After the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 at the end of the Cold War, ethnic wars broke out between Roman Catholic Croatia, Orthodox Christian Serbia, and Bosnian Muslims over the status of the various minorities in each country. State control of the media, which pitted the ethnicities against each other, propagated extremism on all sides, par for the course for identity politics. This was particularly true in the largest of the Yugoslav rump states, Serbia. Serbian president Slobadan Milosevic waged a vicious propaganda campaign via Serbian TV and radio that led directly to ethnic violence against Croats and Bosnians across the former Yugoslavia.
In an area wracked by ethnically fueled rage, the most vicious fighting was during the Bosnian War. In addition to the bitter fighting, militias waged a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against the civilian population that frequently involved mass executions, forced migration, and systematic mass rape. In April 1993, the UN “Protection Force” (UNPROFOR) declared “safe zones” across Bosnia, one of which was the town of Srebrenica outside of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.
The Srebrenica safe zone was garrisoned a 400 strong battalion of Dutch peacekeepers but they only had authority to use force in self-defense, and not to protect civilians. Moreover, they were woefully under equipped, and had no heavy weapons and limited ammunition. Convoys destined fro Srebrenica were stopped and hijacked by Serb militias. Fewer and fewer UN convoys made it to Srebrencia for both the Dutch peacekeepers and the predominantly Bosniak population of the city. (“Bosniak” refers specifically to Bosnian Muslims, as opposed to the catch-all term “Bosnian” who is someone who lives in Bosnia.)
On 10 July 1995, Gen. Radko Mladic’s Serbian paramilitaries and interior police captured the town after a vicious battle with the Bosnian militia, as the Dutch peacekeepers looked on. The next day, the victorious Serbs rounded up 2,000 Bosniak boys and men and executed them. Any Bosniaks who sought refuge in the “Dutchbat” (Dutch battalion) compound were expelled and left to the non-existent mercy of the Bosnian Serbs. Over the next week they detained and killed another 6,000 Bosniaks as they fled the city. 25-30,000 Bosniak women and children were forcibly relocated by the Serbs from around Srebrenica. Thousands were raped in the process.
The Srebrenica Massacre, as it was known then, was the first event over the summer of 1995 that finally convinced US President Bill Clinton, an ardent supporter of the UN Mission, of the impotence of UNPROFOR, and UN missions in general. With little expanded military recourses at the UN to stop the fighting, Clinton turned to NATO to take action. In September 1995, NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force which targeted Serbian forces and compelled them to the negotiating table. The Dayton Peace Accords were signed in December which stopped the majority of the large scale fighting. IFOR, the NATO Implementation Forcecrossed into Bosnia that Christmas, and SFOR, the NATO Stabilization Force, headed to Bosnia later in 1996.