Violation of human rights in former Yugoslavia. Patterns of gender and ethic prejudices

The following will discuss, examine and outline the affect that violations of human rights in former Yugoslavia has had upon the patterns of gender and ethnic prejudices within the context of contemporary discrimination.  The extent of human rights violations will also be examined and the ways in which such violations could have been prevented or reduced dramatically will also form part of this work.  This work will consider the factors that created, maintained and eventually led to the dissolution of the Yugoslavian State and the subsequent impact that had upon the violation of human rights in the former Yugoslavia.

The historical background to the deep seated animosity between the differing ethnic groups that made up the former Yugoslavia will be examined to show the influence that such legacies of ill feeling had upon the violation of human rights once the former Yugoslavia disintegrated in 1991.  Developments in the successor states especially the civil wars in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia plus the Kosovo conflict and the affects each had upon the violation of human rights and the patterns of gender and ethnic discrimination will be explored in greater detail.  The involvement of outside organisations such as the European Union and NATO will be explored, with particular reference to whether NATO involvement in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo aided human rights and provided humanitarian relief or in fact violated human rights whilst risking civilians lives unnecessarily.  The role and motivations of the Americans will be examined specifically.

Human rights are defined as ‘the notion that human beings have rights because they are human beings and not because they are citizens of state X or state Y…’
Prior to the United Nations accepting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948 human rights had always been considered of secondary importance to the rights of nation states.  This attitude had been changed due to the greater sufferings of ordinary civilians and the genocidal policies of the Nazi regime during the Second World War. As shall be discussed in much greater detail below such declarations have not prevented the violation of human rights by numerous nation states whenever it has suited their governments. Other states may feel that they are not obliged to respect the human rights of their citizens or that of any other country’s citizens (Evans & Newnham, 1998 p.229).

The basis of human rights violations and the discrimination of people on the basis of their gender or ethnicity can be traced back to the way in which nationalism developed in the former Yugoslavia.  Nationalism depending on how it develops can be a liberal or illiberal force that may have negative or positive affects on any nation’s internal and external relationships.  Nationalism is according to Roger Griffin ‘the sense of belonging to and serving a perceived national community.’ Yugoslavia was a state that was constructed and later disintegrated by the interaction of various nationalities and ethnic groups within it.  For a time it seemed possible that the Communists could instil a sense of peaceful and positive Yugoslav patriotism to co-exist with the other nationalities that already existed in Yugoslavia with the exception of Kosovo where the majority of the population is Albanian and wished to unite with Albania.  However Yugoslavia also had a long tradition of the illiberal traits associated with nationalism, xenophobia and racism. The harsh treatments of women in some parts of former Yugoslavia were a consequence of racist ideologies and the adoption of ethnic cleansing measures. That is why women and girls were kept alive to be raped rather than being killed immediately like men and boys were (Eatwell & Wright, 2003 pp. 154-5).   As a Communist state after 1945 Yugoslavia was in theory working towards being an egalitarian society where sexism, racism and xenophobia alongside economic inequalities would cease to exist. Marxist-Leninist states such as Yugoslavia of course did not subscribe to Western notions of human rights and therefore could insist that it was not violating human rights just defending the state from dissent and subversion when or if that needed to be done. As shall be described below the Yugoslav Communists had some successes and some failures in promoting a Yugoslav nationality and a multicultural society (Eatwell & Wright, 2003 p.116).

The conflicts that started in the former Yugoslavia from 1991 would make the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ the most frequently used description for the awful atrocities and mass human rights violations that were perpetuated in Slovenia, Croatia and with the most devastating consequences in Bosnia-Hercegovina and later Kosovo.  Ethnic cleansing was not a new occurrence just a new term for human rights violations and crimes against humanity that the Balkans had last endured during the Second World War.  Ethnic cleansing can be regarded as a consequence of nationalism that has taken on a xenophobic and racist form that in a ideological context is not as extreme as conducting genocidal campaigns although that is only a short step away in practice.  The ethnic map of Yugoslavia had already been reshaped by previous waves of ethnic cleansing during and attempted during the 19th century and most recently during the First and Second World Wars.  The tactics used to affect ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia namely mob violence; torture, rape, starvation and massacres have been tantamount to a series of genocidal wars.  Such policies have reshaped the map of former Yugoslavia and left a terrible legacy of recriminations and hatred, it also created refugees that have not felt free to return to their homes. The exclusion of refugees from their homelands is one way in which gender and most specifically ethnic discrimination has manifested itself in former Yugoslavia (Evans and Newnham, 1998 p.153).

Yugoslavia was a multinational state that did not exist prior to 1918 when parts of the defunct Habsburg and Ottoman empires were added on to the Kingdom of Serbia.  Instability in the Balkans had been the primary cause of the First World War. More specifically the murder of Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Habsburg throne in Bosnia-Hercegovina by a Bosnian Serb led to the Habsburg Empire declaring war on Serbia. The Russians came to Serbia’s aide whilst Germany supported Austria-Hungary and the conflict escalated into the First World War (Bideleux and Jeffries, 1998 p.375).   From the start Yugoslavia was not the most stable of states with the Serbian monarchy finding it difficult to command the loyalty of all the ethnic groups within the country.  The animosity between the different ethnic and religious groups was well ingrained and had only remained dormant whilst Yugoslavia had been parts of the Habsburg Empire, the Ottoman Empire and even earlier the Byzantine Empire. There had been a long running conflict and rivalry between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians, namely between the Croats plus the Slovenes and the Serbs. The ethnic and religious balance of the Balkans was complicated with the introduction of Islam into Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo as a consequence of being absorbed into the Ottoman Empire. The peoples of the former Yugoslavia moulded their sense of national identity around their different religions, which in turn reinforced their sense of having separate ethnic identities from each other.  Not only did the various nationalities and ethnic groups within the former Yugoslavia form their identities from their own religious and ethnic background they also formed their hatred and discriminatory attitudes to the other ethic groups within the former Yugoslavia (Mazower, 2001 p.76).

The ethnic make up of the region was complex and has meant that large minorities of different ethnic groups had to co-exist with each other. Serbia gained independence and started to expand in the Balkan region during the 19th century with plans to create a Greater Serbia that contained all the region’s Serbs with the possibility of forcing any Muslims to convert to Orthodox Christianity. Serbia made extensive gains from the two Balkan wars of 1912-13 and as with its previous gains attempted to remove of Islam within its borders (Bennett, 1995 pp.24-5). Therefore the violation of the human rights of Muslims within the Balkans predates the creation of Yugoslavia and gathered pace with the continuing decline of the Ottoman Empire. Around five million Muslims were forced to leave their homes in the Balkans with perhaps as many as two million moving to Turkey between 1878 and 1913 as the Ottoman Empire lost territories to the Greeks, the Serbs and the Bulgarians (Mazower, 2001 p.11).  

After the First World War the Serbs got their wish of a Southern Slav state although it might not have been the Greater Serbia that they had wanted.  Prior to the First World War there had been some co-operation between the Serbs and the Croats to create the a Southern Slav state. The Serbs had wanted a Greater Serbia whilst the Croats had wanted independence from Austria-Hungary (Judah, 2000 p.93). The inter- war period was not an economically successful period and that Yugoslavia was not a particularly prosperous country. Multiparty democracy did not develop strong roots and nearby fascist Italy seemed to offer a viable alternative to liberal democracy. Yugoslavia was prone to political violence and assassination leading to the king declaring a ‘Royal Dictatorship’. The king suspended the constitution in 1928 for three years to restore some stability (Castleden, 2005 p.269). Tensions between the differing ethnic groups and nationalities within Yugoslavia were never too far from the surface.  A quasi-fascist regime took over the Yugoslavian government during the 1930s following the assassination of the king by Croat terrorists in 1934 whilst he was on a state visit to France (Cohen, 1995 p.17). The same Croat group, Ustasas would proceed to fully collaborate with the Germans during the Second World War to achieve an independent ethnically pure Croatia (Castleden, 2005 p. 270).

The experience of brutal Nazi German occupation during the Second World War almost destroyed Yugoslavia. That occupation resulted in a bloody civil war between the Serbs and the Croats whilst the Communists under the Croat, Marshall Tito formed the only effective resistance to the Nazi German occupation, the Serbian Chetniks were averse to taking risks and only wished to protect their fellow Serbs. The Germans were well supported by the Croats in their brutal actions against the Serbs and the Communists.  The Second World War certainly added to the hostility of the ethnic groups and nationalities within Yugoslavia had towards each other.  However, Marshall Tito’s seizure of power meant that the disintegration of Yugoslavia was delayed for another 45 years.  The Croat collaborators had tried to purge or ethnically cleanse Croatia of all its Serbian, Bosnian Muslim, gypsy and Jewish populations under the extreme leadership of Ante Pavelic and the Ustasas government (Bennett, 1995 p.43). During Ante Pavelic’s reign of terror upwards of 600,000 Serbs and many thousands of other non-Croats were murdered. Many thousands more were imprisoned expelled or forced to become Roman Catholics.  Perhaps most sickening of all was the active support of the Roman Catholic Church and its priests towards these war crimes. Hundreds of Roman Catholic priests were executed or imprisoned under the Tito regime for their role in the war crimes.  Approval for mass murder and such widespread violation of human rights went up to the Archbishop of Sarajevo (Castleden, 2005 p.271). 

The Serbs had retaliated against the Croats and Bosnian Muslims via the Chetniks who were more inclined to attack the other ethnic groups in Yugoslavia than fighting the Germans
The Communists were the only party or group that wished to continue with a Yugoslav state after the Second World War.  Marshall Tito believed that the development of socialism in the whole of Yugoslavia would bring about a sense of belonging to a Yugoslavian society whilst at the same time allowing the separate national and ethnic cultures to develop, flourish and peacefully exist side by side. Instead of the old unitary system of the defunct monarchy Yugoslavia was to be a progressive and harmonious federal communist state once they had successfully defeated the Germans and the non-communist forces in Yugoslavia. Tito and the communists offered Yugoslavia the prospects of genuine unity whilst permitting ethnic diversity which allowed for a revived Yugoslavia to be reformed on surer foundation than the Kingdom of Yugoslavia had been. However in reality the new Yugoslavia was unable to solve the ethnic disputes and divisions whilst along with other communist regimes regularly violating human rights (Cohen, 1995 pp. 22-3). 

Under Tito, Yugoslavia was to be different from the Soviet Union and the other communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe in terms of its economic, defence and foreign policies. Yugoslavia was on e of the founding members of the non-aligned group of states despite developing a powerful army and an arms industry (a point to be returned to later).  The late 1940s and early 1950s had seen some failed attempts at industrialisation and the collectivisation of agriculture along Soviet lines. During the 1960s and the 1970s Yugoslavia was regarded as a prime example of how a socialist state could contain multiethnic cultures and successfully operate a deregulated economy. Yugoslavia was certainly less repressive than the Soviet Union which, was a multiethnic state with similar problems yet on a larger scale (Evans and Newnham, 1998 p. 587). 

Tito had tried to overcome the divisive forces that threatened to destroy Yugoslavia by decentralising power and decision making to the factory, farm and commune levels. At first the decentralisation was more apparent than real due to discrimination in favour of Communist party members until fully-fledged self-management was in place between 1964 and 1974. Whilst Tito lived and economic growth was strong the ethnic conflicts and antagonisms in Yugoslavia seemed to be declining if not completely gone.  In the 1960s and the 1970s Yugoslavia at last seemed to be heading for long term harmonious relationships between its diverse ethnic groups, even in Bosnia-Hercegovina with its particularly complex ethnic composition. However instead of the Communists continuing to maintain and strive for Yugoslav unity they started to run their party at the republican level on nationalist, religious and ethnic grounds rather than on a solely Yugoslav basis.  Such a shift of emphasis within the Communist party heavily contributed to the destruction of Yugoslavia and had dire consequences for peace and the violation of human right in the former Yugoslavia.  Serbia would emerge as the strongest of the republics and prove to be the most aggressive (Bideleux and Jeffries, 1998 pp.557-8).

Tito had tried to weaken and reduce ethnic tensions and mistrust in Yugoslavia via propaganda and education. Whereas prior to the Communists take over children received inadequate and ethnically biased education, the Communists would succeed in reducing ethnic divisions through multicultural education. The main theme of the regime was that it was possible to be Serb, Croat and Slovene etc yet be a Yugoslav at the same time was taught at schools, to the conscripts of the armed forces and to the general public as a whole via messages in the media. Children were taught history from a Yugoslav perspective rather than any particular ethnic perspective. Military conscripts were based around different parts of Yugoslavia so that they got to know and see more than just the part of Yugoslavia that they came from. Tito and his regime allowed the ethnic cultures of the Macedonians and Bosnian Muslims to flourish more than ever before whilst keeping the Serb and Croat minorities in other republics secure (Bennett, 1995 pp.64-5). 

Whilst the Communists taught or promoted multiculturalism at schools, in the armed forces and through the media the seeds of ethnic confrontation did not disappear. The way in which they had split ethnically sensitive areas of Yugoslavia between the Yugoslav republics would cause much controversy and arguably bloodshed once Communist rule collapsed or more accurately transformed into differing ethnic nationalist parties.  Bosnia-Hercegovina had been made a separate republic for the first time whereas previously mush of it had been part of Croatia. Croatia had lost other regions when the Communists had reconstituted Yugoslavia, for instance Boka Kotorska to Montenegro. Tito could have allowed Kosovo to join Albania, which also had a Communist regime and an overwhelming majority of the Kosovan Albanian population that wished to join Albania. Instead Kosovo remained an autonomous province within Serbia, a cause of much friction, discrimination and the violation of human rights (Cohen, 1995 pp. 24-5). Kosovo had been part of Albania during the Second World War and the Kosovan Albanians were unhappy that Tito had broken his promise to allow them independence or union with Albania in return for fighting against the Germans rather than attacking the Serbs. The Tito regime did want people to discuss the divisions, the atrocities and the recriminations of the Second World War just to forge a sense of Yugoslav identity; resentments were not dealt with only left alone to fester. Ethnic disputes were often and remain fuelled by each sides version of current events and history that tends to minimise their wrongdoing whilst maximising the evils of other ethnic groups and nationalities committed against them. Communism did not end conflict, discrimination and human rights violations it merely contained them and hid them from view. Myth as much as reality can be used to justify violations of human rights, discrimination and atrocities. And the former Yugoslavia has plenty of people that are willing to carry out and justify such actions as well as more people that would prefer peaceful co-existence (Judah, 2000, pp. 132-3).

In Kosovo it could be reasonably argued that that discrimination and human rights violations existed long before the break up of Yugoslavia itself. Indeed events in Kosovo contributed towards the deterioration of relations between the constituent republics and the hard-line approach of Serbia. The Serbs had feared all along that the Kosovan Albanians would cause a lot of trouble in order to secede from Yugoslavia and become part of Albania. Until the 1960s the best and strategically most important jobs within Kosovo went to Serbs as the Yugoslav did not trust the Kosovan Albanians and the Kosovan Albanians were in turn suspicious of the Tito regime in general and the interior minister Aleksander Rankovic in particular. Rankovic was responsible for the repression of and discrimination against the Kosovan Albanians.  The Yugoslav government did not see Kosovo as a major threat to its security or its future yet still did not wish to do anything that could promote the disintegration of Yugoslavia itself. A softening of the Yugoslav federal government line towards Kosovo as well as the main republics occurred following Aleksander Rankovic removal from the Yugoslav vice-presidency in 1966. The Kosovan Albanians gained a more meaningful autonomy yet their demands to be given the status of a full republic within Yugoslavia were turned down. Republic status was denied for the simple reason that the federal government did not want to give the Kosovan Albanians the right to secede from Yugoslavia as that is precisely the action that would take if free to do so (Judah, 2002 pp. 35-7).        

Perhaps it was no accident that the first signs of a threat to the existence and integrity of the Yugoslav after Tito’s death in 1980 would appear in the province of Kosovo.  Perhaps it was also no accident some of the most obvious cases of gender and ethnic discrimination along with human rights violations have occurred in Kosovo both before the fragmentation of Yugoslavia and since. There were demonstrations in the summer of 1981 against Kosovo remaining a province of Serbia rather than a republic in its own right with the vast majority of the demonstrators calling for union with Albania.  These demonstrations were violently repressed by the Yugoslav Army and the Kosovan police with an unknown number of fatalities that is more likely to have been several hundred rather than the lower figures suggested by the Yugoslav government and the many thousands claimed by the Kosovan Albanians. That repression also led to many arrests, harsh jail sentences, job dismissals and expulsions of students from schools and colleges across the province.  Yet Kosovan Albanian officials in Pristina instead of the Yugoslav federal government or Serbian nationalists ordered these repressive measures. The events of 1981 not only provided the inspiration for the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) they also help to revive and intensify the ethnic antagonisms between and within the Yugoslav republics. These antagonisms provided the main motivations for gender and ethnic discrimination and the mass violation of human rights (Judah, 2002 pp. 40-2).

The Serbs and the Yugoslav government found it difficult to have any meaningful level of control after 1981 without the continued use of repressive measures that in turn only made the KLA and other groups aiming towards Kosovan independence more popular particular once the Yugoslav State started to disintegrate.  In his capacity as leader of the Serbian Communists Slobodan Milosevic incensed the Kosovan Albanians by rescinding the province’s autonomous status in 1989. The loss of Kosovo’s autonomous status was justified by the activities of the KLA that also justified the ethnic discrimination against Kosovan Albanians as most public positions and jobs went to Serbs or the decreasing number of Kosovan Albanians that Slobodan Milosevic could trust (Whitaker’s Almanack, 2004 p. 966).  In response to the measures taken to end Kosovan autonomy the KLA stepped up its violent campaign against Yugoslavia and then Serbia to provoke a major military response from Belgrade.  Serbian attention had mainly been distracted by the wars in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina to launch a major military response until 1998.  Slobodan Milosevic ordered the Serbian military and police to intervene leading to atrocities against the Kosovan Albanians. The sheer brutality of Serbian retaliation partly brought the KLA what it wanted, armed intervention from the West in general and NATO in particular. In comparison to its reluctance to become involved in the wars in Slovenia, Croatia and most notably Bosnia-Hercegovina, the United States decided that itself and NATO needed to intervene much earlier than in the previous conflicts (Brown with Ainley, 2005 p.224).  

In retrospect Communist leaders such as Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman were guilty of stirring up ethnic hatreds and ultra-nationalism in order to gain short-term political advantages and personal power. If any single person were to blame for the bloodstained disintegration of Yugoslavia it would be Slobodan Milosevic. The Serbs were the only ones that favoured a continuation of a Yugoslav State, yet on terms that so obviously favoured them that only Montenegro wanted to stay in the Yugoslav Federation. The situation became most volatile in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina especially due to the mixed ethnic background in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.  The Serbs would hold most of the advantages when the civil wars and ethnic disputes began because they controlled Yugoslavia’s armed forces and prevented the Croats, Bosnian Muslims and other nationalities gaining access to Yugoslavia’s formidable weapons arsenals. The Serbian political and military leadership ensured that the Serbs within Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina had weapons available in order to fight for union with Serbia itself should Yugoslavia dissolve as a state (Bennett, 1995 p.131).  The ready availability of weapons for the Yugoslav army and the Serbian forces in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina explains why the Serbs were not affected by the international arms sanctions against all sides in the civil wars within the former Yugoslavia. The arms sanctions did hinder the Croats and Bosnian Muslims and their insufficient firepower was behind the loss of towns such as Srebrenica. However the massacres of civilians in Srebrenica proved to be an atrocity too far and brought NATO into action against the Serbs. NATO bombings persuaded the Bosnian Serbs to accept the peace terms available to them rather than risk heavier loses (Brown with Ainley, 2005 p.87). 

The Bosnian war had been brought to an end by US / NATO military action against the Bosnian Serbs and the Yugoslav Army that had been specifically authorised by the UN and was known as Operation Deliberate Force by NATO.  Operation Deliberate Force aimed to lift the Bosnian Serb assault on the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo by bombing and shelling Bosnian Serb military targets.  Within a few weeks of the NATO campaign starting the Bosnian Serb military and political leadership decided to accept the peace terms available to them rather than risk prolonged NATO attacks and end the three years of civil war in Bosnia Hercegovina.  The Dayton Accord that effectively ended the Bosnian war also recognised the autonomy of the Bosnian Croats and the Bosnian Serbs within the Bosnian State although they were not formally allowed to unite with Croatia or Serbia.   The Bosnian Muslims and the Bosnian Croats had been forced into an alliance by the ferocity and successes of the Bosnian Serbs attacks against them.  The Bosnian Serbs had at various times seemed to be on the verge of outright victory.   The fortunes of the combined Croat and Muslim forces prevented that outcome. Yet the Croats and Muslims accepted the terms of the Dayton Accord sooner as they had sustained greater loses during the conflict. At first the peacekeeping efforts organised by the EU were wholly ineffective at preventing human rights violations and war crimes.  The atrocities in the Bosnian war had prompted NATO to take over from the EU and the auspices of the UN take tougher action. International opinion widely supported the use of force by NATO in order to persuade the Bosnian Serbs and the Yugoslav that ending the war was their only military and political option (Berridge, 1997 p. 111).  That war is estimated to have resulted in the deaths of at least 200,000 people and the worst cases of genocide in Europe since 1945 (United Human Rights Council).

The Bosnian Serbs and the rump Yugoslav State were only backed by Russia and Greece whose support would eventually disappear as a result of the numerous truces they had broken and the lies that they told with regard to ending the Bosnian war. The Greeks and the Russians resented being used in such a way although their own populations remained sympathetic to the Serbian cause and less sympathetic to the Bosnian Muslims and Croatians (Berridge, 1997 p. 207). The Greeks had even gone so far as to help the Serbs to break the economic sanctions imposed against them, thus undermining the efforts of the EU, UN and NATO to force compliance from Belgrade and Pale without the use of force. Economic sanctions are only effective if all states comply with them. Greece also had claims to Macedonia and there was always the threat as NATO saw it that escalation of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia could cause the Greeks to get involved. The nightmare scenario was that Greece would get into a conflict on Serbia / rump Yugoslavia side against Kosovo and Albania. Albania has a defensive alliance with Turkey that could lead to NATO members fighting each other. Avoiding such an event can partly explain NATO’s decision to intervene in Kosovo (Judah, 2000 p.274).

The de facto division of Bosnia-Hercegovina means that gender and ethnic discrimination is likely to remain evident throughout the country.  That is especially the case for those people that as a result of the civil war had ended up in a part of the country dominated by an ethnic nationality different from their own. The fighting may have stopped in Bosnia-Hercegovina yet peacekeeping forces seem set to remain in the country for an extended period (Berridge, 1997, p.212). The Bosnian Serbs had expected a fast and decisive victory in the civil war yet once the truce became effective those that lived in Bosnian Muslim and Croat controlled areas fled to Bosnian Serb controlled areas or Serbia itself. That flight away from such areas reduced the risk of further human rights violations but did not finish it. The civil war left much bitterness and Bosnian Serbs left as much out of fear of spontaneous retribution from Bosnian Muslims and Croats than due to deliberate gender and ethnic discrimination by the Bosnian government. The Bosnian Serbs had given very little consideration for the lives of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats let alone their human rights so reprisals were not unexpected. The Bosnian Serbs over-confidence in their eventual victory was so marked that they did not wait for all the Bosnian Serbs to leave Sarajevo before they started its siege in 1992 and its Muslim leaders were unconcerned about the safety of their fellow Serbs still trapped there (Judah, 2000, pp.215-16).

The Dayton Accord instigated a political system that is designed to be inclusive to the three main ethnic groups in Bosnia-Hercegovina and to give them a stake in maintaining peace and stability within the country. The country has a rotating presidency so that every eight months the leader of one group takes over form another and after another 8 months hands over to the 3rd leader. The stability of Bosnia-Hercegovina not be taken for granted, for instance in 2001 Croats clashed with the peacekeeping forces over their demands to pull our of Bosnia-Hercegovina’s current constituency structure (Whitaker’s Almanack 2004, p.773). However, a return to violence on a similar scale to the civil war of 1992-95 seems unlikely especially as NATO remains prepared to intervene against any side deemed to be an aggressor (Brown, with Ainley, 2005, p.87). For the Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats their confidence in accepting into the Dayton Accord was the prospect that Bosnian Serbs would face persecution for the war crimes and crimes against humanity and the war crimes court established at the Hague (Evans & Newnham, 1998, p.568).
In theory the war crimes court could trial any individual that has deliberately targeted civilians as performing illegitimate acts of war and therefore means that they are war criminals. In such cases all sides involved in any war can be guilty of war crimes, as could any country or organisation that uses force to end such wars.  Although all sides may commit such crimes they would only usually try war criminals from the other side of the conflict (Evans & Newnham, 1998, p.77).

Within the context of civil wars and insurrections it can be difficult to determine when and to what extent other countries and outside bodies should intervene.  Sometimes there will be widespread international consensus upon the need to intervene in such conflict whilst at other times such support maybe less forthcoming or even virtually non-existent. Often whether there is intervention or not can be dependent on the international situation at the relevant time and on the will of states especially the US plus the will of organisations like NATO and the UN to intervene in conflicts. The decisions to intervene can also depend on who is in government; for instance Bill Clinton took more decisive action in the Bosnian war than the senior George Bush (Young, 2003 p. 125). The actions taken to prevent human rights violations can depend on whose human rights are being violated or have the potential of being violated.  Whilst humanitarian aid and human rights groups and organisations such as Amnesty International and the International Red Cross may regard all human rights violations as being wrong that is not always the case with states.  For governments and military bodies such as NATO do not view human rights issues in such a clear cut and unambiguous way. Whilst the UN and the EU may wish to promote the extension of human rights they have not always been able to do so.  Governments have to weigh up the costs of not intervening against the actual or perceived consequences of choosing to intervene. States and organisations have the option to intervening to humanitarian relief or peacekeeping and intervening with greater force to end conflicts or peace enforcement. When dealing with groups or states intent upon ethnic cleansing as in former Yugoslavia humanitarian relief and peacekeeping have proved inadequate at preserving not only human rights but also the lives of those people targeted for ethnic cleansing. Assuming that more force is needed to overcome such aggression then further lives are put at risk. There are economic sanctions and diplomatic talks as other means of preventing or reversing aggression yet their track record has not always been good. After all those groups and states that would change policy as a result of sanctions and diplomacy are the ones less likely to carry out aggressive acts in the first place (Berridge, 1997 p. 208). 

All conflicts invariably lead to human rights violations and can lead to discrimination on the grounds of gender and most specifically ethnicity.  Many of the world’s governments have at some time or another being accused of human rights violations yet is rare for such violations to force or persuade other governments to act against any particular government or state. Governments generally believe that they have the option to intervene or stay out of conflicts yet may feel morally or politically motivated to intervene to end such conflicts. The majority if not all the NATO governments believed that the interventions they made in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo were justified as the collateral damage inflicted caused the conflicts to finish earlier.  Earlier ending conflicts arguably mean fewer deaths than would have been the case without any intervention at all (Evans and Newnham, 1998 p.288). The NATO intervention in Bosnia-Hercegovina has already been examined however there are similarities and differences between that intervention and the later NATO involvement in Kosovo.   The intervention in Kosovo lasted for a longer period as the Serbian government was less willing to give in, whilst the Bosnian Serbs had been looking for a face saving means of accepting the Dayton Accord.  The NATO campaign in Kosovo targeted Serbia’s commercial, industrial and transport infrastructure without a formal declaration of war although they had threatened military action if Serbia did not withdraw its forces from Kosovo. Kosovo unlike Bosnia-Hercegovina was still formally part of Serbia and therefore the Serbians resented foreign intervention in what it considered its internal affairs.   When NATO had attacked the Bosnian Serbs only military targets were affected whilst when Serbia was bombed civilians were affected as well as the Serbian military.  Whereas the intervention in the Bosnian war had been widely supported the bombing of Serbia was not, with Russia and China expressing their concerns about NATO intervening in another country’s internal security matters. Neither interventions would have been practical without the US because it was the only state with the willingness and the military means to carry them out (Lukacs, 2004, p.429). Some of the criticism against NATO intervention in Kosovo was confused and contradictory, falling between that there should have been no intervention at all or that NATO used ineffective military tactics that delayed its victory and meant that more Kosovan Albanians were killed than should have been. Opponents of the NATO action in Kosovo seemed to be convinced that Slobodan Milosevic could be convinced by talking to stop ethnic cleansing rather than being bombed into submission. Perhaps the most damning criticism of the Americans was that they seem to have a moral double standard that means they only intervene in conflicts when they want to and that they have more interest in promoting favourable media coverage than human rights or democracy (Young, 2003, p.183).

The NATO bombing campaign lasted longer than it expected whilst it gave Slobodan Milosevic an incentive to intensify ethnic cleansing in the province before NATO could intervene on the ground. Those Kosovan Albanians that were not expelled from their homes fled from the Serbian military, militias and police. The UN reported that 848, 000 Kosovan Albanians had become refugees after leaving the province. Thousands of Serbs also left Kosovo as they expected reprisals from the KLA and other Kosovan groups. If Slobodan Milosevic used the expulsions to delay NATO and spread renewed war to the remainder of the former Yugoslavia then his plans failed. Although the Russians did not like the NATO bombings they were unprepared to take military action to back Serbia. NATO troops in Macedonia pre-empted any possibility of Kosovan Albanians refugees inadvertently spreading conflict by feeding and sheltering them in refugee camps. Slobodan Milosevic in desperation ordered the Bosnian Serb Army to renew its war in Bosnia-Hercegovina yet they had no wish to squander all that had been salvaged from the Dayton Accord for the sake of being bombed by NATO again. Extension of the war could have had profound military and strategic consequences for the Balkans as a whole and was one reason why NATO wished to stop the conflict. They also wished to avoid the ineffective half measures that had marked their initial interventions in the Croatian and Bosnian Wars (Judah, 2000, pp.329-30). Between 500 and 2000 Serbian civilians were believed to have been killed as a direct result of the NATO bombing campaign. The group Human Rights Watch numbered fatalities around the 600 mark. The British believed that moving troops into the province was the way although the US was reluctant to go that far (Judah, 2002, pp.264-5). In the end a military offensive was not needed as the Russians and Americans brokered a cease-fire that was essentially a complete withdraw from the province by Serbia and allowed the Kosovan Albanians autonomy with the prospect of independence sometime in the future.  Milosevic had once again put the Serbs in the position of having to fight NATO alone with inferior forces and only one probable outcome, Serbian defeat.  Whilst the Serbian Army had some success against the KLA it would have had little chance against NATO ground forces.  The Serb withdrawal came after talks with the US, Russia and the Finish President acting as a neutral go-between gave Milosevic the chance to leave Kosovo to the Kosovan Albanians and stop his army being mauled on the ground. Milosevic cared as little for Serbian civilians as NATO did; he was only interested in preserving his own regime (Judah, 2000 p.331).

The NATO bombing of Serbia and Serbian targets within Kosovo was referred to the War Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia. The American group Human Rights Watch accused NATO of bombing targets that adversely affected Serbian civilians yet had little military value. Human Rights Watch accused NATO of trying to cover up its killing of civilians such as the missile strike on a railway bridge in Serbia that killed 14 civilians as a passenger train was crossing the bridge. NATO actually showed video footage of the incident at one of its daily broadcasts that was amended to match with the pilot’s version of events rather than admit that he had hit the bridge after seeing that there was a train on it. If NATO had been serious about wishing to minimise civilian casualties and fatalities then that attack would have been delayed or aborted. It would seem however that American pilots are instructed to press with attacks regardless of the actual situation on the ground. NATO had originally planned to bomb only military targets in Kosovo and the areas of Serbia nearest to the province yet the inability of its planes to drop enough bombs on those military targets meant that they were undamaged and civilians stood a greater risk of being inadvertently killed. However the failure to achieve large-scale damage led to the decision to switch to what the US Air Force dubbed dual-purpose targets such as bridges, water treatment plants and power stations.  That switch of targets meant that more civilians were put at risk from the bombing. Targeting Serbia’s infrastructure left people without clean water and electricity, it also made it more difficult for hospitals to treat patients. It also needs to be remembered that the US has a track record of causing civilian deaths through its bombing campaigns, for instance in Vietnam and the Gulf War of 190-91. The USAF and the RAF were reported to have used cluster bombs during the campaign. Cluster bombs are purposely dropped to damage roads and airbases yet their small bombs did not always explode which endangers civilians for many years after the bombing has stopped. There was no formal inquiry by the Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia into NATO’s air campaign over Kosovo and Serbia. Also the US government was determined that none of its personnel should be prosecuted for human rights violations even if the evidence of their guilt was beyond all reasonable doubt.  The Americans believe that acting as the world’s police force gives them the right to act in any manner that they consider apt whether that that involves human rights violations or needless civilian deaths. The unfettered use of American power means that few countries will stand up to them aside from China, Russia, France, Germany and depending perhaps on who is Prime Minister, Britain. As Kosovo demonstrated the US will often ignore Russian and Chinese objections, is not bothered about French and German opinion and believes that Britain will support its actions no matter what those are. In the NATO discussions over intervening in Kosovo it what was the British government that in fact drove the other members to act rather than the Americans. Perhaps given the lack of oil in the former Yugoslavia it is rather surprising that the US intervened at all (Ingram, 15 January 2000, World Socialist Web Site).

Academic and media coverage of the NATO interventions in Bosnia- Hercegovina and Kosovo has been mixed and ranges from condemnation for that intervention being too late, praise for the intervention being successful in stopping those conflicts or condemnation for the escalation of that intervention into offensive military action.  There appears to be consensus that the UN, US, EU and NATO interventions in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia were hampered by confusion as to whether the intervention forces sent should be peacekeepers or peace enforcers.  That confusion meant that forces sent to Bosnia- Hercegovina were neither effective as peacekeepers or peace enforcers. Whilst these forces carried out some vital humanitarian aid missions they were unable to prevent ethnic cleansing or atrocities. It is also apparent that none of the sides involved in the conflicts had much respect for the UN and EU peacekeepers originally sent, their no fly zones or the frequently arranged and as frequently broken cease-fires (Young, 2003 p.173).   Perhaps the peacekeeping forces would have been more effective if they had been on the ground in greater numbers and with greater available firepower to deter attacks upon themselves and civilians.  Economic sanctions against Serbia as the main aggressor could have been more effectively enforced and therefore could have put more pressure on Milosevic to stop the fighting.  As already mentioned Milosevic and the Yugoslav Army had anticipated an arms embargo prior to the wars starting and made sure they well armed and supplied whilst the Croats, Slovenes and Bosnian Muslims were not. The arms embargo maintained the Serbian and rump Yugoslav military superiority over their enemies whilst the UN and EU peacekeepers were unable to offer viable protection for the civilians caught up in the crossfire or selected for ethnic cleansing. There was some international opposition to NATO in the former Yugoslavia especially from left-wing groups and academics as well as human rights advocates (Ingram, 15 January 2000, World Socialist Web Site). 

The Croats and Bosnian Muslims were able to procure enough weapons to continue fighting and the successful Croat offensives of 1995 tipped the balance in their favour.  As for attitudes in the former Yugoslavia towards intervention from the UN, EU, NATO or the US that depended on whom they were. The Serbs were against such intervention as it was always most likely to be taken against them.  The Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Kosovan Albanians were more likely to favour US / NATO intervention as it would help to end the conflicts to their advantage. There was however resentment that the interventions did not occur sooner and that any arms embargo reduced their ability to defend themselves and made no difference to the Serbs.  The US / NATO intervention in Kosovo was groundbreaking in the sense that it introduced new criteria for what Tony Blair considered was justified military action to achieve humanitarian as well as political and military goals.  Not only did academics from both left and right wings of the political spectrum disagree with a just war based on ideas concerning the protection of human rights states such as Russia and China believed that such ideas threatened the concept of national sovereignty and self-determination. For human rights groups the intervention in Kosovo (just like the later invasion of Iraq) had not gained international backing or approval via the UN and for some seemed aimed as much at forcing Milosevic from power as to averting further ethnic cleansing. It can be argued that Tony Blair and the junior George Bush have stretched their concepts of just war and acting as global moral guardians after the 9 /11 attacks.  They have sought justification for these acts by claiming to support the human rights of the discriminated in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Critics of Blair and Bush believe that such claims reflect a high degree of moral double standards. Also in protecting the human rights of some people they are violating the human rights of others. Instead of intervening to save lives in conflicts the different emphasis on moral values means that NATO takes sides rather than just aims to stop conflicts. That new approach threatens the traditional view that a sovereign state’s right to self-determination takes priority over the human rights of its citizens that has not only been upheld by Russia and China yet also by liberal academics such as Michael Walzer. It is also certain that Britain and the US would never tolerate similar interference with right to self-determination. The US norm based foreign policy approach could also be viewed as old fashioned imperialism in a new guise (Brown with Ainley, 2005 pp 226-7).

The human rights situation in Bosnia-Hercegovina has shown signs of improvement during recent years. Although some of the Bosnian Croats wanted for war crimes plus crimes against humanity have surrendered themselves whilst the prosecution of Bosnian Serbs has been more problematic and those mainly responsible for ethnic cleansing have largely got with it. Wanted war criminals such as Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic the erstwhile Bosnian Serb leader and head of the Bosnian Serb Army. Slobodan Milosevic is currently on trial in The Hague for his involvement in ethnic cleansing yet that trial may take years to conclude. The Bosnian Serb authority did apologise for its wartime human rights violations in a 2004 report on the atrocities committed in Srebrenica. As a legacy of the war the issue of human rights in Bosnia-Hercegovina has received much public attention. Currently there are around 7,000 NATO troops still in the country to maintain peace and stability with their presence likely to remain for decades. A million refugees had returned to their homes yet many had faced fierce ethnic discrimination and even assaults. More recently Bosnia-Hercegovina has had a problem with women being taken against their will and forced into prostitution both at home and abroad. Four men were jailed in July 2005 for their part in that crime (Amnesty International USA 2005 Report on Bosnia).  Bosnia -Hercegovina along with all the other parts of former Yugoslavia lacks the capacity and motivation to try war criminals especially those of the same ethnicity as the state the trial is in (Zoglin, February 2005).


Croatia has failed to take action to bring to justice any Croats that were known or alleged to have been involved in war crimes or crimes against humanity during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.  The Croatian government has promised to help the War Crimes Court for the former Yugoslavia but has not done so to any meaningful extent. Croatian Serbs have not felt safe enough to return to their homes since the fighting stopped, only 100,000 out of 300,000 have returned to Croatia.  The Croatian government and its courts have seemed reluctant to put Croatians on trial for war crimes or crimes against humanity and the majority of those convicted for these offences have been Croatian Serbs that committed crimes against Croatians. It seems that the Americans are not the only ones to protect their armed forces from the consequences of their actions. The tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has ordered the detention of some high profile Croatians during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina particularly linked with Operation Storm. Operation Storm was launched in 1995 and resulted in the murder, torture, rape and disappearances of hundreds of Croatian Serbians in the Serbian enclave of Krajina. The Croatian government has so far failed to capture the man responsible for launching that operation, General Ante Gotovina whom many Croatians regard as a war hero rather than a war criminal.   The Croatian government’s persecution of those responsible for the war crimes committed during Operation Storm and Operation Flash looks to remain patchy and ineffective. The Croatians are not prepared to protect the human rights of the Croatian Serbs that remain within the country and will probably do nothing to prevent ethnic and gender discrimination against those Serbs.  Despite these failures to deal with human rights violations Croatia hopes to join the EU which can block or delay membership bids from states with poor human rights records.  In economic terms Croatia has made good progress since the end of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina and has developed strong trading links with the EU already (Amnesty International USA 2005 Report on Croatia).

Slovenia remains the only former Yugoslav republic that seems to have made any progress in ending human rights violations and countering gender and ethnic discrimination.  Slovenia may have been the first republic to have being involved in fighting when the Yugoslav Army tried to prevent its secession yet it was also the first part of former Yugoslavia to have that fighting finish. Perhaps Slovenia has had the advantages that its population was less ethnically diverse than the rest of the former Yugoslavia combined with the greater strength of its economy.  Slovenia has had longer to recover from the brief war of 1991 and the recriminations of that war is less profound than the conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo.  The EU certainly believed that Slovenia had made sufficient political and economic progress to be admitted as an EU member in May 2004. Slovenia is now also a member of NATO which means that it would NATO protection if Serbia ever attacked it again (Whitaker’s Almanack, 2004 p. 974).

Therefore there is a great deal of evidence to support the contention that human rights violations in the former Yugoslavia are directly related to the promotion and existence of gender and ethnic discrimination in former Yugoslavia.  The link is especially notable with regard to ethnic discrimination that has had a marked influence on the violation of human rights particularly after the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the eruption of ethnic based conflicts during the early 1990s.  Ethnic discrimination and human rights violations was nothing new to the former Yugoslavia which had a complicated ethnic composition due to previous conflicts differing imperial legacies and the boundaries between the areas dominated by Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam.  In some respects the differences between the way in which women are treated can depend on their ethnic and religious background.  The Kingdom of Yugoslavia failed to produce any sense of a Yugoslav nationalism whilst the fierce ethnic conflicts within the Second World War nearly destroyed the country.  The Communists were able to some extent to forge a limited sense of Yugoslav nationalism except amongst the Kosovan Albanians that never wanted to belong to Yugoslavia.  Communism seemed to bind Yugoslavia together at least while Tito was alive. The Communists improved health and education provision and sought to contain ethnic diversity within a communist framework.  However the Communist parties in the differing republics especially that of Serbia under the guidance of Slobodan Milosevic started to emphasis the ethnic differences of each republic with disastrous consequences for the future of Yugoslavia and human rights violations.

The disintegration of Yugoslavia and the outbreak of ethnic based conflicts in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina caught the West off guard, whilst the similar disintegration of the Soviet Union would reduce Russia’s ability to intervene in favour of the Serbs.  There were divisions between the West as to the best means of containing and eventually halting the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.  Those divisions delayed the UN / EU intervention into those conflicts and meant that the measures adopted were ineffective whereas they may have succeeded if adopted sooner and with greater conviction.  The peacekeepers were left a lot of things to be done to keep the peace with inadequate means to do so. In fact the peacekeeping forces could barely protect themselves yet alone protect civilians ands prevent ethnic cleansing.  The slowness and confused nature of intervention meant that peacekeeping forces whilst carrying out invaluable humanitarian relief were powerless, whilst delays had rendered economic sanctions ineffective. These failures when coupled with the inability to find a diplomatic solution gave NATO the choice of leaving the situation as it was or bombing the Bosnian Serbs to maintain the alliance’s military and political credibility.  In some respects the US / NATO response to the situation in Kosovo showed that some lessons had been learnt and others had not. It still took a year or so for NATO to intervene to stop Serbian atrocities in the province.  NATO adopted a bombing campaign against military targets to force the Serbs to withdraw and minimise the use of its ground forces.  The ineffectiveness of that bombing meant that targets were switched to dual-purpose targets and thus increased the chances of killing Serbian civilians. The NATO leadership seemed more intent on covering up or playing down the subsequent civilian death toll and even tried to distort evidence when its pilots carried out attacks that killed civilians yet made little or no military impact on the Serbs. In the end the Serbs withdrew as a result of talks between the US and Russia yet it was effectively complete capitulation.  George Bush has in many respects continued with a norm based foreign policy with a similar continuation of American double standards and pretence of promoting human rights yet having a restricted view of who deserves protection and who does not.

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