A number of other human rights stories were breaking over
this period in Bosnia. All sides in the war practiced "ethnic engineering,"
the process of resettling refugees of one's own ethnic group in the
vacated homes of members of the other ethnic group in a given area,
thus preventing the latter's return. Serb refugees from other parts
of Bosnia and Krajina, with the help of local Serb authorities, forced
non-Serb families to leave their homes. And, according to United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports, some distraught
survivors of the Srebrenica massacre, upon reaching safety in the Tuzla
area, forcibly expelled 160 Serb families from their homes and killed
four Serb civilians.
Resettlement was a conscious policy often supported by
high-ranking politicians on all sides of the war. They excused the policy
by saying that people fleeing the war were in fact voluntarily abandoning
their property. One Bosnian woman returning to her home in Vrnograc
told UN officials that the mayor had moved into her house and had refused
to leave. Mass killings were another way to help vacate homes for the
use of one's own ethnic group. Killings of non-Serbs as part of ethnic
cleansing took place in Banja Luka, Prijedor, Bosanski Novi, and Bosanska
Dubica in September and October 1995. This was in part to make room
for Serb refugees who were fleeing from Croatian reoccupation of Krajina.
Croats reportedly were particular targets for revenge. Many of the civilians
who fled or were expelled from the Banja Luka area in September and
October reported being robbed, beaten, raped, threatened and forced
to walk across minefields, or to cross rivers where the older and weaker
people drowned. They also told of paying money to keep men from being
taken for forced labor at the front lines. Many were taken despite the
payments. According to one Muslim from Banja Luka who was forced to
work on the front lines, Serbs forced some laborers to sleep in the
trenches during the winter and would sometimes freeze to death overnight.
In Potocari on July 12, a 14-year- old Bosnian
girl hung herself after Serb soldiers raped her and her 12-year-old
cousin. Photo: AP
While the men were victims of forced labor, women were often
the victims of rape and other physical abuse. Amnesty International received
reports of suicides by non-Serb women who were traumatized by the brutality
they experienced. In Potocari on July 12, a 14-year- old Bosnian girl
hung herself after Serb soldiers raped her and her 12-year-old cousin.
Bosnian Serbs were not only guilty of "ethnic engineering," but also of
"religious engineering." In the Banja Luka area, they forced Muslims to
wear white armbands and they painted Muslim houses with white stripes.
Serb soldiers also sometimes used knives to cut crosses into the heads
of Croats. They also systematically demolished religious sites. According
to Amnesty International, Serbs destroyed 1,424 Muslim, 275 Catholic,
30 Orthodox and six Jewish religious sites.
Civilians were the real losers of this war. They were subjected
to indiscriminate bombings and shellings, and although it is illegal for
military police to arrest civilians, both Federation forces and Republika
Srpska authorities routinely seized civilians for use in exchanges for
POWs or commodities such as fuel, food, and alcohol. Many sick and wounded
captives died because they were denied access to medical treatment.
For more information, see current and archival reports on
Bosnia from the U.S. State
Department, Human Rights
Watch, and Amnesty