Peacekeeping in Bosnia
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Peacekeeping in Bosnia

As the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1989-1991 period, countries that were under its control for generations struggled to reclaim their independent identities. Yugoslavia faced a particularly difficult challenge because its integrity as a country was questionable: it functioned as an unstable collection of different and often fractious ethnic groups, including Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims. The country dissolved into a number of competing parts.

The newly independent countries of Serbia and Croatia fought for territory and influence in the land that separated them, Bosnia-Herzegovina, initiating a brutal war that raged for much of the first half of the 1990s.

In early 1992, the United Nations established in a peacekeeping force, the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR), to provide security for the flows of humanitarian aid that were flowing into Bosnia from the international community. UNPROFOR’s mission was to remain “passive and impartial,” and to “find a middle way between traditional peacekeeping missions that ‘sustain’ a peaceful environment and large-scale enforcement operations that use active military force to ‘create’ such an environment”(Hillen III., 1995).

At the time the UN became involved, the question of genocide was not a major issue, but yet it was hard for peacekeepers to ignore the atrocities that were occurring once they were on the ground. Skeptics of UN involvement believed that the West, specifically the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), had been galvanized to action out of guilt, “to assuage Western consciences about the barbarity taking place in a ‘European’ war”(Hillen III., 1995) (Carey, 2001). They also cited the increased presence of media in the war zone, and the so-called “ CNN effect” by which public opinion was shaped by the shocking images seen on television (de Wall, 2007).

The task of the protective force was complicated by the fact that there was no peace to police (Hillen III, 1995). On the contrary, some believe that the UN presence may have exacerbated the conflict, because “the well-intentioned international effort keeps Bosnian society functioning at a level that is just tolerable enough to keep any of the belligerents from negotiating seriously for peace”(Hillen III, 1995).

The UN tried to take a more active role by establishing “safe zones” under international protection in the capital of Sarajevo, Goradze, Srebrenica, and a few other locations. But Serbian forces overran the safe zone at Srebrenica in 1995, massacring more than 7,500 Muslim men and boys in what many have called “worst atrocity in Europe since World War II”(Ratko Mladic Is Still At Large, 2006).  Even the presence of UN forces could not prevent this terrible act of violence from occurring.

The Srebrenica massacre changed the international community’s relation to the Bosnia War, and NATO responded by initiating more aggressive military air strikes against Serbian forces around Sarajevo. Hostilities began to wind down at the end of 1995, partially because Serbian leaders had accomplished many of their goals of “ ethnic cleansing changed the international community’s relation to the Bosnia War, and NATO responded by initiating more aggressive military air strikes against Serbian forces around Sarajevo. Hostilities began to wind down at the end of 1995, partially because Serbian leaders had accomplished many of their goals of “” and because Croatian forces had begun to gain to momentum in a counter-assault (de Wall, 2007).

The UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which was established in 1993 in the middle of the war, was charged with investigating and prosecuting war crimes and other crimes that had occurred during the conflict. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who had orchestrated many of the war’s atrocities, was indicted but died in prison while his trial was still in progress (United Nations, General Information, n.d.) (Simons, 2006).   Over 160 people have been indicted by the tribunal thus far and proceedings are ongoing for an additional 35 people.

The crisis in Bosnia provides an example of a case where the international community attempted to stop wartime violations of human rights in a manner somewhere in between strict peacekeeping and full-blown military intervention. UN efforts in Bosnia were not entirely effective in meeting this objective, partially because they were too late in recognizing the true nature of what was happening and partially because sufficient resources were not devoted to the task. These lessons would be applied just a few years later in Kosovo.

* Picture: Croatian refugees housed by UNPROFOR

 

Next: Interventions in Kosovo