Bosnian War

From New World Encyclopedia

Ethnic Composition of Yugoslavia in 1991

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (also referred to as: Bosnian Conflict, Aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Bosnian Civil War) was an armed conflict that took place between March 1992 and November 1995. The war involved several nationally defined factions within Bosnia and Herzegovina, each of which claimed to represent one of the country's constitutive peoples: Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serbs), Herzeg-Bosnia (Bosnian Croats), the remnants of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (predominantly Bosniaks), and the lesser faction in Western Bosnia (Bosniaks or Muslims by nationality). These factions changed their objectives and allegiances several times at various stages of the war. Ethnically, all these actors were Slav, although the term "ethnic cleansing" is widely used with reference to the attempt to wipe out the Muslim population. The war can be represented as one between rival nationalisms. Reference to the conflict as between three ethnic groups is incorrect; all three groups shared the same Slavic ethnicity. What distinguished the three groups was language, religion, and national ties to different political entities. Religion was recruited to fuel animosity between the different parties.

Since the war in Bosnia is a consequence of events in the wider region of former Yugoslavia, and due to the involvement of neighboring countries Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro, there is an ongoing debate about whether the conflict was a civil war or an aggression. Bosniaks typically claim that the war was an aggression from Serbia, while Serbs hold the view that it was a civil war involving only Bosnia's constituent nations. Some Serbs claim that Muslims started the war. The involvement of NATO, during the 1995 Operation Deliberate Force, against the positions of the Army of Republika Srpska in addition to the presence of United Nations peacekeepers make this war an internationalized conflict. What has subsequently attracted a great deal of debate is the slowness of international intervention to prevent atrocities and the adequacy of that response when it did materialize. The UN peacekeepers' rules of engagement were such that, as in Rwanda during the genocide of April-July 1994, they watched while human rights abuses were committed before their eyes. While the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has officially designated some of the atrocities committed against the Muslims as genocide, some Serbs claim that Muslims and Croats engaged in systematic slaughter and rape of Serbs.

The war was brought to an end after the signing of the Dayton Agreement in Paris on December 14, 1995.[1]. The peace negotiations were held in Dayton, Ohio, and were finalized on December 21, 1995. The accords are known as the Dayton Agreement.

The most recent research places the number of victims at around 100,000–110,000 killed (civilians and military).[2]

Political situation before the war

Dissolution of Yugoslavia

The immediate cause of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Crisis emerged in Yugoslavia with the weakening of the Communist system at the end of the Cold War. In Yugoslavia, the national Communist party, officially called Alliance or League of Communists of Yugoslavia, was losing its ideological grip, while nationalist and separatist ideologies were on the rise in the late 1980s. The break-up of the Federal system was also precipitated by the death of President Josip Broz Tito in 1980. This was particularly noticeable in Serbia and Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to a lesser extent in Slovenia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

These republics had all existed as independent states in Medieval times before being incorporated within various Empires. Croatia and Serbia had also, at one time, extended their territory into Bosnia. All three were conquered by the Ottomans but only Bosnia saw a large-scale conversion of its native Slavs to Islam. Serbia remained strongly Orthodox while Croatia remained strongly Roman Catholic. Subsequently, under Yugoslavia, which was formed in 1818 as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovens—and which took the name Yugoslavia in 1929—Bosnian identity in general and Muslim, or Bosniak identity in particular, was hardly recognized. Bosnian Catholics were identified as Croats, Bosnian Orthodox as Serb. It was not until 1968 that the post-World War II communist state of Yugoslavia allowed Muslims to register as "Muslim by nationality," but not as Bosnians. During the monarchy period, Serbia had dominated Yugoslavia. Following Tito's death, her President again tried to dominate by abolishing two autonomous regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina while retaining control of their seats on the Presidential Council. At the 14th Extraordinary Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, on January 20, 1990, the delegations of the republics could not agree on the main issues in the Yugoslav federation. As a result, the Slovenian and Croatian delegates left the Congress. The Slovenian delegation, headed by Milan Kučan demanded democratic changes and a looser federation, while the Serbian delegation, headed by Milošević, opposed this. This is considered the beginning of the end of Yugoslavia. Serbia then used her new block of votes to present the rotation of the Presidency to Croatia; Serbian President Slobodan Milošević continued in that office. This led to Croatia's declaration of independence on June 25, 1991, along with Slovenia.

In Croatia, Franjo Tuđman's nationalist Croatian Democratic Union had gained power. Slovena successfully repulsed an attack from Serbia, which aimed to perpetuate Yugoslavia, but war between Serbia and Croatia continued until 1995, with UN forces stationed there from 1992. So-called Croatian Serbs, that is, Croats whose religion is Orthodox, wanted to remain politically linked with Serbia.

The pre-war situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina

On the first multi-party elections that took place in November 1990, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the three largest national parties in the country won: The Bosniak Party of Democratic Action, the Serbian Democratic Party, and the Croatian Democratic Union.

After the elections, they formed a coalition government. The primary motivation behind this union was to maintain an atmosphere of harmony and tolerance and further their common goal to rule as a democratic alternative to the Socialist government that preceded them.

Parties divided the power along the national lines so that the Presidency of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was a Bosniak, president of the Parliament was a Bosnian Serb, and the prime minister a Croat.

Independence referendum in Bosnia and Herzegovina

After Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, Bosnia and Herzegovina organized a referendum on independence as well. Staying within a Serb dominated Yugoslavia was not an attractive option. The decision of the Parliament of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina on holding the referendum was taken after the majority of Serb members had left the assembly in protest.

These Bosnian Serb assembly members invited the Serb population to boycott the referendum held on February 29 and March 1, 1992. The turnout in the referendum was 64-67 percent and the vote was 99.43 percent in favor of independence. Independence was declared on March 5, 1992, by the parliament. The referendum and the murder of a member of a wedding procession on the day before the referendum was utilized by the Serb political leadership as a reason to start road blockades in protest.

Establishment of the "Serb Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina"

The Bosnian Serb members of parliament, consisting mainly of the Serb Democratic Party members, including some other party representatives (which would form the "Independent Members of Parliament Caucus"), abandoned the Bosnian parliament, and formed the Assembly of Serbian People of Bosnia and Herzegovina on October 24, 1991, which marked the end of the tri-national coalition that governed after the elections in 1990. This Assembly established the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina on February 9, 1992, which became Republika Srpska in August 1992. The official aim of this act, stated in the original text of the Constitution of Republika Srpska, later amended, was to preserve the Yugoslav federation. It had strong support from Serbia, where the idea of restoring an ancient Greater Serbia was very popular. This included a substantial portion of Bosnia.

Establishment of the "Croat Community of Herzeg-Bosnia"

On November 18, 1991, the Croats of Herzegovina, formed the "Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia" (Hrvatska Zajednica Herceg-Bosna) as means of "self-organization" of the Croat people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On August 28, 1993, the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia declared itself the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia, after the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina into three national entities in the talks in Geneva, in the midst of the war between Croats and Bosniaks. The Bosnian Croats had strong support from Croatia, where some people also wanted to restore the pre-Ottoman Greater Croatia. This included a substantial portion of Bosnia.

The plan to partition Bosnia

According to former Bosnian Vice-President, Rusmir Mahmutcehajic, Tudman and Milosevic met on March 25, 1991, and agreed to divide Bosnia between Croatia and Serbia. What was left, a small area in the center, would solve what they called the "Muslim problem" by allowing a tiny "Muslim state" around Sarajevo. "Bosnia," declared Tudman, was not "an ancient state like Croatia, which once extended all the way to Zemun" (Mahmutcehajic, 2000: 46-7). Croatian and Bosnian nationalism was stressing cultural and religion homogeneity while their territorial claims also encroached on Bosnia. Those who wished to retain a Bosnia within the pre-1991 borders advocated a different understanding of national identity, one that embraced cultural and religious pluralism. Three nationalisms were thus competing for the same Bosnian space. Two of these would set out not only to acquire Bosnian territory but to "cleanse" it of signs that Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox had ever lived at peace, thus justifying the claim that these three people could not co-habit the same space. In addition, Serbs and Croats claimed that by becoming Muslim, Bosniaks had forfeited any claim they may have had to the land. Thus, any sign of Muslim habitation, such as Mosques and Islamic institutions, were destroyed.

Bosniaks were really no longer Slavs, but Turks. They also claimed to be defending Europe from an Islamic threat, accusing the Bosniaks of planning to "take over" surrounding territory as the start of a larger, more ambitious expansionist plan. Writings by Bosnian President, Alija Izetbeogovic, were cited to support these claims. Effectively, this strategy reduced Bosnia to its Muslim populations and made the project of a pluralist state unworkable.

Cutileiro-Carrington plan

The Carrington-Cutileiro peace plan, named for its creators Lord Peter Carrington and Portuguese Ambassador José Cutileiro, resulted from the EU-hosted peace conference held in September 1991, in an attempt to prevent Bosnia and Herzegovina sliding into war. It proposed power-sharing on all administrative levels and the devolution of central government to local ethnic communities. However, all Bosnia and Herzegovina's districts would be classified as Bosniak, Serb, or Croat under the plan, even where no majority was evident. Initially the plan was accepted by all three sides, but eventually Alija Izetbegović (Bosnian Muslim leader and President of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the majority Bosniak-Muslim Party of Democratic Action) withdrew his consent, preferring to maintain a pluralist Bosnia.

The war

General information

Parties involved
Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH)
Ministry of Internal Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina (MUP BiH)
Territorial Defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina (TO)
Croatian Defence Forces (Hrvatske obrambene snage) (HOS)
Croatian Defense Council (Hrvatsko vijeće obrane) (HVO) [1992-1993;1994-1995]
Croatian Army (HV) [1992-1993;1994-1995]
Paramilitary units: Green Berets (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Patriotic League
Republika Srpska
Army of Republika Srpska (VRS)
Yugoslav People's Army (JNA)
Paramilitary units: Serb Volunteer Guard (Arkan’s Tigers), White Eagles, Scorpions (Serbia)
Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia
Croatian Defense Council (Hrvatsko vijeće obrane) (HVO) [1993-1994]
Croatian Army (HV) [1993-1994]
Western Bosnia (Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia)
Paramilitary units: Abdić's Volunteers
United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) (Peacekeeping forces)
North Atantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

The Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) officially left Bosnia and Herzegovina briefly after independence was declared in April 1992. However, most of the command chain, weaponry, and higher ranked military personnel, including general Ratko Mladić, remained in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Army of Republika Srpska. The Croats organized a defensive military formation of their own, called the Croatian Defense Council (Hrvatsko Vijeće Obrane, HVO) as the armed forces of the Herzeg-Bosnia, the Bosniaks mostly organized into the Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Armija Republike Bosne i Hercegovine, later Armija BiH). This army had a number of non-Bosniaks, especially in the 1st Corps in Sarajevo that was commanded by general Jovan Divjak; the Army of Republika Srpska had a Bosniak company called Mesa Selimovic, operating in the Derventa area.

On September 25, 1991, UN Resolution 713 enforced an arms embargo in the former Yugoslavia, engineered by Serbia (Sells: 117). This hugely advantaged the Bosnian Serbs, who did not need arms as they had access to the munitions and weapons of the former Yugoslavian Army. Bosnian Croats were able to break the embargo across the Croatian border; the Bosniaks had no allies as near neighbors and so were the least well equipped of all sides. When the international community began to propose peace plans, these seemed to territorially favor those parties that had succeeded in occupying the larger share of the former Bosnian republic. It has been suggested that some United Nations forces on the ground thought that the best scenario was a quick victory for the Serbs; "successive commanders … exhibited more sympathy for the Serb aggressors than their Muslim quarry … The best construction that can be put on this is that they wanted an end to the conflict at any price, and the shortest path they could see to such an outcome was for the weaker party to surrender" (Muravchik, 2005: 26).

Various paramilitary units were operating in Bosnian war: The Serb "White Eagles" (Beli Orlovi), Arkan's "Tigers," "Serbian Voluntary Guard" (Srpska Dobrovoljačka Garda), Bosniak "Patriotic League" (Patriotska Liga) and "Green Berets" (Zelene Beretke), and Croatian "Croatian Defense Forces" (Hrvatske Obrambene Snage), etc. The Serb and Croat paramilitaries involved a lot of volunteers from Serbia and Croatia, and were supported by right-wing political parties in those countries. Allegations exist about the involvement of the Serbian and Croatian secret police in the conflict. Forces of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina were divided in 5 corps. 1st Corps operated at the region of Sarajevo and Gorazde while a more stronger 5th Corps held out in western Bosanska Krajina pocket, which cooperated with the HVO units in and around the city of Bihac. From late 1993, 3rd Corps saw the influx of volunteers from the Islamic countries (Afghanistan, Algeria, etc.) forming the core of, amongst others, the 7th Muslim Victorious Brigade, operating in the Zenica and Zavidovici area. Although Bosnia repeatedly called for the UN embargo to be lifted and also for help from outside, the only assistance they received was from Muslim volunteers. Iran and Saudi Arabia provided financial assistance.[3]

Initially, it was Bosniak and Croat forces together against the Serb forces. The Serbs had the upper hand due to heavier weaponry (despite less manpower) that was given to them by the Yugoslav People's Army and established control over most areas where Serbs had relative majority but also in areas where they were a significant minority in both rural and urban regions excluding the larger towns of Sarajevo and Mostar. The Serb military and political leaders, from ICTY, received the most accusations of war crimes, many of which have been confirmed after the war in ICTY trials.

Most of the capital, Sarajevo, was predominantly held by the Bosniaks although the official Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina government continued to function in its relative multiethnic capacity. While the Serb objective was to prevent the Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina's alleged deployed out of the town, the Army of Republika Srpska surrounded it (alternatively, the Bosnian Serb Army situated itself in the areas surrounding Sarajevo which were all mainly populated by Serbs—the so-called Ring around Sarajevo), deploying troops and artillery in the surrounding hills what would become the longest siege in the history of modern warfare, which lasted nearly 4 year.

Numerous cease-fire agreements were signed, and breached again when one of the sides felt it was to their advantage. The United Nations repeatedly but unsuccessfully attempted to stop the war and the much-touted peace plans offered before and during the Bosnian War made little impact.



The first casualty in Bosnia is a point of contention between Serbs and Bosniaks. Serbs claim this was Nikola Gardović, a groom's father who was killed at a Serb wedding procession on the first day of the referendum, on February 29, 1992, in Sarajevo's old town Baščaršija. Bosniaks, meanwhile, consider the first casualty of the war to be Suada Dilberović, who was shot during a peace march by unidentified gunmen on April 5.

Note that this was not actually the start of the war-related activities on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On September 30, 1991, the Yugoslav People's Army destroyed a small village of Ravno located in Herzegovina, inhabited by Croats, during the course of its siege of the city of Dubrovnik (which was on the territory of Croatia itself). On September 19, the JNA moved some extra troops to the area around the city of Mostar, which was publicly protested by the local government.

During the months of April-May 1992, fierce fighting raged in eastern Bosnia as well as the northwestern part of the country. The Bosnian Serb Army was able to take over 70 percent of the country during these months. Much of this is due to the fact that they were much better armed and organized than the Bosniak and Bosnian Croat armies. When the Serb military established power over an area it took control of its non-Serb population and destroyed its cultural, historical, and religious objects. Fighting broke out in areas of mixed ethnic composition. Doboj, Foca, Rogatica, Vlasenica, Bratunac, Zvornik, Prijedor, Sanski Most, Kljuc, Brcko, Derventa, Modrica, Bosanska Krupa, Bosanski Brod, Bosanski Novi,Glamoc, Bosanski Petrovac, Bijeljina, Visegrad, and parts of Sarajevo are all areas where Serbs established control and expelled Bosniaks and Croats. The same happened in areas which were more homogeneous and were spared from major fighting such as Banja Luka, Bosanska Dubica, Bosanska Gradiska, Bileca, Gacko, Han Pijesak, Kalinovik, Nevesinje, Trebinje, Rudo; they all saw their non-Serb populations expelled. Similarly, the regions of central Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo, Zenica, Maglaj, Zavidovici, Bugojno, Mostar, Konjic, etc.) saw the flight of its Serb population, migrating to the Serb-held areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In June 1992, the United Nations Protection Force (UNPRFOR) which had originally been deployed in Croatia, had its mandate extended into Bosnia and Herzegovina, initially to protect the Sarajevo International Airport. In September, the role of the UNPROFOR was expanded in order to protect humanitarian aid and assist in the delivery of the relief in the whole Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as aid in the protection of civilian refugees when required by the Red Cross.

In October 1992, the Serbs captured the city of Jajce and expelled the Croat and Bosniak population. The fall of the city was largely due to a lack of Bosnaiak-Croat cooperation and rising tensions, especially over the past four months.


On January 8, 1993, the Serbs killed the deputy prime minister of Bosnia Hakija Turajlić after stopping the UN convoy which was taking him from the airport. On May 15-16, 96 percent of Serbs voted to reject the Vance-Owen plan.

Much of the year was dominated by the Croat-Bosniak war which erupted in March 1993, although there were several incidents in 1992, such as the June 20, 1992, Croatian Defence Council attacks on Gornji Vakuf and Novi Travnik and the October 23, 1992, attack on Prozor after which the Croats expelled the Bosniaks from the city.

After the failure of the Vance-Owen peace plan, which practically intended to divide the country into three ethnic parts, an armed conflict sprung between Bosniaks and Croats over the 30 percent of Bosnia they held. This caused the creation of more ethnic enclaves and further bloodshed.

Mostar was also surrounded by the Croat forces from three sides for nine months, and much of its historic city was destroyed by shelling by the Croats, including the famous Stari Most.

In an attempt to protect the civilians, UNPROFOR's role was further extended in 1993, to protect the "safe havens" that it had declared around a number of towns including Sarajevo, Goražde, and Srebrenica.


In 1994, NATO got involved when its jets shot down four Serb aircraft over central Bosnia on February 8, 1994, for violating the UN no-fly zone.

In March 1994, Bosniaks and Croats in Bosnia signed the Washington, DC, peace agreement, establishing the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This effectively ended the war between Croats and Bosniaks, and narrowed the warring parties down to two.


The war continued through most of 1995, and with Croatia taking over the Republic of Serbian Krajina in early August, the Bosniak-Croat alliance gained the initiative in the war, taking much of western Bosnia from the Serbs. At that point, the international community pressured Milošević, Tuđman, and Izetbegović to the negotiation table and finally the war ended with the Dayton Peace Agreement, signed on November 21, 1995 (the final version was signed December 14, 1995, in Paris).

A mass killing, the largest in Europe since World War II, happened in July 1995. Serb troops under general Ratko Mladić, occupied the UN "safe area" of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia, in which 8000 Muslim men and boys were killed despite the presence of UN troops, whose rules of engagement did not permit them to intervene unless they were themselves under fire. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Fomrer Yogoslavia has ruled this event as genocide in the case Prosecutor vs. Krstić.

Religion as a factor

Religion was a significant factor during the Bosnian crises. The victims were identified by their religion, and religious rhetoric was used by the aggressors to motivate and justify their actions. The Serbian Orthodox Church honored the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, whose own ancestor, Vuk Karadñic (1787-1884) known as the "father of the Serbian language" did much to popularize the view of Muslims as Christ-killers and race-traitors. When the Ottomans defeated the Serbs in 1389, at Kosova, they killed the Serb Prince Lazar. In Serb myth, Prince Lazar became a Christ-like figure murdered by the enemies of the Church. Muslims began to be seen as Christ-killers. Later, when Slavs converted to Islam, they were accused on betraying their own race as well as Christianity. As Muslims, they became Turks. Literature also described converts as cowardly and greedy, thus these characteristics became genetic and infested the lineage of Bosnian Muslims, making them inferior as a species. Some Serb Orthodox clergy did condemn the violence but most supported the concept of a Greater Serbia. Muslims were accused of planning to create and expand an Islamic state. They would flood Bosnia with migrants from Turkey in order to inflate the population so that they could claim a democratic basis for their fundamentalist state. Serb women would be kidnapped and kept in harems so that the Muslim population would increase more rapidly. In May 1992, the Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church protested against "European indifference to genocide in Bosnia," that is, to "the alleged genocide against the Serbs" (Sells: 84) Vuk Karadñic (1787-1884) in the early nineteenth century (38). Serbian President Miloševic himself was depicted in posters side by side with Prince Lazar and Jesus, "in a kind of holy trinity," says Mahmutcehajic (Mahmutcehajic: 70).

Catholics, especially in Herzegovina, played the "anti-Muslim" card just as vigorously as did their Orthodox counterparts. One Franciscan compared the Bosnian government with the “Turkish occupiers” (Sells: 106). Friars in "the Mostar region … repeated the Tudjman propaganda that the Bosnian Muslims wanted an Islamic state," adding that "free speech, democracy" and "freedom of religion" would have no place in such a state (106). Croatian as well as Serbs "subscribed to the view of novelist Ivo Andric," who popularized the notion that only the cowardly and greedy had converted to Islam (106), citing another Franciscan that the Bosniaks "had sprang from bad Christians who turned Muslim because only thus could they protect their own land" (107).

The charge that Bosnian Muslims intended to establish a fundamentalist state in which non-Muslims would suffer discrimination has been rejected by both President Izetbegovic and Vice-President Mahmutcehajic. The latter presents a picture of Bosnia as a place of harmonious co-existence between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity and says that it aspired to be a pluralist state. This could not be tolerated by the ethno-nationalisms of Serbia and Croatia. Izetbegovic did believe that where Muslims are a majority, they have the right to establish Islamic governance, but his writing makes it clear that all citizens' rights would be respected. Nor did he exhibit the animosity towards the West that has been attributed to him by his critics. He writes about Muslims learning from other cultures and systems. Bosnian Muslims saw themselves as Europeans but were represented by both Serbia and Croatia as a danger to Europe. As Christian nations, Serbia and Bosnia could serve as a buffer zone between Europe and the threat of Islamist expansion.

When international help failed to materialize to assist the Bosnian Muslims, they looked to volunteers from the Muslim world. Initially, this came from Iran, resulting in the charge that Izetbegovic was Khomeini's right hand man. As Muslims joined the Bosniak soldiers, most of them were fundamentalists who had already engaged in combat elsewhere, especially in Afghanistan. They saw Bosnian Islam, predominantly Sufi, as heterodox and saw it as their mission to encourage Bosniaks towards what in their view is a purer version of Islam. Consequently, Bosnian Muslims have shifted towards a more fundamentalist Islam, which may have been exactly what Bosnia's enemies wanted to happen. In other words, there is more truth today in claiming that Bosnian Muslims might establish a fundamentalist state than there was before 1991. Due to the conflict, Bosnia is much less diverse than it was historically. Although the three communities share power, Muslims today are a larger majority than before the conflict began, although the size of Bosnia has shrunk due to partition.


Casulty figures according to RDC ( as reported in March 2006)
Bosniaks 63,994 66.5 percent
Serbs 24,206 25.2 percent
Croats 7,338 7.6 percent
other 637 0.7 percent
Total civilians
Bosniaks 32,723 84.7 percent
Croats 1,899 4.9 percent
Serbs 3,555 9.2 percent
others 466 1.2 percent
Total soldiers
Bosniaks 31,270 54.4 percent
Serbs 20,649 35.9 percent
Croats 5,439 9.5 percent
others 171 0.3 percent
unconfirmed 4,000
Casulty figures according to the Demographic Unit at the ICTY
Bosniaks & Croats c. 72,000
Serbs c. 30,700
Total civilians
Bosniaks & Croats c. 38,000
Serbs c. 16,700
Total soldiers
Bosniaks c. 28,000
Serbs c. 14,000
Croats c. 6,000

The death toll after the war was originally estimated at around 200,000 by the Bosnian government. This figure is still often quoted by the Western media. The United Nations' agencies had previously estimated 278,000 dead and missing persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They also recorded around 1,325,000 refugees and exiles.

Today, it is generally estimated that around 100,000 Bosnians and Herzegovinians—Bosniak/Muslim, Serb, and Croat—were killed in the war.

Research done by the International Criminal Tribunal in 2004 by Tibeau and Bijak determined a more precise number of 102,000 deaths and estimated the following breakdown: 55,261 were civilians and 47,360 were soldiers. Of the civilians, 16,700 were Serbs while 38,000 were Bosniaks and Croats. Of the soldiers, 14,000 were Serbs, 6,000 were Croats, and 28,000 were Bosniaks.

Another research was conducted by the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Center (RDC) that was based on creating lists and databases, rather than providing estimates. ICTY's Demographic Unit in the Hague, provide a similar total death toll, but a somewhat different ethnic distribution. As of April 2006 the number of casulties has reached 96,802. Further research is ongoing.

Large discrepancies in all these estimates are generally due to the inconsistent definitions of who can be considered victims of the war. Some research calculated only direct casualties of the military activity while other also calculated indirect casualties, such as those who died from harsh living conditions, hunger, cold, illnesses, or other accidents indirectly caused by the war conditions. Original higher numbers were also used as many victims were listed twice or three times both in civilian and military columns as little or no communication and systematic coordination of these lists could take place in wartime conditions. Manipulation with numbers are today most often used by historical revisionist to change the character and the scope of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, most of above independent studies have not been accredited by either government involved in the conflict and there are no single official results that are acceptable to all sides.

It should not be discounted that there were also significant casualties on the part of International Troops in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some 320 soldiers of UNPROFOR were killed during this conflict in Bosnia.

Ethnic cleansing

What has been called "ethnic cleansing" was a common phenomenon in the war. This typically entailed intimidation, forced expulsion and/or killing of the undesired ethnic group as well as the destruction or removal of the physical vestiges of a group, such as places of worship, cemeteries, and cultural and historical buildings. Since all the actors in the war had a common ethnicity, the term "ethnic cleansing" is inaccurate. Wide scale rapes were also employed as a tactic in ethnic cleansing. Serbs were ethnically cleansed from most of Croatia during and after the Croatian War. The Bosnian Serbs expelled the Muslim population from northern and eastern Bosnia to create a 300 km corridor between Serb ethnic areas in the west of Bosnia and Serbia proper. Villages were terrorized, looted, and often razed to prevent their inhabitants from returning. By the war's end, all sides had used the tactic to meet their ends. Approximately half of Bosnia's 4.4 million inhabitants were displaced during the war (though not necessarily all of them by "ethnic cleansing"), including Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats.


The slowness of the international community to respond and its reluctance to become involved on the ground strongly suggests that the most powerful nations are reluctant to act unless they perceive a direct interest. Where oil or strategic considerations apply, action can be very swift. Senior US officials in the case of Bosnia commented that people in that part of the world had always been killing each other, suggesting that the best response was to stand by until one side emerged as the winner (Sells: 124-5). Loss of UN-U.S. troops at Mogadishu, in Somalia in 1993, is widely held to have resulted in unwillingness to become embroiled in complex situations involving many actors and rival claims. This also contributed to unwillingness to intervene in Rwanda. The UN peacekeepers' rule of engagement only permitted them to shoot if they were themselves attacked, resulting in their witnessing numerous atrocities without taking preventative action. On the other hand, they were too small a force to intervene effectively. Muravchik described the massacre at Srebrenica as "the worst atrocity since World War II" and argues that the UN "did not merely fail to stop or prevent the slaughter … it helped to bring it about" by failing to call in NATO assistance (28-9).


  1. United States of America Department of State, Dayton Peace Accords on Bosnia. Retrieved May 22, 2008.
  2. Ewa Tabeau and Jakub Bijak, War-related Deaths in the 1992–1995 Armed Conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Critique of Previous Estimates and Recent Results. Retrieved May 22, 2008.
  3. Esad Hećimović, Ko je sljedeći? Dani online News Magazine. Retrieved May 22, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Beloff, Nora. Yugoslavia: An Avoidable War. London: New European Publications, 1997. ISBN 1872410081
  • Izetbegovic, Alija. The Islamic Declaration. Sarajevo.
  • Loyd, Anthony. My War Gone By, I Miss It So. New York: Penguin, 1999. ISBN 0140298541
  • Maas, Peter. Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War. New York: Vintage Books, 1996. ISBN 0679763899
  • Mahmutcehajic, Rusmir. The Denial of Bosnia. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000. ISBN 027102030X
  • Muravchik, Joshua. The Future of the United Nations. Washington, DC: The AEI Press, 2005. ISBN 084477183X
  • Nation, R. Craig. War in the Balkans 1991-2002. Honolulu, Hawaii: University Press of the Pacific, 2004. ISBN 1410217736
  • Sells, Michael A. The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia, Berkeley. CA: The University of California Press, 1998. ISBN 0520216628
  • Simms, Brendan. Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia. Penguin, 2003. ISBN 0140289836


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