Bosnia-Herzegovina is part of a region called the Balkans in southeastern Europe. It borders Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia, and is mostly landlocked, save for a small strip of coastline on the Adriatic Sea. It is a mountainous and temperate country, coursed by rivers. Bosnia-Herzegovina is slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia, with roughly four million people. The three main ethnic groups -- Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats -- have shared a rocky history.
Bosnia-Herzegovina was one of the poorest republics in the old Yugoslav Federation. Today it has a substantial deficit and a high unemployment rate -- officially more than 45 percent. Slowly, socialist economic structures have been replaced by private investment. Foreign banks, primarily from Western Europe, now control most of the banking sector. Agriculture mostly comprises small farms, and the republic imports much of its food. Only 13 percent of the land is arable.
The word “balkan” comes from the Turkish word for mountain. The Balkans were ruled by the Ottoman Turks for 500 years. Near the end of the 17th century, the Austro-Hungarian Empire extended into the region and weakened the Turks’ power.
A Catalyst for War
As the Ottoman Empire crumbled, nationalism swept through the region. In 1914, Austria-Hungary sent the Archduke Franz Ferdinand to deal with the unrest and quell Serbian expansionism. He was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serb nationalist, an event which triggered World War I. When Austria-Hungary was defeated in the war, Balkan state boundaries were once again redefined.
Following the war, Bosnia was incorporated into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which later became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, ruled by an authoritarian monarchy. Serbs controlled the government, but social and economic unrest simmered. Coalitions and alliances among various political parties constantly shifted, and frustrations over property distribution fell along ethnic lines. An anti-Serb movement grew, and there was official discussion of a partition of Bosnia between Croatia and Serbia in the late 1930s.
The ethnic tensions exploded into civil war during World War II. German troops were helped by Croatian Fascists. The Croats, in turn, were rewarded with their own independent puppet state, which included Bosnia. Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and anti-Fascist Croats were killed in concentration camps in Croatia, and German troops took control of Serbia. Rival regional groups led by Josip Broz Tito, a communist, and Dragoljub Mihailovic, a Serb nationalist, fought both the Germans and each other. As the war drew to a close, Tito emerged as leader.
Marshall Tito declared Yugoslavia an independent Communist republic in 1945. Nationalist tendencies were appeased through the creation of a federation of six republics -- Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. Tito’s dictatorial leadership and communist rule brought a measure of stability to the region, and relations with the West secured loans that fed development.
In 1980, following the death of Tito and the end of his iron-fisted rule, the Yugoslavian Federation limped along for another 10 years. Beginning in the 1990s, ethnic divides over unequal development, employment opportunities and property distribution created new tensions. Yugoslavia started to unravel, and nationalism began to replace communism.
Plans for a “Greater Serbia”
By 1992, Bosnia, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia were recognized as independent states, and Serbia and Montenegro declared a new “Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” (FRY), with President Slobodan Milosevic as their leader. With the new state boundaries came a new wave of ethnic fighting between the Croats, Muslims and Serbs. Bosnian Serbs, who had boycotted the referendum for independence, responded to the shift in power with armed resistance.
Under Slobodan Milosevic, Serbs began a military and propaganda campaign to unite ethnic Serbs in neighboring republics into a “Greater Serbia.” Part of this Serbian expansionism was a general plan to ethnically cleanse the region. By the end of 1992, hundreds of Bosnian Muslim and Croat citizens were dead, and thousands more had been forced out of their towns and villages. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was ousted from the United Nations for its actions, but the Serbs continued their campaign.
By 1993, Bosnian Serb forces controlled 70 percent of Bosnia and had besieged the Bosnian Muslim government in the capital, Sarajevo. In central Bosnia, Muslim forces were fighting a separate war against Bosnian Croats, who also had nationalist goals. United Nations peacekeepers were unable to dampen the violence.
In July 1995, while under the protection of the United Nations, the town of Srebrenica was attacked by Bosnian Serb forces. Their commander was General Ratko Mladic. Thousands of Muslim men and boys were massacred, and NATO air strikes forced thousands more Serb civilians out of the region.
Later that year, the Dayton Peace Accords were signed in Ohio in an effort to end more than three years of ethnic violence. The agreement reaffirmed Bosnia and Herzegovina’s international boundaries and created a joint democratic government, but violence between the Serbs and Muslims continued.
In 1998 and 1999, ethnic resentment stirred again when Yugoslav and Serb forces violently forced ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo and provoked another international response, including the NATO bombing of Belgrade and the stationing of a NATO-led force in Kosovo. This suppressed the violence, but Milosevic remained in power.
Mass demonstrations and federal elections in the fall of 2000 ousted Milosevic, who was arrested in 2001 and transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague to be tried for crimes against humanity. In 2001, the country’s suspension from the United Nations was lifted, and it was once more accepted into U.N. organizations under the name of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Today in Serbia, democrats, nationalists and radicals are all vying for influence in the government. Tensions remain high over what will happen with Kosovo, a province of Serbia with many ethnic Albanians and a Serb minority. Many fear that an independent Kosovo will oppress the Serb minority and lead to more unrest in the Balkans. In March 2005, Kosovo saw the worst ethnic violence in years, when 19 Serbs were killed and 900 injured in riots.
Meanwhile Bosnia, having been monitored by NATO and European Union peacekeeping troops for nearly a decade, is perhaps the Balkan’s greatest success story, as it maintains a relatively stable government.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
As the scope of the genocide and ethnic cleansing wrought during the Bosnian war emerged, there was increasing pressure to convene an international court. In 1993, the United Nations created the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in response to the gross violations committed during the conflict.
Located in The Hague, the tribunal is supposed to bring the individuals responsible for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia to justice. It was also created with the goal of preventing further violations and bringing peace to the region by demanding accountability. It is the first international body to prosecute war crimes since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials were held after World War II.
The crimes being tried include breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, violations of the laws or customs of war, genocide and crimes against humanity.
The tribunal has attempted to bring those ultimately responsible for the war crimes to justice -- those senior political and military figures who ordered the crimes and designed the campaigns -- rather than the soldiers, police officers or hired thugs who carried them out.
The tribunal does not impose the death penalty or try suspects in absentia, and the maximum sentence it can hand down is life imprisonment. Carla Del Ponte, a Swiss lawyer, is currently the chief prosecutor for the tribunal. She and her staff are responsible for collecting the evidence used to issue the indictments and mount cases. The tribunal has more than a thousand staff members from 79 countries and an annual budget of close to $300 million.
Though the tribunal has teams of investigators working in the region, it does not have its own police force. Arrests must be made by the police in Serbia and other former Yugoslav republics, or by international peace forces (NATO and Eufor) in Bosnia and Kosovo.
So far, the tribunal has indicted 161 individuals, and 40 of the accused have been found guilty. More than 3,000 witnesses have told their stories in front of the court. Six accused war criminals are still at large.
Milosevic and the Court
Until the sudden death in March of former Serb president Milosevic in his jail cell in The Hague, his trial had been the most high-profile case before the tribunal. Milosevic was accused of spearheading a campaign to exterminate and deport non-Serbs as part of his ambitions to establish an ethnically pure Serbian state. He was charged for atrocities carried out in Kosovo in 1999; for crimes against humanity committed in Croatia in 1991 and 1992; and for alleged genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995, including the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica, in which more than 7,500 Bosnian Muslims and Croats were killed.
Charges from all three conflicts -- Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo -- were being heard at a single trial, which began in February 2002. The trial was nearing conclusion when Milosevic died of a heart attack. He had long suffered from heart problems and high blood pressure.
During his time in the dock, Milosevic used the court as a publicity vehicle and insisted on defending himself. He refused to enter a plea, claiming the court had no legitimacy, and the court entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. The trial was criticized for being too slow to dispense justice, and some of those delays were caused by Milosevic’s frequent poor health. The court was just months from reaching a verdict when Milosevic died.
After four years on trial -- the longest international trial on record -- the most-wanted war criminal in Europe since the Second World War died an “innocent man.” His death stirred a new wave of criticism of the court and Del Ponte’s legal strategies. It also deprived the victims of the war from seeing justice served.
Sources: CIA World Factbook; CNN; BBC; U.N./ICTY; Associated Press; PBS; Agence France-Presse; Wikipedia.
(Note: Wikipedia is a free-content encyclopedia that it is written collaboratively by people from around the world.)Back to top
This official site for the ICTY hosts updates on trial proceedings, compiles summaries of court documents, and releases weekly court schedules. Past trials and judgments can be searched, and some video and audio clips from proceedings can be found online.
Founded in 2002, Track Impunity Always is an association of lawyers that follows the trials of individuals indicted for war crimes. The site lists profiles of the defendants and compiles weekly updates of trial proceedings. The association provides legal assistance to the victims of genocide and war crimes, and works to publicize issues related to international criminal law.
This London-based charity focuses on the social, economic, governmental, legal and cultural conditions of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Founded in 1997, the institute’s stated aim is to promote a pluralistic democratic society in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It hosts numerous links to diverse subjects ranging from art and literature to ecology and economy. The site also provides links to numerous media outlets in Bosnia.
This post-war survey of towns in Bosnia-Herzegovina catalogues the destruction of mosques, churches, libraries and other cultural sites. The physical cost of the Balkan wars is also outlined here.
This BBC site compiles everything from the Bosnian national anthem to a timeline of key historical events in Bosnia. It also offers analysis and news updates from the region.
Joe Rubin previously reported from Bosnia-Herzegovina in July 2005 for FRONTLINE/World. “Dark Shadows” is the story of his journey through a region still struggling to emerge from the war. He investigates political reforms, meets journalists covering war criminals, and finds that some progress has been made in bridging ethnic divides. But Rubin’s video report also shows that the war’s shadow still hangs heavily over the country, years after the war’s end.
In this radio segment from PRI “The World,” FRONTLINE/World correspondent Jennifer Glasse reports from Sarajevo on the increasing pressure on the Serbian and Bosnian governments to arrest and turn over Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic by the end of 2006.
FRONTLINE’s documentary “The World’s Most Wanted Man” focuses on Radovan Karadzic, interweaving Karadzic’s story with the story of Yugoslavia’s breakup. Through interviews with his mother, former friends and colleagues, the film delves into Karadzic’s character, personality and many faces as well as his role in the atrocities in Bosnia and the search to bring him to justice.
The New York Times site includes maps reflecting the changing boundaries of the region, audio reports from National Public Radio, a who’s who and a comprehensive reading list. Black-and-white photographs give a haunting visual and poetic impression of the bombed-out suburbs around Srebrenica.
The Christian Science Monitor won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for reporter David Rohde’s work in Bosnia. His research uncovered mass graves in the town of Srebrenica, and his findings were used as proof that Serbians had murdered hundreds of Muslim citizens. Compiled here are the articles in the series as well as a chronicle of Rohde’s capture and release during his Bosnian reporting stint.
This eight-part documentary series from NPR takes an in-depth look at the psychology of war crimes, the societal need to punish perpetrators and the forensics of genocide. Case studies from Germany, South Africa, Rwanda and Kosovo put a human face on the tragedy of war crimes.
The Crimes of War Project is a collaboration of journalists, lawyers and scholars who want to raise public awareness of the laws governing war and of international humanitarian law. They hope to engender wider knowledge of the legal framework governing armed conflict in an effort to prevent breaches of those laws. The Web site links to the group’s online magazine, which offers articles from analysts and academics, and includes an extensive bibliography of resources related to the issue.
A blogger identified only as “Balkan Ghost” keeps a running record of the efforts to arrest former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic and offers opinionated analysis about other Bosnian Serb war criminals. Entries such as “Philosophizing about Slobo’s death” and “Details on Mladic’s fugitive lifestyle” provide a sense of the conversations being held beyond the news headlines.Back to top
Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, Europe's Worst Massacre Since World War II, by David Rohde (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997)
This book is a journalistic account of the bloody attack on Srebrenica in 1995, told from the perspective of Bosniacs, Serbs and Dutch U.N. peacekeepers. Rohde pieces together the final awful moments of the Srebrenica victims and includes maps to help readers follow the complicated geography of the conflict.
The Graves: Srebenica and Vukovar, by Eric Stover and Gilles Peress (Scalo, 1998)
Eric Stover and Gilles Peress followed forensic specialists, anthropologists and physicians who searched for missing persons and identified bodies pulled from mass graves. The book focuses on the sack of the eastern Croatian towns of Srebrenica and Vukovar in 1991 by Serb forces, and the subsequent mass murder of more 200 patients and staff from the local hospital.
Blood and Vengeance: One Family's Story of the War in Bosnia, by Chuck Sudetic (Penguin, 1999)
Chuck Sudetic -- a former New York Times correspondent and a Croatian American -- examines the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre from the perspective of one Muslim family who narrowly escaped the mass killings. Tracing the family’s history over five generations, Sudetic provides both an intimate family portrait and a historic perspective.
The Reluctant Superpower: United States' Policy in Bosnia, 1991-95, by Wayne Bert (St. Martin's, 1997)
Former policy analyst Wayne Bert offers some more controversial arguments about why Europe and the United States failed to act effectively to stop the Bosnian crisis. He cites limited security interests, misperceptions of the Balkans by U.S. and European leaders, and the difficulty of making foreign policy decisions in a post-Cold War world.
Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime, by Jan Willem Honig and Norbert Both (Penguin Books, 1996)
In this book, two Bosnian experts take a close look at the Srebrenica massacre. They include eyewitness accounts of the deportations and executions, and analyze the role American and European foreign policy played in the lead-up to the tragic event.
The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, by Tim Judah (Yale University Press, 2000)
Journalist Tim Judah has covered the former Yugoslavia since the beginning of the war in 1991. His book mixes his personal stories from the frontlines of the conflict with analysis of the historical and cultural context from which the conflict arose.Back to top
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