Ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian War

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Ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian War
Part of the Bosnian War
Branjevo Military Farm Grave Exhumation.jpg
Exhumed victims of ethnic cleansing through murder in the Srebrenica massacre
Ethnic makeup of Bosnia and Herzegovina before and after the war.jpg
Ethnic distribution at the municipal level in Bosnia and Herzegovina before (1991) and after the war (1998)
LocationBosnia and Herzegovina
Date1992 - 1995
Attack type
Ethnic cleansing, Deportation, Concentration camps, Torture, Genocidal rape, Mass murder, Genocide
Deaths42,432 to 55,803 dead and disappeared:
  • 13,000 to 17,000 or more rapes:
    • 10,000 to 12,000 women[5] and 3,000[6] to 5,000[6][7] or more males were raped

Widespread ethnic cleansing accompanied the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992–95), as large numbers of Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and Bosnian Croats were forced to flee their homes and were expelled by Bosnian Serbs and Serb paramilitary.[8][9][10][11] Some Bosnian Croats also carried out a similar campaign against Bosniaks and Serbs. While it was recorded that Bosniaks also engaged in grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other violations of international humanitarian law, they did not engage in systematic ethnic cleansing.[12]

Beginning in 1991, political upheavals in the Balkans displaced about 2,700,000 people by mid-1992, of which over 700,000 of them sought asylum in other European countries.[13][14] According to a 1994 CIA report, the Bosnian territory held by Serbs had 1,730,000 Bosniaks and Croats before the war in 1992, but by November 1994, only 165,700 non-Serbs were left.[15] The campaign was believed to be a part of a plan to create a "Greater Serbia" from a collapsed Yugoslavia.[16]

The methods used during the Bosnian ethnic cleansing campaigns included "murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, extra-judicial executions, rape and sexual assaults, confinement of civilian population in ghetto areas, forcible removal, displacement and deportation of civilian population, deliberate military attacks or threats of attacks on civilians and civilian areas, and wanton destruction of property".[17] The UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) later convicted several officials (mostly Serbs, but also several Croats) for persecution, forced transfer and/or deportation consituting a crime against humanity.


Ethnic cleansing "is a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas. (Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 780)".[18]

An earlier draft by the Commission of Experts described ethnic cleansing as "the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogenous." which it based on "the many reports describing the policy and practices conducted in the former Yugoslavia, 'ethnic cleansing' has been carried out by means of murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, extra-judicial executions, rape and sexual assaults, confinement of civilian population in ghetto areas, forcible removal, displacement and deportation of civilian population, deliberate military attacks or threats of attacks on civilians and civilian areas, and wanton destruction of property. Those practices constitute crimes against humanity and can be assimilated to specific war crimes. Furthermore, such acts could also fall within the meaning of the Genocide Convention".[17]

Ethnic cleansing is not to be confused with genocide. These terms are not synonymous, yet the academic discourse considers both as existing in a spectrum of assaults on nations or religio-ethnic groups. Ethnic cleansing is similar to forced deportation or 'population transfer' whereas genocide is the "intentional murder of part or all of a particular ethnic, religious, or national group."[19] The idea in ethnic cleansing is "to get people to move, and the means used to this end range from the legal to the semi-legal."[20] Some academics consider genocide as a subset of "murderous ethnic cleansing."[21] Thus, these concepts are different, but related, "literally and figuratively, ethnic cleansing bleeds into genocide, as mass murder is committed in order to rid the land of a people."[22]

In reviewing the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Bosnian Genocide Case in the judgement of Jorgic v. Germany on 12 July 2007 the European Court of Human Rights quoted from the ICJ ruling on the Bosnian Genocide Case to draw a distinction between ethnic cleansing and genocide.

The term 'ethnic cleansing' has frequently been employed to refer to the events in Bosnia and Herzegovina which are the subject of this case ... General Assembly resolution 47/121 referred in its Preamble to 'the abhorrent policy of 'ethnic cleansing', which is a form of genocide', as being carried on in Bosnia and Herzegovina. ... It [i.e. ethnic cleansing] can only be a form of genocide within the meaning of the [Genocide] Convention, if it corresponds to or falls within one of the categories of acts prohibited by Article II of the Convention. Neither the intent, as a matter of policy, to render an area "ethnically homogeneous", nor the operations that may be carried out to implement such policy, can as such be designated as genocide: the intent that characterizes genocide is "to destroy, in whole or in part" a particular group, and deportation or displacement of the members of a group, even if effected by force, is not necessarily equivalent to destruction of that group, nor is such destruction an automatic consequence of the displacement. This is not to say that acts described as 'ethnic cleansing' may never constitute genocide, if they are such as to be characterized as, for example, 'deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part', contrary to Article II, paragraph (c), of the Convention, provided such action is carried out with the necessary specific intent (dolus specialis), that is to say with a view to the destruction of the group, as distinct from its removal from the region. As the ICTY has observed, while 'there are obvious similarities between a genocidal policy and the policy commonly known as 'ethnic cleansing' ' (Krstić, IT-98-33-T, Trial Chamber Judgment, 2 August 2001, para. 562), yet '[a] clear distinction must be drawn between physical destruction and mere dissolution of a group. The expulsion of a group or part of a group does not in itself suffice for genocide. — ECHR quoting the ICJ.[23]

Number of refugees or internally displaced in 1992–1995
Country Bosniaks Croats Serbs
Bosnia and Herzegovina 1,270,000
(63 percent of the group)[24]
(67 percent of the group)[24]
(39 percent of the group)[24]


Destruction of religious buildings[edit]


In Bosnia and Herzegovina, 125 Orthodox churches were destroyed (Banja Luka Eparchy 2, Bihacko-Petrovac Diocese 26, Dabrobosanska Eparchy 23, Zahumsko-hercegovačka 36, Zvornik-tuzlanska 38), while 172 churches were damaged (Banja Luka Eprahija 3, Bihacko-Petrovačka eparchija 68, Dabrobosanska eparhija 13, Zahumsko-hercegovačka 28, Zvornik-tuzlanska 60), demolished 67 parish homes and other objects, while 64 are damaged in greater or lesser degree.[25] [26]


Destruction of Islamic religious buildings in Bosnia (1992–1995)[27]
Destroyed by Serbs Destroyed by Croats Damaged by Serbs Damaged by Croats Total destroyed during the war Total damaged during the war Total Total no. before the war Percentage of pre-war damaged or destroyed
congregational mosque 249 58 540 80 307 620 927 1,149 81%
small neighbourhood mosque 21 20 175 43 41 218 259 557 47%
Quran schools 14 4 55 14 18 69 87 954 9%
Dervish lodges 4 1 3 1 5 4 9 15 60%
Mausolea, shrines 6 1 34 3 7 37 44 90 49%
Buildings of religious endowments 125 24 345 60 149 405 554 1,425 39%
Total 419 108 1,152 201 527 1,353 1,880 4,190 45%


Total number of destroyed Catholic religious objects in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992–1995)[28]
Destroyed by Muslims Destroyed by Serbs Damaged by Muslims Damaged by Serbs Total destroyed during the war Total damaged during the war Total
churches 8 117 67 120 125 187 312
chapels 19 44 75 89 63 164 227
clergy houses 9 56 40 121 65 161 226
monasteries 0 8 7 15 8 22 30
cemeteries 8 0 61 95 8 156 164
Total 44 225 250 481 269 731 1000

Legal prosecution and war crimes trials[edit]

Several people were tried and convicted by the ICTY in connection to persecution, forced displacement and/or deportation as a crime against humanity during the Bosnian war in the 1990s. These included Bosnian Serb politicians and officials, such as Momčilo Krajišnik,[29] Radoslav Brđanin,[30] Stojan Župljanin, Mićo Stanišić,[31], Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić.[32] They also included some Bosnian Croat officials, such as Mladen Naletilić,[33] Slobodan Praljak and Jadranko Prlić. [34]

See also[edit]


  2. ^ a b c d Research and Documentation Center: Rezultati istraživanja "Ljudski gubici '91–'95" Archived 3 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Balkans: Thousands still missing two decades after conflicts". Amnesty International. 30 August 2012. Archived from the original on 2 August 2014. Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  4. ^ ICRC Annual Report 2010 Archived 15 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed 25 May 2015, p. 345
  5. ^ Crowe, David M. (2013). War Crimes, Genocide, and Justice: A Global History. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-62224-1. p. 343.
  6. ^ a b "Legacies and Lessons: Sexual violence against men and boys in Sri Lanka and Bosnia & Herzegovinia" (PDF). UCLA School of Law: Health & Human Rights Project. All Survivors Project.
  7. ^ Randall, Amy E. (2015). Genocide and Gender in the Twentieth Century: A Comparative Survey. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
  8. ^ Committee on Foreign Relations, US Senate, The Ethnic Cleansing of Bosnia-Hercegovina, (US Government Printing Office, 1992)
  9. ^ "A/RES/47/147 Situation of human rights in the territory of the former Yugoslavia". United Nations. 18 December 1992. Retrieved 25 July 2019. 3. Condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent practice of "ethnic cleansing" and recognises that the Serbian leadership in territories under their control in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Yugoslav Army and the political leadership of the Republic of Serbia bear primary responsibility for this reprehensible practice
  10. ^ "War Crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina: U.N. Cease-Fire Won't Help Banja Luka". Human Rights Watch. June 1994. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  11. ^ "War and humanitarian action: Iraq and the Balkans" (PDF). UNHCR. 2000. p. 218. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  12. ^ Annex IV The policy of ethnic cleansing – I. Introduction, 28 December 1994
  13. ^ "Bosnia: Dayton Accords".
  14. ^ Wren, Christopher S. "Resettling Refugees: U.N. Facing New Burden".
  15. ^ "Bosnia: Serb Ethnic Cleansing" (PDF). CIA. December 1994. p. 1. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  16. ^ Michael J., Kelly (2002). "Can Sovereigns Be Brought to Justice? The Crime of Genocide's Evolution and the Meaning of the Milosevic Trial". St. John's Law Review. 76 (2): 301. SSRN 920900.
  17. ^ a b Report of the Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 780 (1992), 27 May 1994 (S/1994/674), English page=33, Paragraph 129
  18. ^ Report of the Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 780 (1992), 27 May 1994 (S/1994/674), English page=33, Paragraph 130
  19. ^ [Schabas W. A., 2000, Genocide in International Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.][1]
  20. ^ Naimark, 2001 [Naimark N. M., 2001, Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in 20th Century Europe, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.][2]
  21. ^ [Mann M., 2005,The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.][3]
  22. ^ [Naimark, N. 2007, Theoretical Paper:Ethnic Cleansing, Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-06. Retrieved 2016-02-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^ ECHR Jorgic v. Germany[permanent dead link] §45 citing Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro ("Case concerning the application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide") the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found under the heading of "intent and 'ethnic cleansing'" § 190
  24. ^ a b c Friedman 2013, p. 78.
  25. ^
  26. ^ Mileusnić, Slobodan (1997). Spiritual Genocide: A survey of destroyed, damaged and desecrated churches, monasteries and other church buildings during the war 1991-1995 (1997)
  27. ^ Islam and Bosnia: Conflict Resolution and Foreign Policy in Multi-Ethnic States, Maya Shatzmiller, page 100, 2002
  28. ^ Destroyed and damaged Catholic churches and religious buildings in Bosnia and Herzegovina in war 1991 - 1995 (original title: Srušene i oštećene katoličke crkve i vjerski objekti u Bosni i Hercegovini u ratu 1991. - 1995), Slobodan Praljak, page 39, 2009
  29. ^ "UN tribunal transfers former Bosnian Serb leader to UK prison". UN News. 8 September 2009. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  30. ^ "Bosnian Serb politician convicted by UN tribunal to serve jail term in Denmark". UN News. 4 March 2008. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  31. ^ "Former high-ranking Bosnian Serbs receive sentences for war crimes from UN tribunal". UN News. 27 March 2013. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  32. ^ "UN hails conviction of Mladic, the 'epitome of evil,' a momentous victory for justice". UN News. 22 November 2017. Retrieved 25 July 2019. The convictions against the former Bosnian Serb army commander included for commanding violent ethnic cleansing campaigns across Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995
  33. ^ "Bosnian Croat commander convicted by UN tribunal to serve jail term in Italy". UN News. 25 April 2008. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  34. ^ Rachel Irwin (30 May 2013). "Guilty Sentences for Six Bosnian Croat Leaders". IWPR. Retrieved 25 July 2019.