Bosnian Genocide

In April 1992, the government of the Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia. Over the next several years, Bosnian Serb forces, with the backing of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army, targeted both Bosnian Muslim and Croatian civilians with atrocious crimes resulting in the deaths of some 100,000 people by 1995. It was the worst act of genocide in Europe since the Nazi regime’s destruction of some 6 million Jews during World War II.


In Bosnia, Muslims represented the largest single population group by 1971. More Serbs and Croats emigrated over the next two decades, and in a 1991 census Bosnia’s population of some 4 million was 44 percent Muslim, 31 percent Serb, and 17 percent Croatian. Elections held in late 1990 resulted in a coalition government split between parties representing the three ethnicities.


Bosnian Serbs wanted to be part of a dominant Serbian state in the Balkans-the “Greater Serbia” that Serbian separatists had long envisioned. In May 1992, after the United States and the European Community recognized Bosnia’s independence, Bosnian Serb forces began bombing Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo. They attacked Muslim-dominated towns, forcibly expelling civilians in a brutal process that later was identified as “ethnic cleansing.”

Bosnian government forces tried to defend the territory, sometimes with the help of the Croatian army, but Bosnian Serb forces controlled nearly three-quarters of the country by the end of 1993. The United Nations (U.N.) refused to intervene in the conflict in Bosnia.


By the summer of 1995, three towns in eastern Bosnia remained under control of the Bosnian government. The U.N. had declared them “safe havens,” to be disarmed and protected by international peacekeeping forces. On July 11, however, Bosnian Serb forces advanced on one of the towns, Srebrenica. The Serbian forces put the women and girls on buses and sent them to Bosnian-held territory. Some of the women were sexually assaulted, while the men and boys who remained behind were killed. Estimates of Muslims killed by Serb forces at Srebrenica range from 7,000 to 8,000.

The international community began to respond more forcefully to the ongoing conflict and its growing civilian death toll. In August 1995, after the Serbs refused to comply with a U.N. ultimatum, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) joined efforts with Bosnian and Croatian forces. For three weeks they bombed Bosnian Serb positions and ran a ground offensive. The U.S.-sponsored peace talks in Dayton, Ohio in November 1995 resulted in the creation of a federalized Bosnia divided between a Croat-Bosniak federation and a Serb republic.


In May 1993, the U.N. Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). It was the first international tribunal to prosecute genocide as a specific war crime.

Though the court called the massacre at Srebrenica genocide and said that Serbia “could and should” have prevented it and punished those who committed it, it stopped short of declaring Serbia guilty of the genocide itself.

Source: Bosnian Genocide
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