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

TransConflict is pleased to present part ten 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


By Marie-Janine Calic

III. Features of Ethnic Cleansing as a Policy

Crime of the State and Other Authorities

There is abundant evidence that ethnic cleansing appeared as a campaign, pattern, or systematic policy, which is based on the very idea of ethnic purification as an organizing principle of state and society. In the words of the UN commission of experts, “the patterns of conduct, the manner in which these acts were carried out, the length of time over which they took place and the areas in which they occurred combine to reveal a purpose, systematicity and some planning and coordination from higher authorities.”[58] The special rapporteur of the UN, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, has made it clear “that the principal objective of the military conflict in Bosnia-Hercegovina is the establishment of ethnically homogeneous regions. Ethnic cleansing does not appear to be a consequence of the war but rather its goal.”[59]

The question of whether there existed a long-term plan to cleanse territories of unwanted population is a matter of controversy that relates directly to the countless debates about the causes of Yugoslavia’s disintegration, the very nature of the wars of succession, and the question of Serbian and Croatian war aims in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Many authors believe that Serbian war aims embraced the creation of a greater Serbian state, which implied the expulsion of non-Serbs from territories taken under control.[60] James Gow maintains that the commission of war crimes was even an essential part of the Serbian expansionist project.[61] Others have emphasized an alleged conspiracy between Tudjman and Milošević to carve up Bosnia,[62] which in Smail Čekić’s interpretation included a joint genocidal intent.[63]

The ICTY office of the prosecutor maintains that early measures to prepare ethnic cleansing operations by Serb armed forces in Bosnia-Hercegovina can be traced back as early as the second half of 1991. The sentencing judgment against Republika Srpska’s wartime presidency comember Biljana Plavšić statesSDS, “intensified efforts to ensure that the objective of ethnic separation by force would be achieved if a negotiated solution did not occur. These efforts included the arming of parts of the Bosnian Serb population in collaboration with the Yugoslav National Army (JNA), the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP) of Serbia and Serbian paramilitaries.”[64]

As early as November 1991, Radovan Karadžić asserted in a much quoted public speech: “Let us separate as many things as possible. Like in the days of the Turks. One Serbian town center, one Turkish town center, Serbian affairs, Turkish affairs, Serbian cafes, theaters, schools and everything else. This is the only solution.”[65] Also, the constitution of the Republika Srpska made it clear that it should be a state exclusively for Serbs. On 21 November 1991, the assembly proclaimed as part of the territory of the federal Yugoslav state all municipalities, local communities, and populated places in which over 50 percent of the Serbian population had voted to remain in that state during the plebiscite. This means that numerous municipalities with a mixed population were included in the territory of this para-state. Yet, Article I.1 of the constitution declared that the Republika Srpska was “the state of the Serb people,” without mentioning citizens of other nationalities. This article suggests the conclusion that the strategic aim of the Republika Srpska was to create a purely Serbian state and that the crimes committed during the armed takeover and cleansing of ethnically mixed areas were directly connected with this goal.

Frequently, crimes in connection with ethnic cleansing were carried out by paramilitary forces. These irregular troops were supported, equipped, and supplied by the governments they served, and they usually acted in agreement with local authorities or higher military commanders. In 1994, the UN Commission of Experts identified more than eighty different paramilitary groups. Many of them joined in the armed conflict, operating with the regular armies and under regular army officers’ command. Others operated independently in certain geographic areas from which the personnel in these units came. Hence the commission’s judgment that “the outcome of such a structure and the strategies and tactics employed help to blur the chain of command and conceal responsibility. This concealment may well be intended by some of the parties to provide a shield of plausible deniability.”[66]

General Veljko Kadijević elaborated in his memoir on how the Yugoslav Army redefined its role after the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Namely, instead of defending the Yugoslav state against foreign military threats, the General Staff decided “to protect” Serbs in Croatia and to strive for full control over Bosnia-Hercegovina. Entire arsenals of weapons and military equipment were handed to the VRS after the official withdrawal from BiH in May 1992. An additional goal was the “creation and defense of a new Yugoslav state” consisting of the Serbian and the Montenegrin people.[67]

‘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:


58) Final Report of the Commission of Experts, S/1994/674, 27 May 1994, 35, para. 140.

59) [Second] Mazowiecki Report, E/CN.4/1992/S-1/10, 27 October 1992, point 6,, accessed 10 October 2008.

60) See for instance, Laura Silber and Allan Little, The Death of Yugoslavia (London: Penguin Books, 1995); James Gow, The Serbian Project and Its Adversaries: A Strategy of War Crimes (London: Hurst, 2003); Norman Cigar, Genocide in Bosnia: The Policy of Ethnic Cleansing (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1995); Tilman Zülch, Etničko čišćenje: genocid za Veliku Srbiju (Ethnic Cleansing: Genocide for Greater Serbia) (Sarajevo: Vijeće Kongresa Bošnjačkih Intelektualaca, 1996).

61) Gow, Serbian Project.

62) Silber and Little, Death of Yugoslavia, 325.

63) Čekić, Aggression against Bosnia.

64) ICTY, Case No. IT–00–39&40/1–S, para. 12.

65) ICTY, Case No. IT–95–5–R61/IT–95–18–R61, 11 July 1996, Prosecutor v. Radovan Karadžić/Ratko Mladić, Review of the Indictments Pursuant to Rule 61 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, 20,, accessed 10 October 2008.

66) Final Report of the Commission of Experts, S/1994/674, 27 May 1994, 32, para. 124.

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