The Violent Breakup of the Former Yugoslavia

My sister met her husband whilst they were both students in Wales. He was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina,  a south-eastern country of Europe, where his entire family still resides. You have four cousins who we said goodbye to this weekend, because they are going to live in Bosnia.


This country didn’t exist when I was born, because it formed part of Yugoslavia. The war of 1992 until 1995 created the largest displacement Europe has ever seen:

A 2012 film on the Humanitarian Relief effort by the UNHCR

As well as this, the conflict changed something internationally. Sexual violence had never been considered an international crime, rather it was treated with impunity:

“Recognizing sexual violence as an international crime

For centuries, sexual violence in conflict was tacitly accepted as unavoidable. A 1998 UN report on sexual violence and armed conflict notes that historically, armies considered rape one of the legitimate spoils of war. During World War II, all sides of the conflict were accused of mass rapes, yet neither of the two courts set up by the victorious allied countries to prosecute suspected war crimes — in Tokyo and Nuremberg — recognized the crime of sexual violence.

It was not until 1992, in the face of widespread rapes of women in the former Yugoslavia, that the issue came to the attention of the UN Security Council. On 18 December 1992, the Council declared the “massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women, in particular Muslim women, in Bosnia and Herzegovina” an international crime that must be addressed.

Subsequently, the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY, 1993)included rape as a crime against humanity, alongside other crimes such as torture and extermination, when committed in armed conflict and directed against a civilian population. In 2001, the ICTY became the first international court to find an accused person guilty of rape as a crime against humanity. Furthermore, the Court expanded the definition of slavery as a crime against humanity to include sexual slavery. Previously, forced labor was the only type of slavery to be viewed as a crime against humanity.”

The country of Bosnia changed history through the conflict, not only through the world but also in our family. Your uncle, my brother-in-law, who originates from that country, gave a speech on our wedding day in the Shah Jahan Mosque of Woking. Your cousin was my flower girl, and she taught me little phrases in Serbo-Croatian, written in the Cyrillic alphabet.

The days after I gave birth, I wore thick hand-knitted socks that my sister’s parents-in-law send every year. Let us hope we will visit them soon.