Preventing a conflict relapse in Bosnia and Herzegovina


The Legal prosecution of political and military leaders who posed a threat to peace, the deployment of NATO and later EU peacekeepers, and the work of Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and EU advisory and monitoring missions has helped to prevent a conflict relapse in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Established in 1993, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) revived aspects of international law that had lain dormant since the Nuremburg and Tokyo tribunals that were convened after the Second World War. Over 24 years, 161 people were indicted for grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, violations of the laws or customs of war, crimes against humanity, and genocide.1 This figure included the first serving head of state in history to be indicted, Serbian President Slobodan Milošević, as well as the wartime political and military leadership of a range of armed forces which fought during the collapse of Yugoslavia. The ICTY found that the armed conflicts across the Western Balkans during the 1990s were the result of a planned and systematic campaign orchestrated by a joint criminal enterprise. The enterprise, the tribunals concluded, was effectively controlled or substantially influenced by Milošević and encompassed individuals across former Yugoslavia.2 In addition, some Croat leaders were found guilty of taking part in a separate joint criminal enterprise to persecute Bosnian Muslims during the war.3

The work of the ICTY helped to prevent conflict relapse in the Western Balkans in several ways. Most directly, this was done by removing powerful political figures suspected of war crimes from office. If such individuals attempted to go into hiding, they were hunted down by the special forces of a range of states (predominantly, the UK and Poland) who were contributing to the post-conflict peacekeeping presence in the Western Balkans and arrested.4 This process served to remove most hard-liners who may have risked a return to war from society, allowing the post-conflict transition to begin. In the long term, by identifying the individuals responsible for the crimes of the 1990s, the ICTY also helped to prevent communities from being labelled as collectively responsible for wartime atrocities and demonstrated that even the most powerful elites in the region could not act with impunity. The trials themselves also represent a comprehensive historical record of events based on considerable documentation and hundreds of witness testimonies. This record helps to dispel myths, particularly when, in 1999, the Tribunal’s Outreach Programme began providing lectures at schools and public events across the region, as well as producing films and other media.5 After 10,800 days of hearings and ninety guilty verdicts, the ICTY was formally dissolved in 2017.6

Following the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement in December 1995, a host of international organisations deployed troops and civilian personnel to Bosnia and Herzegovina with the express intention of preventing renewed war. The European Community maintained its wartime monitoring mission (the European Community Monitoring Mission) into the post-war period as an early warning system for potential conflict across the region. After being renamed the European Union Monitoring Mission in 2000, the unarmed observers continued operating in the region until 2007.7 The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe also opened offices in every Balkan state in the aftermath of the armed conflict. Its personnel were tasked with helping to maintain peace and stability, particularly during elections, and worked with host governments on democratisation, improving human rights, and protecting minority groups.8

In the largest peacetime deployment of armed forces since the end of the Second World War, 60,000 NATO troops moved into Bosnia and Herzegovina immediately after the war ended. The Implementation Force was mandated to assist the former combatants with implementing various terms of the Agreement and ultimately be in a position to prevent further conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina.9 In 1996, the mission was renamed Stabilisation Force, and in 2004, the European Union took responsibility for mission and renamed it the European Union Force (EUFOR) Operation Althea.10 These peacekeeping missions separated the belligerents, monitored implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement, conducted inspections of the three armies left in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina, hunted suspects for the ICTY, and serve as an ongoing presence in the country until the present day. The comprehensive and coordinated range of international efforts helped to prevent a conflict relapse in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the Dayton Peace Agreement ended the war.

1 ICTY. About the ICTY. (ICTY, 2020) Available at: (Accessed 27/10/2020)

2 ICTY. Slobodan Milošević Trial - the Prosecution’s case. (ICTY, 2020) Available at: (Accessed 27/10/2020)

3 ICTY. Statement of the Office of the Prosecutor in relation to the judgement in the case Prosecutor vs. Jadranko Prlić et al. (ICTY, 2020) Available at: (Accessed 13/12/2020)

4 Julian Borger. “14 years a fugitive: the hunt for Ratko Mladić, the Butcher of Bosnia.” The Guardian. (2016) Available at: (Accessed 13/12/2020)

5 ICTY. Outreach Programme. (ICTY, 2002) Available at: (Accessed 27/10/2020)

6 Owen Bowcott. “Yugoslavia tribunal closes, leaving a powerful legacy of war crimes justice.” The Guardian. (2017) Available at: (Accessed 13/12/2020)

7 Netherlands Ministry of Defence. European Community Monitoring Mission - European Union Monitoring Mission (ECMM - EUMM): the Dutch contribution. (Netherlands Ministry of Defence, 2020) Available at: (Accessed 27/10/2020)

8 OSCE. Where we are. (OSCE, 2020) Available at: (Accessed 27/10/2020)

9 General William W. Crouch. “IFOR becomes SFOR.” SFOR Informer Online. (1997) Available at: (Accessed 27/10/2020)

10 SFOR. SFOR Mission. (SFOR, 2003) Available at: (Accessed 27/10/2020) EUFOR. About EUFOR. (2020) Available at: (Accessed 27/10/2020)

Start Year


End Year



Bosnia and Herzegovina

UN Regional Group

Eastern Europe

Type of Conflict

Risk of a conflict relapse

Type of Initiative

Legal prosecutions, Monitoring, observation, political, and verification missions, Peacekeeping mission

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

The European Community




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