The Brutality of the Bosnian War Reflected in These Heartbreaking Photographs

The Bosnian War was an armed conflict that took place between 1992 and 1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main actors were Bosnian and Herzegovinian forces, the Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Croats, the Republika Srpska, and the Herzeg-Bosnia.

The war came as part of the dissolution of Yugoslavia. After Slovenia and Croatia seceded from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, the multicultural Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina passed a referendum for independence as well in 1992.

Bosnia, at the time, was comprised of 44 percent Muslim Bosniaks, 32.5 percent Orthodox Serbs, and 17 percent Catholic Croats. The Bosnian Orthodox Serbs rejected the referendum. The Bosnian Serbs, led by Radovan Karadzic and supported by the Serbian Government and the Yugoslav People’s Army, gathered forces to secure ethnic Serb territory called the Republika Srpska.

The Bosnian War was marked by widespread violence, the destruction of towns and cities, and ethnic cleansings committed predominantly by the Serbs.

The Siege of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, lasting from April 5, 1992, until February 29, 1996. The city was first attacked by the Yugoslav People’s Army, and then by the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska. Nearly 14,000 people were killed during the siege.

Despite the Serbs early victories, they eventually lost momentum as the Bosniaks and Croats allied against the Republika Srpska after the Washington Agreement, which established a ceasefire between the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the unrecognized Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia. After Pakistan defied the United Nations embargo on arms to the region by supplying missiles to the Bosnian Muslims, NATO intervened.

By 2008, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia convicted 45 Serbs, 12 Croats, and 4 Bosniaks of war crimes. Recent estimates say that around 100,000 people were killed in the war and 2.2 million were displaced. An estimated 12,000-20,000 women were raped, mostly Bosniak women.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic (right) and General Ratko Mladic speak to reporters on November 4, 1992. Reuters
The sole survivor of a massacre finds his home in ruins after the Bosnian army recaptured his village from Serb forces in the fall of 1995. He is standing on what is believed to be a mass grave of 69 people, including his family. Ron Haviv
Bosnian Muslims pose for a picture. Ron Haviv / VII
Bosnian soldiers smoke and take a break on the front line next to a sign that says, “Welcome to Sarajevo” in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in the fall of 1994. Trench warfare took place all around the city.
Ron Haviv / VII
A Bosnian woman visits her husband’s grave in a cemetery in Bihac, Bosnia, that is filled with people who were killed during the Bosnian war.
Ron Haviv / VII
Arkan’s Tigers, the Serb paramilitary volunteers kill Bosnian Muslim civilians during the first battle for Bosnia in Bijeljina, Bosnia, March 31, 1992. The Serbian paramilitary unit was responsible for killing thousands of people during the Bosnian war, and Arkan was later indicted for war crimes. This image and many of the following pictures eres used for evidence in the International War Crimes Tribunal for the indictment and conviction of Serbian leaders.
Ron Haviv / VII
Bosnian and Croatian prisoners of war at the prison camp in Trnopolje, Bosnia, 1992. All sides of the Bosnian conflict ran prison camps, where many people were killed. Several commanders were later indicted for war crimes as a result. Ron Haviv / VII
A Serb man attempts to put out a fire that was caused by Serb arsonists in the Sarajevo suburb Grbavica, Bosnia, 1996. The arsonists were trying to force the man to leave the city rather than let him stay under the Muslim-led Bosnian government.
Ron Haviv / VII
A Muslim in Bijelina, Bosnia begs for his life after capture by Arkan’s Tigers in the spring of 1992.
Ron Haviv / VII
During the Bosnian War, cellist Vedran Smailovic plays Strauss inside the bombed-out National Library in Sarajevo, on September 12, 1992. Getty Images
A former sniper position on the slopes of Mount Trebevic gives a view of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, seen on April 2, 2012. Getty Images
A Bosnian special forces soldier returns fire in downtown Sarajevo as he and civilians come under fire from Serbian snipers, on April 6, 1992. The Serbs were shooting from the roof of a hotel at a peace demonstration of some of 30,000 people as fighting between Bosnian and Serb fighters escalated in the capital of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Getty Images
A Serbian soldier takes cover by a burning house in the village of Gorica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, on October 12, 1992 AP Photo
Smoke and flames rise from houses set on fire by heavy fighting between Bosnian Serbs and Muslims in the village of Ljuta on Mount Igman some 40km southwest from the besieged Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, on July 22, 1993. Reuters
A Muslim militiaman looks for snipers during a battle with the Yugoslav federal army in Central Sarajevo on Saturday, May 2, 1992. Getty Images
Bosnian Croat soldiers taken as prisoners pass a Bosnian Serb soldier after surrendering on the central Bosnian mountain of Vlasic June 8. About 7,000 Croat civilians and some 700 soldiers fled to Serb-held territories under heavy Muslim attack. Getty Images
A Serbian soldier beats a captured Muslim militiaman during an interrogation in the Bosnian town of Visegrad, 125 miles southwest of Belgrade, on June 8, 1992. AP Photo
122mm heavy artillery of the Bosnian government, in position near Sanski Most, 10 miles (15 kilometers), east of Banja Luka, opens fire at the Serb-controlled town of Prijedor, on October 13, 1995. Getty Images
19) A woman, standing between markers of fresh graves in a Sarajevo cemetery, mourns over the grave of a dead relative in the early morning, on January 17, 1993. More people came to visit graves of friends and relatives as the dense fog protected them from sniper fire. AP Photo
Seven-year-old Nermin Divovic lies mortally wounded in a pool of blood as unidentified American and British U.N. firefighters arrive to assist after he was shot in the head in Sarajevo Friday, November 18, 1994. The boy was shot and killed by a sniper firing from an apartment building into the Sarajevo city center, along Sarajevo’s notorious Sniper Alley. The U.N. firefighters were at his side almost immediately, but the boy died outright. AP Photo
A top sniper, codenamed “Arrow,” loads her gun in a safe room in Sarajevo, Tuesday, June 30, 1992. The 20-year old Serb who shoots for the Bosnian forces says she has lost count of the number of people she has killed, but that she finds it difficult to pull the trigger. The former journalism student says most of her targets are other snipers on the Serbian side. AP Photo
Rockets explode on Sarajevo downtown center, closed to the Cathedral, on June 5, 1992. Heavy shelling and fighting raged throughout the Bosnian capital overnight. Sarajevo radio said all parts of the city were hit by heavy artillery, leaving at least three people dead and 10 injured in the Muslim stronghold of Hrasnica, which faces the Southwest side of the airport. Getty Images
A Bosnian man cradles his child as they and others run past one of the worst spots for snipers that pedestrians have to pass in Sarajevo, on April 11, 1993. AP Photo
Participants in the Miss Besieged Sarajevo 93 beauty pageant line up on stage holding a banner reading, Don’t Let Them Kill Us in front of a packed audience in Sarajevo, on May 29, 1993. AP Photo
Bloodstains cover the wreckage of patients’ rooms at Sarajevo’s Kosevo Hospital on June 16, 1995, after a shell slammed into it killing two and injuring six. AP Photo
Two prisoners sit on the ground during a visit of journalists and members of the Red Cross in a Serb camp in Tjernopolje, near Prijedor northwest Bosnia, on August 13, 1992. Getty Images
A French U. N. soldier sets up barbed wire in one of the U. N. compounds in Sarajevo, Friday, July 21, 1995. AP Photo
On her way home in afternoon on Thursday, April 8, 1993, in Sarajevo, a Bosnian woman rushes down an empty sidewalk past war-destroyed shops in one of the worst sections of the so-called Sniper Alley. AP Photo
French troops of the United Nations patrol in front of the destroyed mosque of Ahinici, near Vitez, northwest of Sarajevo, on April 27, 1993. This Muslim town was destroyed during fighting between Croatian and Muslim forces in central Bosnia. Getty Images
Smoke rises from an ammunition depot in Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale, some 16 km (10 miles) east of Sarajevo, on August 30, 1995, after NATO air strikes. NATO jets went after Serb ammunition and radar sites as well as command and communication centers throughout Bosnia to eliminate threats to UN safe zones. AP Photo
Children look up at fighter jets enforcing the no-fly-zone over Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina, on May 12, 1993. AP Photo