U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Europe and Canada Bureau

U.S. Department of State
95/11/01 Fact Sheet--Bosnia: Human Rights Issues in the Balkans
Bureau of Public Affairs


Human Rights Issues in the Balkans

Human Rights Abuses

The war in the former Yugoslavia has involved widespread violations of human rights and humanitarian law, including mass killings and murder, systematic rape, torture, and other crimes against humanity.

The term "ethnic cleansing" has entered the world's vocabulary to describe the horrifying range of human rights abuses(from forcible expulsion to murder(committed in parts of the former Yugoslavia in order to achieve "ethnic purity."

All parties to the present conflict in the Balkans have committed human rights violations, but the great majority have been perpetrated by Serb forces.

Some of the worst incidents include the following:

-- In the fall of 1991, Serb forces shelled the Croatian coastal city of Dubrovnik, an action without military justification.

-- Throughout the course of the conflict, Sarajevo and other cities have been subjected to indiscriminate shelling. Scores of civilians have been killed or wounded by snipers and cluster and napalm bombs used by Bosnian Serb forces. Six of these cities were designated safe areas by the United Nations in May 1993. This did not stop the shelling.

-- Beginning in the spring of l992, entire enclaves, ranging in size from towns such as Prijedor, Bijeljina, Zvornik, and Jajce, to hamlets such as Foca and Cerska, were "cleansed" of their Muslim and Croat residents in a Bosnian Serb attempt to "purify" lands they controlled.

-- In November 1991, Krajina Serbs took several hundred wounded Croatian soldiers from a hospital in the eastern Slavonian town of Vukovar, shot them in a field, and buried them in a mass grave. Serb authorities continue to deny international forensic teams access to the site.

-- In 1992 the Bosnian Serbs set up a gulag of prison camps and detention facilities holding tens of thousands of Muslims and Croats. During the summer of 1992, international investigators were denied access to detainees, but those who escaped described repeated atrocities.

-- During the summer of l995 Bosnian Serb forces overran Srebrenica and Zepa, committing gross violations of human rights as they proceeded. As many as 6,000 male Muslim detainees were shot and buried in mass graves. The entire Muslim population of more than 42,000 people was "cleansed" from the region.

-- Evidence is mounting that human rights abuses were committed against Serb civilians in Croatia in mid-1995, when the Croatian military retook Serb-occupied western Slavonia and the Krajina region.

The Response of the International Community

In August l992, the UN Commission on Human Rights established a Special Rapporteur to conduct on-site investigations into human rights violations and report on his findings. The Special Rapporteur maintains human rights monitors in Sarajevo, Mostar, Skopje, and Zagreb and has submitted a series of reports on violations throughout the former Yugoslavia.

In October l992, the UN Security Council approved an impartial international investigation to identify persons responsible for human rights abuses and to discourage more ethnic-based violence. The resulting Commission of Experts documented thousands of crimes.

In the spring of l993, the Security Council concluded that the atrocities committed amounted to war crimes and that international prosecution of individuals responsible for atrocities was integral to the prospects for long-term peace. As a result, it established a War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The Tribunal subsumed the Commission of Experts and took over the task of amassing data on abuses.

The War Crimes Tribunal has issued indictments against 46 persons (42 Bosnian Serbs, one Bosnian Croat, and three Serbs), including Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic. Proceedings have begun against the first defendant, a Bosnian Serb official accused of committing atrocities at a prison camp.

Neither Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic, nor any other indicted war criminal has been permitted to participate in the Dayton proximity peace talks or in any other international peace negotiations. The United States has consistently opposed and continues to oppose amnesty for indicted war criminals. As warrants are issued, nations will be obliged to arrest indictees in their jurisdictions.

What the United States Has Done

The United States led international efforts to establish the War Crimes Tribunal, and has contributed more to the Tribunal than any other nation(upwards of $12 million. This includes financial contributions of nearly $9 million and the services of more than 20 prosecutors, investigators, and other experts.

The United States has offered full support for all international investigations of human rights abuses. We already have submitted large quantities of data to the Special Rapporteur, the Commission of Experts, and the Tribunal itself, and are committed to provide any additional evidence we receive of possible war crimes.

Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor John Shattuck has traveled to the former Yugoslavia five times to investigate the massive violations of human rights that occurred around Srebrenica and Zepa this summer, as well as ongoing reports of Bosnian Serb ethnic cleansing campaigns in Banja Luka and Sanski Most. Shattuck has personally interviewed scores of refugees and displaced persons who witnessed mass killings or were victims of forcible expulsions, rapes, or assaults.

Under the U.S.-brokered cease-fire of October l995, the parties agreed to treat civilians and prisoners humanely, to exchange prisoners of war under UN supervision, to afford all persons freedom of movement, and to guarantee the right of displaced persons to return home and reclaim their property.

November 1995 (###)

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