and exhibit one or more of the additional factors for mass killing. Among these countries, a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in Southern Sudan.
Blair’s statement fulfilled a recommendation presented in the final report of the Genocide Prevention Task Force, which the Museum convened with the U.S. Institute of Peace and The American Academy of Diplomacy. The report offered a blueprint for improving U.S. government response to threats of genocide and mass atrocities and included the following recommendation: “The director of national intelligence should initiate the preparation of a National Intelligence Estimate on worldwide risk of genocide and mass atrocities.”
Blair’s focus on the risk for mass killing or genocide in southern Sudan reflects growing international concern for Sudan as the nation approaches presidential elections in April and the 2011 referendum for southern independence.
Blair also emphasized to the Senate Committee the principal challenges to stability in the Balkans and highlighted several worrying signs in Bosnia:
I remain concerned about Bosnia’s future stability. While neither widespread violence nor a formal break-up of the state appears imminent, ethnic agendas still dominate the political process and reforms have stalled because of wrangling among the three main ethnic groups. The sides failed to agree on legal changes proposed jointly by the EU and the US at the end of 2009, undercutting efforts to strengthen the central government so that it is capable of taking the country into NATO and the EU. Bosnian Serb leaders seek to reverse some reforms, warn of legal challenges to the authority of the international community, and assert their right to eventually hold a referendum on secession, all of which is contributing to growing interethnic tensions. This dynamic appears likely to continue, as Bosnia’s leaders will harden their positions to appeal to their nationalist constituents ahead of elections this fall.
Talks convened today in Bosnia, bringing the U.S., EU, and Bosnian politicians together to discuss ways of breaking the political deadlock that continues to trouble the country. Fourteen years after the brutal conflict that brought its independence, Bosnia faces deep political divisions internally between Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation, the nation’s two governing entities that were established by the 1995 Dayton peace accords. Ratcheting up the ethnocentric rhetoric, Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik has repeatedly threatened to call for a referendum on succession.
Although the talks are not expected to make significant progress, the hope is that they will improve the nation’s chances for eventual EU and NATO membership. With Croatia and Macedonia already candidate countries to the EU and applications from Albania and Montenegro under consideration, international leaders hope to ensure that Bosnia is not left behind as the rest of the region achieves integration.
Bosnia remains under international protectorate, despite long-standing plans to close the Office of the High Representative, which retains power over political decisions in the country. Expected to meet in mid-November to discuss the end of this protectorate status, the international community will be considering Bosnia’s success at implementing constitutional reform. Currently, the Bosnian government includes three presidents, 13 prime ministers, and 180 ministers.
Faced with the seemingly impossible task to locate, recover, and identify so many missing people, the International Commission of Missing Persons (ICMP) has made steady progress, helping to identify 12,518 individuals in Bosnia, roughly half of whom are Srebrenica victims. Just this past May, forensic experts investigated a newly-discovered mass grave in Bosnia where they found 12 Srebrenica victims. About 70 mass graves around Srebrenica have been found since the war.
Since the Bosnian war ended in November 1995 with the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, Bosnia has been under international protectorate. The Office of the High Representative, an ad hoc international institution responsible for overseeing implementation of civilian aspects of the Dayton accord, has significant authority over the decisions made by Bosnian politicians. Additionally, NATO and then EU-led international forces were deployed as peacekeepers; elections were overseen by the Organizations for Security and Cooperation in Europe; and millions of international aid has gone to rebuilding and reforming the state.
This is about to change. The mandate and office of the High Representative is scheduled to close on June 30, 2009, at which point a special European representative will be the main international presence. Many core political issues remain unresolved. The final status of the Brcko District, a city in northern Bosnia that has a special status in neither the Serb Republic nor the Bosnian Federation, is unsettled. Nationalist political parties remain strong. Talk of changing the constitution established at Dayton to build a stronger federal state, as envisioned by leading Bosniak politicians, has alienated Serbian politicians who want to maintain powers as separate entities.
Life for ordinary civilians has improved in terms of stability and security, but the economic situation is extremely difficult. It is estimated that the unemployment rate is 45%.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is currently conducting several high-level trials regarding crimes committed at Srebrenica, in Kosovo, and during the Croatian “Operation Storm,” among other cases. The case against leading Bosnian Serb politician, Radovan Karadzic, charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, is in the pre-trial stage. Remaining at large is General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military leader. The Tribunal is scheduled to finish first-instance trials by 2010 and close its Appeals Court by 2011.