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Bosnia-Herzegovina Country Report

Bosnia-Herzegovina Country Report

December 2021

Bosnia-Herzegovina was historically multi-ethnic. According to the 1991 census, 44% of the population identified as Muslim Bosniak, 32.5% as Orthodox Serb, and 17% as Catholic Croat. Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito stifled nationalist separatist movements during his regime. When Tito died in 1980, Yugoslavia began to break up, divided by ethnic nationalism. Independence movements arose in Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia. Serbian nationalism was particularly dangerous, as Slobodan Milošević sought a pan-Serbian state and the expulsion of Bosniaks and Croats.

When Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence in April 1992, Bosnian Serb forces attacked, seeking secession from Bosnia and unification with Serbia. Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević used Serbian nationalism and anti-Muslim hate speech to divide Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats. Bosnian Serb forces and Serb militias perpetrated genocide and crimes against humanity against Bosniaks and Croats, including extermination, torture, deportation, detention in concentration camps, and shelling and murder of civilians.

Approximately 100,000 people (military and civilians) were killed during the Bosnian War. 61% of the victims were Bosniak Muslims; 25% were Bosnian Serbs, and 8% were Bosnian Croats. Serb militias deported Bosniak women to “rape camps” where they forcibly impregnated them with “Serbian” children following the patrilineal rules of Yugoslav ethnic identity. Rape was a tool of genocide.

The United Nations peacekeeping force, UNPROFOR, tried to establish “safe zones” for Bosnian refugees at Srebrenica, Gorazde, and Zepa. But the “safe zones” weren’t safe. The head of UNPROFOR, Akashi, refused to authorize the use of force to protect them. On July 11, 1995, the Bosnian Serb army took Srebrenica, overwhelming the Dutch UN peacekeeping forces. Serbian forces separated males and females, deported and sexually assaulted the women, and killed the men. 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were massacred in what was recognized by the ICTY and ICJ as the Srebrenica genocide.

The UN established the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1993 to prosecute those who perpetrated genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. Slobodan Milošević, Radovan Karadžić, and Ratko Mladić were among the top leaders prosecuted for by the ICTY. Karadžić and Mladić were convicted of genocide. Milošević died before the end of his four-year trial.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is still ethnically divided. On October 25, 2021, Milrod Dodik, the Serb president of Bosnia’s triple-shared presidency, announced that Republika Srpska will withdraw from several shared institutions, including the military and judicial bodies, and establish Serb-only replacements. Dodik has repeatedly threatened to secede from Bosnia in favor of the predominantly Serb Republika Srpska. Dodik even denies the 1995 Srebrenica genocide.

Genocide denial has plagued Bosnia-Herzegovina since the end of the Yugoslav Wars. Bosnian Serbs and Serbian nationalists minimize the genocide, denying massacres of Bosniaks and Croats. Bosnian Serb military leaders attempted to cover up their massacres by exhuming bodies from mass graves and burying them in secondary and tertiary gravesites. Serb revisionists try to minimize the well-documented murders of the Srebrenica genocide. Other Serb leaders even claim that the Srebrenica genocide was entirely fabricated.

Genocide Watch considers Bosnia-Herzegovina to be at Stage 6: Polarization and Stage 10: Denial.

Genocide Watch recommends the following:

  • Bosnia-Herzegovina should join the European Union to promote political and economic stability.

  • Signatory nations to the Dayton Peace Accords should demand the ouster of Dodik.

  • NATO and the EU should declare that they will not tolerate new separatist movements in Bosnia.

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