TransConflict is pleased to present part nine 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.”
By Marie-Janine Calic
As ethnic cleansing produced waves of refugees and humanitarian plight, the UN Security Council declared Srebrenica, Sarajevo, Tuzla, Žepa, Goražde, and Bihać to be safe areas and deployed a “light option” of 7,500 UN peacekeepers.
In July 1995, the Bosnian Serb army overran the Srebrenica and Žepa safe areas, forcing over 30,000 people to flee and massacring an additional 6,500–8,800 male Srebrenica detainees in a couple of days. These mass killings represent the worst atrocity to have taken place on European soil since World War II. Witness testimony has revealed that Serb troops detained Bosniak men who had fled to the UNPROFOR compound at Potočari, while capturing others hiding in the woods, often telling them they would be treated in accordance with the Geneva conventions. Instead, thousands of prisoners were gathered together in detention sites across the area, many of them in the small town of Bratunac. There is abundant evidence that most of the mass executions followed a well-established pattern: “the men were first taken to empty schools or warehouses. After being detained there for some hours, they were loaded onto buses or trucks and taken to another site for execution.” Mass killings following the military conquest of the then UN-protected safe area of Srebrenica count as the first legally recognized genocide in Europe since World War II.
Operations Flash and Storm in Croatia, 1995
One of the largest ethnic cleansing operations happened on the territory of Croatia. Zagreb launched two major military operations to destroy the Serb para-state: Operation Flash in western Slavonia in May 1995 and Operation Storm in August 1995. Between 4 August 1995 and 15 November 1995, a large part of the Serb population in Croatia either fled or was expelled. Croatian General Ante Gotovina and others stood accused at The Hague as alleged participants of a joint criminal enterprise, namely the intentional permanent removal of the Serb population from the Krajina region. According to numerous witness statements and Serbian refugee organizations, expulsion also took place in those areas where no military operations occurred—a clear indication that ethnic cleansing was not a mere by-product of the war. Displaced persons and refugees from Croatia report the same discriminatory practices that were known in Bosnia-Hercegovina (and directed against the non-Serb population there), including threats, restriction of freedom of movement, isolation at the workplace and layoffs, detention, and liquidation.
On the basis of a vast amount of witness statements, documentary evidence, and reports from various experts, the ICTY Chamber, in its judgment of 15 April 2011, found “that Croatian military forces and the Special Police committed acts of murder, cruel treatment, inhumane acts, destruction, plunder, persecution, and deportation.” It further stated, considering the large number of crimes committed against the Serb population of the Krajina region in a relatively short period of time, “that there was a widespread and systematic attack directed against this Serb civilian population.” Numerous inhumane acts added to create an environment in which Serbs had no choice but to leave. At least 20,000 were deported. After the military operation legal instruments were applied in order to deprive Serbs of the use of their property and houses.
The exact number of Serbs who fled their homes has yet to be settled. The figure ranges from 150,000 to 300,000, depending on the source. The Hague Tribunal’s indictment of Ante Gotovina cites 150,000–200,000 refugees. According to the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, more than 400 Serb civilians were killed and over 22,000 homes burned during and after Operation Storm. Serbian sources speak about 405,000 Serb refugees from Croatia.
‘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:
55) ICTY, Case No. IT–98–33–A, 19 April 2004, Appeals Chamber, Prosecutor v. Radislav Krstić, Judgement, http://www.un.org/icty/krstic/Appeal/judgement/index.htm, accessed 10 October 2008.
56) Summary Judgment for Gotovina et al., The Hague, 15 April 2011, http://www.icty.org/x/cases/gotovina/tjug/en/110415_summary.pdf, accessed 10 November 2011.
57) Momčilo Mitrović, “Etničko čišćenje Srba iz Zagreba 1992–1994.—po oralnojistoriji” (Ethnic Cleansing of Serbs from Zagreb, 1992–1994, According to Oral History), Tokovi istorije, nos. 3–4 (2003): 89–98.