Bosnia and Herzegovina Country Report
By Bekir Hodzic, Genocide Watch
Bosnia and Herzegovina was once part of Yugoslavia, a multi-ethnic communist federation formed after World War II. Its long-term leader, Josip Tito, died in 1980, allowing ethno-nationalist politicians to stoke hatred among the country’s ethnic groups, which caused Yugoslavia’s republics to begin seceding from the Yugoslav federation. Bosnia’s ethnically diverse population—43% Bosniak Muslim, 33% Orthodox Serb, and 17% Roman Catholic Croat—left it divided.
In a 1992 referendum, Bosniaks and Croats voted for Bosnian independence. Bosnian-Serbs boycotted the plebiscite. When Bosnia declared independence, Bosnian Serb militias launched a war to secede from Bosnia and join Serbia. In Serbian president Slobodan Milošević’s euphemism for forced displacement and genocide, they “ethnically cleansed” Serb areas. Bosnian Serb forces expelled families from their homes, destroyed houses and mosques, and operated concentration camps. They shelled civilian cities and massacred thousands. Rapes of Bosniak women were widespread. Over 90% of the above crimes were later attributed to Bosnian-Serb militia units. Of over 100,000 people killed during the Bosnian war, 60% were Bosniak, 25% Serb, and 8% Croat.
In July 1995, Serb soldiers invaded Srebrenica, a town the United Nations had declared a “safe zone” that housed over 34,000 Bosniak refugees. As hundreds of Dutch UNPROFOR “peacekeepers” watched, Bosnian Serb forces under General Ratko Mladić deported 25,000 women, children, and elderly and massacred the remaining 8,372 men and boys. This massacre was recognized as genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice. NATO finally intervened, bombed Belgrade, and generated the conflict’s end through the Dayton Peace Accords.
The Dayton Accords stopped the war, but they also legitimized Bosnia’s ethnic division, recognizing the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, for Bosniaks and Croats, and the Republika Srpska, for Bosnian Serbs. The federal government today is divided along tripartite lines, with a rotating presidency. Segregation divides Bosnia’s healthcare, education, and government services. Bosnia’s constitution limits political power to the three constituent peoples, so people from ethnic minorities, such as Roma, cannot attain office. Dayton has thus entrenched cross-communal divides within Bosnia, making reconciliation between ethnic groups difficult to attain.
Justice remains distant for many survivors. Hundreds of war crime cases await trial in Bosnia’s courts, with only a handful decided each year. A societal stigma persists around rape and sexual assault, preventing women from coming forward to prosecute their abusers. Women who do sue face legal hurdles. Laws in the Republika Srpska force victims who lose claims to “pay excessive court fees.” 96,305 individuals are still internally displaced. Placement of memorials where atrocities happened meets strong resistance from Bosnian Serb authorities.
Genocide denial is rampant. Bosnian-Serb nationalists continue to deny that the Srebrenica genocide occurred. Serb media glorifies convicted war criminals through monuments and celebrations. Milorad Dodik, Republika Srpska’s president, recently called Srebrenica a “fabricated myth.” Dodik has threatened Republika Srpska’s secession from Bosnia and he withdrew the Republika Srpska from Bosnia’s military, judiciary, and tax administration, igniting concerns that another war could break out.
Genocide Watch considers Bosnia at Stage 3: Discrimination, Stage 6: Polarization, and Stage 10: Denial.
Genocide Watch recommends:
● Bosnia’s High Representative under Dayton, Christian Schmidt, must use his authority to stem rampant secessionism and genocide denial from the Republika Srpska.
● The European Union must condition Bosnia’s potential membership upon its willingness to desegregate public accommodations and grant all peoples full political rights.
● Bosnia must provide its judiciary the necessary resources to conduct war crimes trials.
● Bosnia, the U.N., U.S., and E.U. should revise the Dayton Accords to meet current crises.