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

TransConflict is pleased to present part fifteen 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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By Marie-Janine Calic

IV. Controversies

Discussions of the total number of victims in Bosnia-Hercegovina started during the war and are still ongoing. Estimates are sometimes not transparent; numbers appear highly inflated; and they frequently bear implications for political debates.[96] How many people were displaced or died in the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina between 1992 and 1995?

Counting the Victims

According to UNHCR, more than two million people had been uprooted by the end of the war in 1995. Approximately half of them fled abroad, whereas the other half was internally displaced. There was a total of 1,097,900 IDPs in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1995. However, exact figures on displacement by ethnic affiliation are not available for the war period. UNHCR in mid-1994 presented rough population estimates but underlined that these estimates were derived from various sources and were only indicative. By then, population structures had already changed substantially due to forced migration.[97]

A more precise ethnic breakdown is available for the post-Dayton period: the Norwegian Refugee Council reports a total of 386,110 displaced persons in Bosnia-Hercegovina in mid-2003. The national structure is as follows: Serbs, 207,955; Bosniaks, 147,611; Croats, 29,489; and others, 1,055.[98] In April 1993, 585,000 refugees from Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Hercegovina were registered in Serbia and Montenegro. Following the operations of the Croatian Army in the Krajina, an additional 189,000 people fled to Serbia and Montenegro.[99] Following the transfer of territories between the two entities under the Dayton Accords, over 60,000 people were displaced between 1996 and 1999.[100] In 1997, the number of internally displaced was already significantly lower: 450,000 displaced persons were registered in the federation, and 366,000 in the Republika Srpska.[101]

Estimates range from about 25,000 to 329,000 deaths—many of them “biased by the historical knowledge, political views, and individual war experience of the authors.”[102] Local estimates have mostly relied on data collected by the governmental Institute for Public Health (IPH) in Sarajevo, such as those of I. Bošnjović, V. Žerjavić, and M. Prašo.[103] Sead Hadžović, for instance, mentions 230,000 dead (71 percent Bosniaks, 9.5 percent Serbs, 9.5 percent Croats).[104] A common problem presented by such tabulations is the duplication of names and the difficulty of culling names of survivors who had been initially listed as dead or missing. For over a decade, Mirsad Tokača’s nongovernmental Research and Documentation Center (RDC) in Sarajevo undertook to establish an accurate accounting that presently constitutes “the largest single source of primary source materials relating to wartime atrocities and violations of international humanitarian law in Bosnia-Hercegovina.”[105] After painstakingly examining and comparing the lists of dead and missing, it soon discredited the previously accepted estimate of 200,000–250,000 dead, recently setting the total number of killed at 101,040, distributed among Bosniaks (65%), Serbs (26%), and Croats (9%).[106]

Initially, the government-related Institute for the Research of Crimes against Humanity (Smail Čekić) questioned Tokača’s research methodology. Indeed, even Tokača admitted that his positivist methodology will inevitably overlook some victims who left no surviving family members to report their disappearance. Nonetheless, it seems unlikely that such unaccounted victims will ever comprise more than a small fraction of the difference between the center’s confirmed dead and the earlier 200,000–250,000 figure. As early as 2005 a study by the Demographic Unit of the ICTY substantially agreed with Tokača’s finding, estimating a total of 102,622 war-related deaths from Bosnia-Hercegovina from 1992 to 1995. This analysis used military records of fallen soldiers of the BiH government army, Republika Srpska army, and the Croatian Defense Council. In addition, it has drawn on ICRC lists of missing persons and the Federal Institute for Statistics Mortality Database and other quantitative data.[107] With the conclusion of the Documentation Center’s research, it appears likely that the ICTY will revisit its earlier tabulations after examining Tokača’s work.

‘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 every Friday.

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


96) Mirna Skrbić, “Counting the Dead,” Transitions Online 4 (April 2006), u MARIE-JANINECALIC&NrArticle=16246&search=search&SearchKeywords=skrbic&SearchMode=on&SearchLevel=0, accessed 19 October 2008.

97) United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Information Notes of former Yugoslavia (September 1994).

98) Norwegian Refugee Council/Global IDP Project, Profile of Internal Displacement: Bosnia and Herzegovina, 37.

99) Mitrović, “Etničko čišćenje kao strategija,” 188.

100) Norwegian Refugee Council/Global IDP Project: Profile of Internal Displacement, 7.

101) Ibid., 8.

102) Ewa Tabeau and Jakub Bijak, “War-Related Deaths in the 1992–1995 Armed Conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Critique of Previous Estimates and Recent Results,” European Journal of Population 21, no. 2–3 (June 2005): 192.

103) Ibid., 194.

104) Sead Hadžović, “Sastavni dio ciljeva rata protiv BiH—genocid i etničko čišćenje” (Integral Part of War Aims against BiH—Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing), in Ratovi u Jugoslaviji 1991–1999.—zbornik diskusija i saopštenja sa okruglog stola (novembar 2001) (Wars in Yugoslavia, 1991–1999: Presentations and Declarations at a Round Table Discussion in November 2001), ed. Radoslav Ratković (Belgrade: Društvo za istinu
o antifašističkoj narodnooslobodilačkoj borbi u Jugoslaviji 1941–1945, 2002), 265–73.

105) Lara J. Nettelfield, “Presentation for Reintegrating Bosnia: Ten Years after the Dayton Peace Agreement,” University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 29 October 2005.

106), accessed 10 October 2008. We acknowledge with gratitude the data personally provided by RDC Director Mirsad Tokača on 8 June 2012, within days of the final tabulation.

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