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Bosnian Genocide: Story and Haunting Photos of the Ethnic Cleansing of Bosnian Muslims

Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia in April 1992. However, within the following years, the Bosnian Serb forces, backed by the Yugoslav army, committed atrocities against Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Croatian civilians, killing 100,000 (80% Bosniaks) by 1995.

Background of the conflict

The Balkan states of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia became part of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia after World War II. Following the death of longtime Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito in 1980, growing nationalism threatened to break up the Yugoslav union. After the mid-1980s, the rise of Slobodan Milosevic fomented discontent between Serbians in Bosnia and Croatia and their Croatian, Bosniak, and Albanian neighbors. As a result, Slovenia, Croatia, and Macedonia declared independence in 1991. Following the war in Croatia, the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army supported Serbian separatists in brutal clashes with Croatian forces.

By 1971, Muslims were the largest single population group in Bosnia. However, during the following two decades, more Serbs and Croats emigrated, and by 1991, Bosnia’s population of just over 4 million consisted of 44 percent Bosniaks, 31 percent Serbs, and 17 percent Croats.

A coalition government was formed in late 1990 by parties representing all three ethnicities (roughly proportional to their populations), led by the Bosniak Alija Izetbegovic. On March 3, 1992, Bosnia gained independence after a referendum vote (which Karadzic’s party blocked in many Serb-populated areas) following rising tensions within and outside the country.

Serbian separatists long envisioned a “Greater Serbia” consisting of a dominant Serbian state in the Balkans rather than independence for Bosnia. Two days after the United States and European Community (the precursor to the European Union) recognized Bosnia’s independence, Bosnian Serb forces, backed by Milosevic and the Yugoslav army, began bombarding Sarajevo the capital of Bosnia.

During their attacks on Bosniak-dominated towns in eastern Bosnia, such as Zvornik, Foca, and Visegrad, they expelled Bosniak civilians from the region in a brutal process later called “ethnic cleansing.” Despite Bosnian government forces’ efforts to defend the allies sometimes with the help of the Croatian army, Bosnian Serb forces controlled more than three-quarters of the country by the end of 1993, with Karadzic’s party setting up their republic in the east. A significant Bosniak population remained only in small towns, while most Bosnian Croats left the country.

Croatian-Bosnian peace proposals failed when Bosnian Serbs refused to give up any territory. As a result, U.N. did not intervene in the Bosnian War, but the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugee assisted its displaced, malnourished, and injured victims.

Srebrenica Massacre

In 1995, Bosnian troops controlled three towns in eastern Bosnia: Srebrenica, Zepa, and Gorazde. These enclaves were declared “safe havens” by the U.N. in 1993, to be disarmed and protected by international peacekeepers.

Bosnian Serb forces advanced on Srebrenica on July 11, 1995, overwhelming Dutch peacekeepers. The Bosniak civilians were then separated by Serbian forces at Srebrenica, entering Bosnian-held territory on buses. Women were raped or assaulted, while the men and boys who remained were killed immediately or bussed to mass killing sites. Serb forces killed around 7,000 to more than 8,000 Bosniaks at Srebrenica. Although in April of that year, Bosnian Serb forces seized Zepa. In a crowded Sarajevo market, a bomb exploded, the international community responded forcefully to the ongoing conflict and its ever-growing civilian death toll.

After the Serbs refused to comply with a U.N. ultimatum in August 1995, NATO teamed up with Bosnian and Croatian forces to bomb and assault Serb positions. U.N. trade sanctions crippled Serbia’s economy, and its military forces were under attack in Bosnia after three years of War, so Milosevic agreed to negotiate that October. In November 1995, U.S.-sponsored peace talks in Dayton, Ohio (which included Izetbegovic, Milosevic, and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman) created a federalized Bosnia.

The aftermath of the Bosnian Genocide

Although the international community did little to stop systematic atrocities in Bosnia, it sought to hold those responsible to account. The United Nations Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1989. Since the Nuremberg Trials in 1945-46, this was the first international tribunal and the first to prosecute Genocide. The tribunal indicted Radovan Karadzic and Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic for genocide and crimes against humanity.

One hundred sixty-one individuals were ultimately accused of crimes during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia by the ICTY. Having served as his defence lawyer, Milosevic was brought before the tribunal in 2002 on charges of Genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes; his poor health delayed the trial until 2006 when he was found dead in his cell

The International Court of Justice ruled on a historic civil lawsuit brought by Bosnia against Serbia in 2007. The court characterized the massacre at Srebrenica as Genocide. It said Serbia should have prevented and punished those who committed it but did not find Serbia itself guilty of the atrocity.

ICTY found Mladic guilty of Genocide and other crimes against humanity in November 2017 after a trial lasting more than four years and involving nearly 600 witnesses. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by the tribunal. Following Karadzic’s conviction for war crimes the previous year, Mladic’s long-delayed conviction marked the ICTY’s last major prosecution.

#1 A man mourns next to the body of a civilian victim of the siege of Sarajevo who was killed by a sniper.

A man mourns next to the body of a civilian victim of the siege of Sarajevo who was killed by a sniper.

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#2 A Bosnian special forces soldier returns fire in downtown Sarajevo as he and civilians come under fire from Serbian snipers, on April 6, 1992.

A Bosnian special forces soldier returns fire in downtown Sarajevo as he and civilians come under fire from Serbian snipers, on April 6, 1992.

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#3 Bodies in front of the shell of the bus.

Bodies in front of the shell of the bus.

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#4 A mass grave containing the bodies of men massacred in Srebrenica in July 1995.

A mass grave containing the bodies of men massacred in Srebrenica in July 1995.

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#5 Corpse of a woman lies in the road next to a United Nations medical vehicle.

Corpse of a woman lies in the road next to a United Nations medical vehicle.

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#6 Grieving elderly Muslim women pictured in a refugee centre set up to shelter Muslim families after they fled Srebrenica.

Grieving elderly Muslim women pictured in a refugee centre set up to shelter Muslim families after they fled Srebrenica.

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#7 Forensic experts work in a mass grave in the village of Budak, located some two-and-a-half kilometers from a memorial center for the massacre victims

Forensic experts work in a mass grave in the village of Budak, located some two-and-a-half kilometers from a memorial center for the massacre victims

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#8 The situation in Sarajevo, 1994.

The situation in Sarajevo, 1994.

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#9 Civil war continuing in Bosnia.

Civil war continuing in Bosnia.

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#10 Casualty evacuated by Red Cross-types in civil war.

Casualty evacuated by Red Cross-types in civil war.

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#11 An injured man being taken to the hospital.

An injured man being taken to the hospital.

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#12 Podrinje Identification Project, which is involved in attempting to positively identify vicitims of the Srebrenica Massacre.

Podrinje Identification Project, which is involved in attempting to positively identify vicitims of the Srebrenica Massacre.

3,900 body bags are stored in the facility where technichins examine remains, personal items, and clothing to identify victims that have been exhumed from mass gravesites.

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#13 A mass grave containing the bodies of men massacred in Srebrenica in July 1995 that has been opened and the bodies are being exhumed by a team from the ICMP.

A mass grave containing the bodies of men massacred in Srebrenica in July 1995 that has been opened and the bodies are being exhumed by a team from the ICMP.

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#14 Forensic experts from the International war crimes tribunal in the Hague works on a pile of partly decomposed bodies, 24 July 1996 found in a mass grave in the village of Pilica some 300 km northeast of Sarajevo.

Forensic experts from the International war crimes tribunal in the Hague works on a pile of partly decomposed bodies, 24 July 1996 found in a mass grave in the village of Pilica some 300 km northeast of Sarajevo.

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#15 A shoe lies next to a skull at a mass grave site where Muslim men were killed by Serb forces, Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, May 14, 1996 .

A shoe lies next to a skull at a mass grave site where Muslim men were killed by Serb forces, Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, May 14, 1996 .

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#16 A burnt body of a victim of Bosnian Genocide, 1992.

A burnt body of a victim of Bosnian Genocide, 1992.

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#17 A Bosnian fighter undergoes an emergency operation at a military hospital in Sarajevo after suffering an intestinal wound from a grenade attack.

A Bosnian fighter undergoes an emergency operation at a military hospital in Sarajevo after suffering an intestinal wound from a grenade attack.

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#18 A victim of a Serbian bombing in the center of Sarajevo on the first day of a cease-fire lies seriously injured in a military hospital.

A victim of a Serbian bombing in the center of Sarajevo on the first day of a cease-fire lies seriously injured in a military hospital.

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#19 A civilian lies in a hospital while recovering from an amputated leg, received during the siege of Sarajevo in the Yugoslavian Civil War.

A civilian lies in a hospital while recovering from an amputated leg, received during the siege of Sarajevo in the Yugoslavian Civil War.

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#20 The corpses of civilians killed during the siege of Sarajevo lie on the floor of a morgue in Sarajevo. Some bodies are still in their clothes while others are wrapped in sheets.

The corpses of civilians killed during the siege of Sarajevo lie on the floor of a morgue in Sarajevo. Some bodies are still in their clothes while others are wrapped in sheets.

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#21 Bosnian Serbs stand near the bodies of the 24 mutilated men discovered in a mass grave, they say were killed by Bosnian Moslems in Eastern Bosnian village of Kamenica on February 17, 1993.

Bosnian Serbs stand near the bodies of the 24 mutilated men discovered in a mass grave, they say were killed by Bosnian Moslems in Eastern Bosnian village of Kamenica on February 17, 1993.

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#22 An injured woman at the refugee camp in Tuzla where Muslim women waited in vain for their men to join them.

An injured woman at the refugee camp in Tuzla where Muslim women waited in vain for their men to join them.

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#23 A pathologist uncovers one of the 4.000 bags inside of giant refrigerator in Tuzla. The remains of the bodies of Muslim men and boys massacred in eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995.

A pathologist uncovers one of the 4.000 bags inside of giant refrigerator in Tuzla. The remains of the bodies of Muslim men and boys massacred in eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995.

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#24 People lie on beds and sit on the floor while a man holds a rifle in a shelter during bombings in Osijek.

People lie on beds and sit on the floor while a man holds a rifle in a shelter during bombings in Osijek.

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#25 A clock found in a mass grave believed to hold the bodies of men from Srebrenica is stored in the morgue run by the ICMP

A clock found in a mass grave believed to hold the bodies of men from Srebrenica is stored in the morgue run by the ICMP

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#26 During the Bosnian War, cellist Vedran Smailovic plays Strauss inside the bombed-out National Library in Sarajevo, on September 12, 1992

During the Bosnian War, cellist Vedran Smailovic plays Strauss inside the bombed-out National Library in Sarajevo, on September 12, 1992

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#27 A Serbian soldier takes cover by a burning house in the village of Gorica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, on October 12, 1992.

A Serbian soldier takes cover by a burning house in the village of Gorica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, on October 12, 1992.

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#28 Smoke and flames rise from houses set on fire by heavy fighting between Bosnian Serbs and Muslims in the village of Ljuta on Mount Igman some 40km southwest from the besieged Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, on July 22, 1993.

Smoke and flames rise from houses set on fire by heavy fighting between Bosnian Serbs and Muslims in the village of Ljuta on Mount Igman some 40km southwest from the besieged Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, on July 22, 1993.

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#29 Sarajevo inhabitants suffer both from the war and the very cold weather, 1992.

Sarajevo inhabitants suffer both from the war and the very cold weather, 1992.

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#30 Bosnian woman rushes down an empty sidewalk past war-destroyed shops in one of the worst sections of the so-called “Sniper Alley.”

Bosnian woman rushes down an empty sidewalk past war-destroyed shops in one of the worst sections of the so-called "Sniper Alley."

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#31 The “Momo” and “Uzeir” twin towers burn on Sniper Alley in downtown Sarajevo as heavy shelling and fighting raged throughout the Bosnian capital on June 08, 1992.

The "Momo" and "Uzeir" twin towers burn on Sniper Alley in downtown Sarajevo as heavy shelling and fighting raged throughout the Bosnian capital on June 08, 1992.

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#32 Dead and wounded people lie scattered outside Sarajevo’s indoor market after a mortar shell exploded outside the entrance to the building, on August 28, 1995.

Dead and wounded people lie scattered outside Sarajevo's indoor market after a mortar shell exploded outside the entrance to the building, on August 28, 1995.

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#33 Bosnian Croat soldiers taken as prisoners pass a Bosnian Serb soldier after surrendering on the central Bosnian mountain of Vlasic June 8.

Bosnian Croat soldiers taken as prisoners pass a Bosnian Serb soldier after surrendering on the central Bosnian mountain of Vlasic June 8.

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#34 A Serbian soldier beats a captured Muslim militiaman during an interrogation in the Bosnian town of Visegrad, 125 miles southwest of Belgrade, on June 8, 1992.

A Serbian soldier beats a captured Muslim militiaman during an interrogation in the Bosnian town of Visegrad, 125 miles southwest of Belgrade, on June 8, 1992.

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#35 A woman, standing between markers of fresh graves in a Sarajevo cemetery, mourns over the grave of a dead relative in the early morning, on January 17, 1993.

A woman, standing between markers of fresh graves in a Sarajevo cemetery, mourns over the grave of a dead relative in the early morning, on January 17, 1993.

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#36 Bloodstains cover the wreckage of patients’ rooms at Sarajevo’s Kosevo Hospital on June 16, 1995, after a shell slammed into it killing two and injuring six.

Bloodstains cover the wreckage of patients' rooms at Sarajevo's Kosevo Hospital on June 16, 1995, after a shell slammed into it killing two and injuring six.

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#37 A man takes cover behind a truck while looking at the body of Rahmo Seremet, 54, a Sarajevo engineer working for the city, after he was shot dead by a sniper.

A man takes cover behind a truck while looking at the body of Rahmo Seremet, 54, a Sarajevo engineer working for the city, after he was shot dead by a sniper.

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#38 People look at bodies of Serb civilians allegedly killed in a Croatian Army commando raid in the town of Bosanska Dubica, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) west of Sarajevo, on September 19, 1995.

People look at bodies of Serb civilians allegedly killed in a Croatian Army commando raid in the town of Bosanska Dubica, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) west of Sarajevo, on September 19, 1995.

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#39 Two Bosnian Croat soldiers pass by the corpse of a Bosnian Serb soldier killed in the Croatian attack on the Serb-held town of Drvar, on August 18, 1995 in western Bosnia.

Two Bosnian Croat soldiers pass by the corpse of a Bosnian Serb soldier killed in the Croatian attack on the Serb-held town of Drvar, on August 18, 1995 in western Bosnia.

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#40 Serb police officer Goran Jelisic, shooting a victim in Brcko, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Serb police officer Goran Jelisic, shooting a victim in Brcko, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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#41 A Bosnian Muslim woman cries on the coffin of a relative during a mass funeral for victims killed during 1992-1995 war in Bosnia

A Bosnian Muslim woman cries on the coffin of a relative during a mass funeral for victims killed during 1992-1995 war in Bosnia

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#42 A Bosnian muslim man gestures as he mourns among caskets at Potocari Memorial Cemetery near Srebrenica

A Bosnian muslim man gestures as he mourns among caskets at Potocari Memorial Cemetery near Srebrenica

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#43 The remains of two bodies and pieces of clothing lie in a field at a suspected mass grave site in the village of Konjevic Polje, approximately 20km (12 miles), north west of Srebrenica, April 2, 1996.

The remains of two bodies and pieces of clothing lie in a field at a suspected mass grave site in the village of Konjevic Polje, approximately 20km (12 miles), north west of Srebrenica, April 2, 1996.

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#44 One of four clothed skeletons examined by U.N. investigator Elizabeth Rehn.

One of four clothed skeletons examined by U.N. investigator Elizabeth Rehn.

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#45 Refugees and a Bosnian government soldier carry a sick woman on a makeshift stretcher to a hospital inside a U.N. base outside Tuzla, July 13, 1995.

Refugees and a Bosnian government soldier carry a sick woman on a makeshift stretcher to a hospital inside a U.N. base outside Tuzla, July 13, 1995.

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#46 A Serb man attempts to put out a fire that was caused by Serb arsonists in the Sarajevo suburb Grbavica, Bosnia, 1996.

A Serb man attempts to put out a fire that was caused by Serb arsonists in the Sarajevo suburb Grbavica, Bosnia, 1996.

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#47 Forensic expert Sharna Daley of London, front left, examines two bones to find out whether they belong to the same person during exhumation at the mass grave site in the village of Kamenica

Forensic expert Sharna Daley of London, front left, examines two bones to find out whether they belong to the same person during exhumation at the mass grave site in the village of Kamenica

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#48 Gas masked soldiers of the Bosnian Army in action on the front-line at Dolniya, Sarajevo, during the war in Bosnia.

Gas masked soldiers of the Bosnian Army in action on the front-line at Dolniya, Sarajevo, during the war in Bosnia.

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#49 A dead body in Sarajevo during the Bosnian Genocide.

A dead body in Sarajevo during the Bosnian Genocide.

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#50 The bodies of people killed in the Yugoslavian Civil War lie in a Sarajevo morgue.

The bodies of people killed in the Yugoslavian Civil War lie in a Sarajevo morgue.

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#51 A pickup truck in Vitez carries the body of a Bosnian soldier killed during the Yugoslavian Civil War.

A pickup truck in Vitez carries the body of a Bosnian soldier killed during the Yugoslavian Civil War.

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#52 Muslim Bosnian soldiers assist an injured friend on the eastern frontline of Bandol in the Yugoslavian Civil War.

Muslim Bosnian soldiers assist an injured friend on the eastern frontline of Bandol in the Yugoslavian Civil War.

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#53 A plastic sheet supplied by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is covered with blood Monday June 26, 1995

A plastic sheet supplied by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is covered with blood Monday June 26, 1995

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Written by Benjamin Grayson

Former Bouquet seller now making a go with blogging and graphic designing. I love creating & composing history articles and lists.

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