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

TransConflict is pleased to present part seven 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.”

Suggested Reading

Conflict Background


By Marie-Janine Calic

Between April and May 1992, Bosnian Serb forces and JNA attacked Bosnian towns such as Prijedor and other villages in the Kozarac region of northwest Bosnia-Hercegovina and Zvornik in northeast Bosnia-Hercegovina. Countless attacks occurred in towns and villages along the Drina and Sava Rivers, after which Serbian forces took control over a number of strategically important locations along the two corridors in northern and eastern Bosnia, such as Bosanski Brod (27 March), Bijeljina (4 April), Kupres (4 April), Foča (8 April), Zvornik (8 April), Višegrad (13 April), Brčko (30 April), and Prijedor (30 April). Areas that were captured and subsequently cleansed constitute an arc extending from Goražde in the southeast and along the Drina River through Zvornik, Banja Luka, and Prijedor before continuing along the Sava and Korana Rivers, which form the boundaries with the Serb Krajina area in Croatia.

Some of the largest battles of the Bosnian war occurred during 1992 in the Posavina Corridor, which was of high strategic importance because it linked the western with the eastern part of the nascent Serb Republic and, at the same time with the Serb para-state in Croatia and rump Yugoslavia. The Bosnian Serb Army carried out ethnic cleansing operations in order to break military resistance by the Bosniak population and secure what they called the vital “corridor of life.”

CIA analysts conclude that the scope, scale, and programming of crimes committed against Bosniaks and Croats in the Prijedor–Sanski Most–Ključ areas during May–July 1992 “would have been impossible had they not been conducted as military operations by units of the Bosnian Serb Army’s 1st Krajina Corps.”[37] From July to November 1992, the Army of the Serb Republic (VRS) assaulted Jajce and the Bihać pocket—the latter being able to resist Serb forces. Brutal fighting and atrocities occurred in the Drina Valley between April and December 1992, around Zvornik–Srebrenica and Foča–Goražde–Višegrad, where Bosnian Serb forces met stalwart Bosniak resistance.

A UN commission of experts discerned a specific pattern of military conquest and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Bosnian Serbs took control over key municipalities that retained Bosniak or Croat-controlled units. Bosniaks and Croats were ordered to turn in their weapons, claiming that this was necessary to eliminate the threat from opposing forces.[38] Towns and surrounding villages were encircled and shelled, including Kozarac, Sanski Most, and Ključ in May 1992. VRS troops rounded up the entire population, separated the males of military age and interned them in camps—primarily Omarska, Keraterm, and Manjača. Women and children were expelled to Bosniak-held enclaves.[39] Non-Serb residents were often fired from their jobs, and their property was confiscated.[40]

In Resolution 771 (13 August 1992), the UN Security Council expressed grave alarm at continuing reports of widespread violations of international humanitarian law occurring in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The resolution referred to reports of forcible mass expulsion and deportation of civilians, imprisonment and abuse of civilians in detention centers, deliberate attacks on noncombatants, and wanton devastation and destruction of property. On 9 February 1993, the UN secretary-general submitted an interim report of the Commission of Experts (S/25274) that documented willful killing, practices of ethnic cleansing, mass killings, torture, rape, pillage and destruction of civilian property, destruction of cultural and religious property, and arbitrary arrests. All kinds of atrocities, including killings, sexual assaults, and rapes, were committed in order to implement the policy of ethnic cleansing.

Approximately 70 percent of the expulsions already had occurred between April and August 1992, during which time Serb armed forces attacked 37 municipalities, most notably Zvornik, Bratunac, Vlasenica, Višegrad, Prijedor, Sanski Most, Ključ, and municipalities along the Sava River Valley. In total, approximately 850 Bosniak- and Croat-occupied villages were physically destroyed and no longer exist, with entire families disappearing.[41] Roma and Romani communities were also affected throughout the years 1992–1995, particularly in Prijedor and the surrounding villages of Kozarac, Hambarine, Tukovi, and Rizvanovići. Particular atrocities happened in Vlasenica, Rogatica, and Zvornik and surrounding villages. Up to 30,000 Roma were expelled.[42]

In only a few months, many areas totally changed their ethnic structure. For example, in the eastern Bosnian municipality of Foča, Bosniaks and Croats comprised 51 percent of the population in 1991, whereas at the end of 1992, most of the non-Serb population had already been expelled. By 1997, the Bosniak and Croat population numbered only 434 persons, or 3.8 percent of the total population of the municipality. The situation was similar in other municipalities, such as Zvornik, where there were 31,000 Bosniaks and Croats in 1991 and fewer than 1,000 in 1997. In Bratunac the non-Serb community of 16,000 persons in 1991 was reduced to only hundreds by 1997.[43] Similar ethnic cleansing campaigns happened in Ključ, Prijedor, and Sanski Most. As a result, in thirty-seven municipalities the share of non-Serbs fell from 726,960 (53.97 percent) in 1991 to 235,015 (36.39 percent) in 1997, whereas the number of non-Serbs in the territory of the “federation” in Bosnia-Hercegovina, had increased by 41.18 percent. Altogether, the number of non-Serbs in the areas that now form the Republika Srpska had fallen by 81.74 percent.[44]

‘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:


37) Ibid., 145.

38) Ibid., 2: 304.

39) Ibid., 2: 305.

40) Final Report of the UN Commission of Experts, Annex IV, 9, para. 28.

41) ICTY, Case No. IT–00–39&40/1-S, 27 February 2003, Prosecutor v. Biljana Plavšić, Sentencing Judgement, plavsic/trialc/judgement/index.htm, accessed 10 October 2008.

42) ERRC Country Report, The Non-Constituents: Rights Deprivation of Roma in Post-Genocide Bosnia and Herzegovina,, accessed 13 October 2008.

43) International Tribunal, Case No. IT–00–39&40/1–S, para. 37.

44) Ibid., para. 36.

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