Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995 – part eight

TransConflict is pleased to present part eight of a chapter of “Confronting the Yugoslav controversies – a scholars’ initiative”, entitled “Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995”, which “aims at describing causes, features, and consequences of ethnic cleansing as a policy in Bosnia-Hercegovina during the war.”

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Conflict Background

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By Marie-Janine Calic

The “Second War” between Bosniaks and Croats, 1993–1994: New Violations against Serbs

In the early stages of the war, during most of 1992, Bosniaks and Croats fought together against the Bosnian Serbs. Their armed forces concluded a formal alliance and established joint command structures.

Nevertheless, as early as May 1992, the first confrontations among these allies occurred over control of barracks and munitions production facilities in joint Bosniak-Croat held territory.[45] From July onward, separate BiH government and Croat military and civilian structures were established in many regions of Croat-Bosniak cohabitation. Following the creation of the Herceg-Bosna para-state, on 8 April 1992, the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) was formed as the supreme defense body. From their inception the Herceg-Bosna leadership and the HVO had very close relations with the Croatian government and the Croatian Army (HV).

Relations between the Bosnia-Hercegovina government and the HVO deteriorated in the autumn of 1992. In late October 1992, Croat-Bosniak violence escalated and developed into outright fighting (in Novi Travnik on 19 October and Vitez the following day), but conflagrations still could be contained. By January 1993 this was no longer possible because the Bosniak and Croatian leadership began fighting each other. In April 1993, Bosnian Croats launched an offensive in the Lašva Valley in Central Bosnia. Throughout 1993 and early 1994, fighting in central and southern BiH intensified. In an attempt to secure control of the Lašva Valley, the HVO attempted to eject the non-Croat population. On 16 April 1993, the HVO systematically destroyed the village of Ahmići. Investigations by the UN and others indicate that the attack was preplanned. It resulted in a “deliberate massacre of unarmed, unwarned civilians: the Bosnian Croats systematically set out to find and execute the entire population.”[46]

Serious violations of international humanitarian law were also committed against Bosnian Muslims in the cities, towns, villages, and hamlets of the municipalities of Vitez, Busovača, Kiseljak, Vareš, Žepče, Zenica, Duvno, Stolac, Mostar, Jablanica, Prozor, Čaplijna, Gornji Vakuf, Novi Travnik, Travnik, Kreševo, and Fojnica, all in the territory of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina. According to the ICTY,

The HVO intimidated, coerced or forcibly transferred Bosnian Muslim civilians in different ways: terrorizing them or ordering them under threat of physical harm to leave their villages to the territory not occupied or controlled by the HVO; detaining and transferring them to detention sites and thereafter taking them to HVO checkpoints to then walk to Bosnian Muslim territory; and detaining them at HVO detention centres and using them in prisoner exchanges.[47]

The persecution of Bosniak civilians, as alleged above, was on such a largescale and widespread basis that it significantly reduced the Bosniak civilian population from those areas of the municipalities of Vitez, Busovača, and Kiseljak where the HVO seized control.[48] Conversely, Bosnian armed forces committed massacres against Croats at Uzdol and Stupni Do.[49] It has even been argued that the Bosnian side committed crimes against the Croats on a much larger scale and that Croats acted only out of self-defense.[50]

Serbs also faced new persecutions. According to the ICTY, the region of Srebrenica was the scene of humanitarian law violations against Serbs. In 1993, local Bosniak armed forces captured the village of Kravica and surrounding areas, committing massacres, looting, and destroying houses. The prosecutor charged that Bosniak armed units engaged in various military operations against Bosnian Serb forces during the period from May 1992 to February 1993, in the course of which “Bosniak armed units in the Municipalities of Bratunac, Srebrenica and Skelani, burnt and otherwise destroyed a minimum of fifty predominantly Serb villages and hamlets. As a result, thousands of Serb individuals fled the area.”[51]

Commander Naser Orić was found guilty in 2006 because he failed to take necessary measures to prevent murder and cruel treatment in a number of instances. But on 3 July 2008, the Appeals Chamber reversed the judgment and found him not guilty because it could not be proved that he had effective control over the Military Police that committed these crimes. Like the Trial Chamber the Appeals Chamber also underscored that it had “no doubt that grave crimes were committed against Serbs detained in Srebrenica…Also, the Defense did not challenge that crimes were committed against Serb detainees.”[52] Last but not least, there is evidence that Serbs were also victimized on a larger scale in the territories held by Bosniak and Croat forces.[53] According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates, the Serb population fell between 1991 and mid-1994 from 43,595 to 5,000 in Western Hercegovina; from 79,355 to 20,000 in the Zenica region; from 82,235 to 23,000 in the Tuzla area; and from 29,398 to 1,609 in the Bihać region.[54]

‘Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995′ is a component of the larger Scholars’ Initiative ‘Confronting Yugoslav Controversies’ (Second Edition), extracts of which will be published on TransConflict.com every Friday.

Previous parts of the chapter ‘Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995’ are available through the following links:

Footnotes

45) CIA, Balkan Battlegrounds, 1: 158.

46) Ibid., 1: 192.

47) ICTY, Case No. IT–95–14, “Lasva Valley,” 25 April 1997, the Prosecutor of the Tribunal against Tihomir Blaškić, Second Amended Indictment, http://www.un.org/icty/ indictment/english/bla-2ai970425e.htm, accessed 10 October 2008.

48) Ibid.

49) CIA, Balkan Battlegrounds, 1: 203–06.

50) Charles R. Shrader, The Muslim-Croat Civil War in Central Bosnia: A Military History, 1992–1994 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003), denies that the HVO committed crimes against Muslims, alleging that the “HVO was forced to react”
and that it “adopted a classic ‘active defense.’” Further, “the HVO, surrounded and heavily outnumbered, had neither the means nor the opportunity to engage in a planned program to attack, dispossess, and expel Muslims from the areas in which they lived”
(160). Instead, ARBiH leaders were “accusing the HVO of the very crimes they themselves were committing” (161).

51) ICTY, Case No. IT-03-68 P, 30 June 2005, the Prosecutor of the Tribunal against Naser Orić, Third Amended Indictment, http://www.un.org/icty/indictment/english/ori-3ai050630e.htm, accessed 10 October 2008.

52) Case Information Sheet Naser Orić, http://www.icty.org/x/cases/oric/cis/en/cis_oric_en.pdf, accessed 10 November 2011.

53) Momčilo Mitrović, Muslimanski logor Visoko (The Muslim Camp Visoko) (Belgrade: Military Historical Institute, 1995); Momčilo Mitrović, Sarajevska raskršća (Sarajevo Crossroads) (Belgrade: Military Historical Institute, 1996); Momčilo Mitrović, Zatvori i logori za Srbe u Hrvatskoj i BiH (Prisons and Camps for Serbs in Croatia and BiH) (Belgrade: Military Historical Institute, 1997).

54) UNHCR, Information Notes of Former Yugoslavia (September 1994), 9.

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