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Bosnia-Herzegovina is located in southeastern Europe. It is bordered by Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro, and has a short coastline along the Adriatic Sea. It is slightly smaller than West Virginia .
The population of Bosnia-Herzegovina is estimated to be about 4 million, but the State Department and other sources note that data on population are subject to error because of the widespread displacement caused by the violent conflict in the 1990s (see below). The three main ethnic groups are Bosniak, Serb, and Croat, and the official languages are Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian. Approximately 40% of the population is Muslim, 30% Orthodox, and 15% Catholic.
Bosnia-Herzegovina was formerly one of six republics in the Yugoslav federation. After the longtime ruler of Yugoslavia, Josip Tito, died in 1980, and particularly after Slobodan Milosevic assumed power in 1986, the federation began to unravel and ethnic tensions escalated.
Today, Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) continues to recover from a devastating war that took place from 1992-1995 in the context of the breakup of Yugoslavia after Milosevic mobilized military action to accomplish his vision of a “greater Serbia”.
After Bosnia-Herzegovina declared itself independent in 1992, ethnic Serbs within its borders—supported by neighboring Serbia and Montenegro—responded with violence. Serbian paramilitary forces began to shell the capital city of Sarajevo, and “ethnic cleansing” of Bosniak communities by Yugoslav army units and Serbian paramilitary forces led to large-scale displacement, mass rape, and starvation. There were tens of thousands of civilian casualties.
The single worst incident of the conflict took place in July 1995, when Bosnian Serb forces laid siege to Srebrenica, which had been declared a “safe area” by the United Nations. Many civilians had sought refuge there from the violence around them. The civilian group was separated, women from men, and over the course of five days, more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were massacred.
In November 1995, the Dayton Peace Accords brought an end to three years of violent ethnic conflict. By that time, the war had displaced some two million people from their homes (half of the population of Bosnia-Herzegovina), and left communities and the economic system in ruins.
The Dayton Peace Accords, in which the U.S. played an important diplomatic role, established a multi-ethnic democratic government. An international peacekeeping force, led by NATO, served from 1995-2005 to help implement the agreement and then transitioned to a smaller European Union-led force to help deter a recurrence of hostilities and ensure stability on the ground.
Yet ethnic tensions remained high, and elections in 2008 reinforced internal divisions. In October 2010, almost 15 years after the Dayton Accords, Bosnians across the country participated in the fifth set of general elections since 1996. The same schisms that caused earlier conflict remain apparent, and the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina remains without a government as of the end of 2011. The Dayton Agreement came under duress as a result of actions by the president and parliament of the Republika Srpska (RS) to organize a referendum in the RS negating the authority of the Court of BiH, BiH Prosecutors Office, as well as the validity of past decisions by the High Representative implementing aspects of Dayton. Valentin Inzko, the High Representative, declared this the gravest crisis since the Dayton Accords came into effect in 1995. It was a threat to the Accords, both in terms of rejecting the authorities of the High Representative and in terms of potential future attempts to divide the country.
Today, military and political leaders charged with responsibility for war crimes committed during the 1990s are still being tried. Meanwhile, USIP experts, scholars and members of the international community have begun to call for greater focus on reforming the Bosnian-Herzegovinian constitution as a key to building peace.
The U.S. and the broader international community have provided significant support to assist in the political, economic, and social reconstruction of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and a range of governmental and non-governmental actors continue to work to guard against a recurrence of violent conflict.
Within weeks of the end of the war in Bosnia, the staff of the U.S. Institute of Peace was on the ground, helping Bosnian officials and civil society leaders begin the process of developing approaches to deal with the aftermath of the conflict.
USIP convened the first meeting between senior Bosniak, Serb, and Croat officials responsible for dealing with war crimes committed in the country, in order for them to explore together how to address the problem of justice and reconciliation. Participants reached consensus on a set of twelve recommendations for further action including the creation of a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and requested USIP’s assistance in implementing these proposals. USIP worked with Bosnian and international officials to help ensure these recommendations were carried out.
Today, USIP convenes a range of stakeholders to discuss the challenges that persist in the Balkans and to explore opportunities to reinforce the democratic process and prevent potential violence along ethnic or other lines.
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