Slobodan Lang, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Social Medicine;

Matko Marušić, M.D., Ph.D. Department of Physiology

Zagreb University School of Medicine, Zagreb, Croatia


Running title: The Lessons of the Present Balkan War

Key words: Human Rights; Croatia; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Armed Conflict; Refugees; Humanitarian Work

Address for Correspondence:

Dr. Slobodan Lang
School of Public Health "Andrija Štampar"
Zagreb University School of Medicine
Rockefellerova 4
10000 Zagreb
Phone: + 38 41 46 69 13
Fax: + 38 41 27 20 50


The 1991-93 armed conflict in the Balkans is defined as the Third Balkan War, stemming from Serbian imperialistic politics dating at least 150 years back in the history. The failure of the international community to stop the aggression is explained by world's concentration on prevention of nuclear threat and protection of individual human rights, lacking the attention for local (non-nuclear) conflicts and population-level breach of human rights. This conflict, however, was local in nature, did not include nuclear threat, and human rights were in essence denied on population level, which was overlooked in front of horrifying individual tragedies. The extent, precise planning and thorough execution of the violation of human rights of non-Serbian populations justified the description of the events as genocide. Accordingly, the major specificity of Balkan refugees is that they did not leave back any of their original population, i.e. the area was completely "cleansed" of a specific (national, religious) population. The basic human right of these people should not be the right to be accepted in the new environment but to return to their homes. In the meantime, the knowledge and skills of refugees should be used as a resource. Refugee insurance should be considered on the international level. The support for refugees and displaced should be planned and comprehensive. Due to the imperfections of basic international documents which have failed to forsee the happenings all of which occured on population levels and lacked the mechanisms of prevention, humanitarian help did not satisfy either people's needs or ensure an objective evaluation. Such evaluation should, in principle, always be done with respect to humanitarian activities in an area/conflict. The peace, when achieved, should not be an end of negotiations but a real rebirth of coexistence, tolerance and old life in presently destroyed habitats. Together with all other experiences and achievements, the specificities of protection of human rights and peace in the Balkans should be systematized and studied regularly at universities.


Two events close in time mark the human rights activities after World War II. On August 6, 1945, the first atom bomb fell on Hiroshima, marking the beginning of era of fear of total destruction of the planet, and on November 20, 1945, the sentences of Nuerenberg were completed. Thus, the international community shifted its concern to global issues, primarily to the danger of nuclear war. With respect to genocide, the dominant thought was that the mountains of bodies in concentration camps will never again appear as the symbol of danger that was just overcome. However, the two issues simultaneously grew in a subtle dichotomy.

First, immediately after World War II, the reemergence of the peace movement was difficult because it bore the burden of its failure to prevent World War II. Second, between 1946 and 1990, most of the peace groups, especially among physicians and scientists, were primarily concerned with nuclear war, medical and environmental consequences of radiation, etc. (1). On March 18, 1951, 130 doctors in Great Britain formed Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW). In France, Union National des Medecins pour la Paix was formed and within few years such

organizations existed in many West-European countries and the USA. The movement was further developed by Dr. Albert Schweitzer. In 1957, Pugwash was formed; it called on scientists to develop means of averting dangers of the arms race and the development of the hydrogen bomb. In 1957, National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) was formed and in 1961, Dr. Bernard Lown founded Physicians for Social Responsibility. He described why physicians should be especially concerned with nuclear war: "Physicians are accustomed to the labor of applying practical solutions to life-threatening difficulties"; and also: "Physicians are aware, however, that intelligent therapy depends on accurate diagnosis and a realistic appraisal of the problem" (1).

In 1980, Lown and Chazov formed International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) but limited their focus to nuclear war and the nuclear arms race (1). After 1989, and the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Moscow-Washington Peace of Terror, the nuclear threat ceased being the central danger to the world. New forms of war, local and brutal, were becoming the central issue. The war in the Balkans was at its beginning. On the local level, Physician for Prevention of War were formed between Zagreb and Belgrade in 1990, Physicians for Peace in Croatia, 1992 (2), Physicians for Human Rights in Croatia in 1993, and Physicians for Peace and Humanitarian Issues in Sarajevo in 1993. On the international level, organizations of physicians Medecines sans Frontiers and Medecines du Monde were practically involved in conflicts around the globe. IPPNW was broadening its approach to include local conflicts. All too late for the countries of the former Yugoslavia.


The contemporary armed conflict on the Balkans can be considered the Third Balkan War (3), for it has the same basis (Serbian territorial aspirations) major protagonist(s) (Serbia and attacked neighboring Balkan countries) and global significance (threat of spreading as has happened at the beginning of the World War I). The core of the conflict is simple: It is a 150-years old Serbian imperialism (4,5). The details, and the roles of other protagonists may differ and be less clear, but that should not prevent any intelligent observer from understanding the core problem. Other differences to the I. and II. Balkan Wars relate to the general setting of the conflict in the era of human rights, global responsibility and nuclear threat.

2.1. The Background

The strategy and the general features of the Third Balkan War can be analyzed along two lines of reasoning. First, in this war the prevention of the nuclear threat was not an issue, because the destruction of cities (urbicide), environment (ecocide) and populations (genocide) of the whole regions (6,7) was accomplished without nuclear weapons. Second, prior to the war, Serbian strategists developed several key hypotheses:

1. After the end of the Cold War, the Balkans is no longer the area of priority security concern;

2. There are no instruments for clear diagnosis and prevention of local aggression;

3. There are no international instruments for prevention of genocide (with slight modifications, its picture can be completely blurred), and

4. The fragmentation of human rights issues can be used to lower the ability of the international community to diagnose, prevent or stop the most outrageous scourges: aggression and genocide.

In 1988 and 1989, Serbian people (demonstrations, incidents, etc.) and state (military preparations) were being prepared for the war. In 1989 and 1990, a mass abuse of human rights of Albanians in Kosovo started, and soon confrontations with republics within Yugoslavia pushed them towards an irrepressible desire for independence, not as a human right but as a form of self-preservation (3). With respect to the international community, Serbian politics applied the methods of monopoly in diplomatic contacts and media, creating an impression that these republics were in fact secessionist.

The actual interest of the countries in question (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia) was exactly the opposite: they wanted that the death of communism should not lead to war but to cooperation among all nations and states in the Balkans. Politicians in Croatia used the term Scandinavization, and proposed an adoption of combination of principles of human rights and political tools. They wanted to preserve the right to peace and development and, above all, to respect the universal declarations and other instruments of human rights as a relationship among people and nations, and not a secondary to Marxist ideology. On the political level, they wanted to use the examples of new relationships among nations, including former enemies within European community and of the dream world of Scandinavia. All of that was carried out in pain, with a great deal of mistakes, irrelevant and theatrical gestures etc., but it is a sad lesson that international human right bodies and European political leaders were more impressed by false propaganda of experienced dictatorship than by unskillful signals from new states. In helping a patient, a physician must be able to make a proper diagnosis and suggest therapy, regardless of the patient's behavior.

In 1991, the open aggression begun (3,8). After the brief war in Slovenia, the Serbian army occupied significant territories in Croatia, in some of which Serbians were a relative majority, in some were equal with others, and in most were a minority (6). Thus, the key cause of the armed conflict was not national but purely imperialistic (e.g., Baranya, Dubrovnik, Slunj, etc.).

In 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BH) was attacked. Total war developed quickly because the country was by then completely surrounded and had many enemies within.

The international community did not stop the aggression at a single point (Vukovar, Dubrovnik, Jajce, Sarajevo, etc.). In a way, by "freezing" the situation found, the UN troops that arrived, actually guarded the Serbian conquest. The conquest by war appeared possible.

2.2. Expert and Planned Strategy

Lack of international opposition and understanding, behavior of the population submitted to aggression, motivation of one sole population to become the tool and performer of genocide could not have happened spontaneously among the "Balkan Barbarians". It was the other way around: low level of international analysis and insufficient humanism supported by misleading information, and led even the important figures and well-meaning public to believe in "civil war", "ethnic conflict", "secessionist Croatians, Slovenians and Moslems", etc. In fact, the integrated concept of aggression and genocide, used tools and accepted reactions were planned by top Serbian intellectuals in the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (4).

At this point, it is important to mention Serbian strategy of spreading the concept of "equal guilt". It never presented Serbians as innocent. On the contrary, their own terror was selectively made public (e.g., Vukovar). But Croatians and Moslems were painted guilty to the same level, i.e. all nations together, as "Balkan Barbarians", about whom the international community should not care too much. This was based on the issue dear to liberal thinking of the West: the theory of equal guilt is almost a dogma of the present day liberals (9). The "Balkan Barbarians" concept support the traditional picture of the Balkans held throughout the war, and these two concepts together justify non-intervention and freeing the space and time for Serbian army to do what it wanted. It is fascinating to believe in equal guilt when in one country there is not a single house, factory, church, or anything else destroyed while in others one can see destruction of hundreds of villages and dozens of cities. From one country there is not a single displaced person or refugee while in others there are millions. On the territory in one country there is not a single person killed or tortured and in the others the number of killed, wounded, tortured, raped and mutilated goes to hundreds of thousands.

2.3. Blurring the Picture of Happenings

One of the most important features of the present Balkan armed conflict is enormous difficulty in gaining the needed data, presenting a clear picture and creating information that can be transmitted and accepted around the globe. There is no global village, there is only global jungle: information can be transmitted technically, if data is collected, but its analysis, interpretation, presentation, acceptance and responsibility are more complicated. From the beginning of the conflict in Kosovo to total war in BH, Serbian politics used media as arms. It limited the freedom of the newsmen to move (many were killed, ref. 10), did not permit international bodies to perform the necessary investigations (e.g., WHO investigation of food poisoning in Kosovo, ref. 3), to the point of not permitting the Head of the UN Special Commission for Human Rights, T. Mazowiecki, to enter concentration camps. It constantly offered false data to international journalists, e.g., that on 41 killed children in Vukovar (6). A specific method of "focusing of the attention" was used. Suffering of a surrounded city (e.g., Sarajevo), or theatrical armed conflict would be used to focus medias' attention while the true and relevant acts of aggression and genocide would be performed in silence, without presence of the international media. A number of places and events were not covered at all (concentration-like camps, Bosnian Posavina, East Bosnia, Bihać area, Travnik, Zadar hinterlands, Slunj, Vojnić). Such diagnostic method is unacceptable in medicine. We think that, through some of its institutions, the UN had to have independent new agencies whose representatives could be present throughout the conflict area, report independently, without pressure, with their reports being offered to general public as a form of peace and human rights "laboratory" findings, independent diagnosis.


For physicians, genocide is the first risk after the nuclear threat. On December 11, 1946, General Assembly brought Resolution 96(I) stating that the genocide is a crime under international law, contrary to the spirit and aims of the United Nations and condemned by the civilized world (11). Three other respective documents should be cited also (11): First, in 1948, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was made public; In its introductory part, two basic statements relevant for present times, were used: "Recognizing that at all periods of history genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity", and "Being convinced that, in order to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge, international cooperation is required". Although this convention clearly stated that genocide should be prevented and punished internationally, for the next 45 years, no tools of prevention were developed. In the Article II, the definition of genocide was accepted, being completely applicable to all stages of the Third Balkan War and the Serbian aggression (3).

In the second convention, that of November 26, 1968, it was declared that there will be no statutory limitations to crimes against humanity, like war crimes, as defined by the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, Nuerenberg of August 8, 1945, and related conventions of the human rights and Geneva Conventions of August 12, 19493 (11).

In the third, General Assembly resolution of December 3, 1973 (Principles of International Cooperation in the Decision, Arrest, Extradiction and Punishment of Persons Guilty of War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity, ref. 11), an international cooperation in punishment of culprits was envisioned.

Thus, the first document defined genocide and war crimes, the second forbade statutory limitations to these crimes and the third indicated obligation of the international cooperation. Shortly, in relation to war, peace movements concentrated to prevention of nuclear war and to punishing the war crimes, but the prevention of classical wars and war crimes related to them were forgotten.

3.1. The Basis of the Present Balkan Genocide

Serbian aggression has a clear-cut ultimate goal of not only conquering of territories but also of ethnic cleansing (genocide) of the entire non-Serbian population (6). That is the reason why the abuses of human rights in individuals are not visible. Killing of a person is performed so that ten would flee, rape of a woman is for other ten to run away, and a house is burned so that other would be emptied. Shortly, different methods and forms of human rights abuse and terror are always associated with ethnic cleansing of a territory and thus cannot be analyzed in any other form but as tools of genocide. During World War II, the problem in German-Jewish relations in Auschwitz was not of rape of Jewish girls by German officers; the problem was the Holocaust. While all should be done to help each victim individually, regardless of the way she/he was terrorized, in this case the population diagnosis must be made first. Contagious diseases can produce symptoms of temperature, vomiting, stomach ache or rash, and thus the sickness of the individual, but the key is the epidemic, the disease of the population. The same is in the present Balkan conflict. As symptoms (forms of terror), one can find burning of homes, looting, hunger and cold, mutilation, sexual terror, rape, social and mental terror. As patients, we find people of all ages and both sexes but of a defined nationality and faith, and the central diagnosis to all is the population diagnosis: genocide. It would be wrong, unthinkable, to organize, during the forties, an international conference on rape in concentration camps, or to send an international delegation of women to check whether Jewish women were raped before being burned. For the same reason, it is unacceptable for the people exposed to Holocaust and genocide in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to be analyzed through selected forms of genocide while the act itself continues uncondemned and unconfronted in its entirety.

3.2. The Specificities of Genocide in the Present Balkan War

The historic experiences of the conquests showed that, sooner or later, the conquered people regain their freedom. The only way to retain conquered territories is to liquidate people, to execute ethnic cleansing. On Balkans of 1991-1993, it was performed in two ways: (a) as a genocide towards Croatians, Hungarians, Czech, etc., i.e. by driving all non-Serbians from certain territories, and (b) as a Holocaust of Muslims, i.e. by their liquidating based solely on their identity (12). The second hypothesis of Serbian politics proved true: there were no effective international instruments to diagnose, prevent and stop genocide.

The conquest of territories in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, caused displacement of some 600.000 people in Croatia and a million in BH, while about 100.000 became refugees in Croatia and a million in BH (12,13). All together, more than 2.5 million people became refugees, were displaced or killed.

The first stage of the genocide was initiated as a part of military aggression. At the beginning of the armed conflict in Croatia, Serbian army destroyed civilian objects, particularly churches (14), hospitals (15), and graveyards; it became The War against Three Crosses (16). Since Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina at the beginning did not have their own armies, it was not immediately noticed that Serbian troops rarely fought organized military units, but rather attacked civilians. Military targets were rarely bombarded and military units seldom attacked; the operations were mostly concentrated on conquest of poorly defended territories, destruction of key civilian objects and whole communities (urbicide), ethnic cleansing (genocide) and bringing in new (Serbian) population.

The paramilitaries (White Eagles, Chetniks, Arkanovci, ref. 17) were used to perform the atrocities (massacres, sexual torture, torture of elderly and children, looting, burning, destruction) in order to avert the responsibility from the army proper and blur the picture of the events. This strategy limits the number of atrocities to the point needed for mass exodus of endangered population. Therefore, it permits and even supports the spread of news about torture, trying to separate cases of torture from the exodus of the population: few massacred produce thousands of displaced (e.g., compare data in refs. 18 and 19). It limits the number of killed for very practical reasons: amount of "work", question of burying, diseases, and possible arousal of international reaction. With this method, the culprits even get an international support, an indirect help in accomplishment of the exodus of attacked people.

The pace of Serbian advancement was not adjusted to ability of their armed forces to advance but to their capacity to clean the territories.

After the occupation of a territory, the second stage of genocide is performed; it is based on social rules and laws that differentiate the population on ethnic, national and religious basis (e.g., case of village of Đelinac, ref. 3), and in ethnic, national and social prosecution (forceful expulsion from homes, loss of employment, material and personal insecurity). All these methods are again used to stimulate the population to plea for permission to leave their homes! The people have to leave behind all their property and even to pay for the transport. At this stage, the international community again indirectly cooperates by helping in organization and protection of displacement. Then again, the aggressor stimulates the rumors and news on these activities - to stimulate others to leave.

In the third stage of genocide, the aggressor directly and physically throws people out. It organizes convoys by force: military units surround a village and the people are told: "Be on the buses in 30 minutes". The refugees are then further looted in the busses. Their jewelry (wedding rings, earrings) and any other valuables are taken away. This method begun early in 1992, in Eastern Slavonia in the village of Tompojevci, situated within the UNPA zone. Actually, the majority of such expulsions in Croatia were performed in UNPA zones (20).

The fourth and final stage of genocide is again bizarre. A small group of old people, and sometimes children, are not permitted to leave but are continuously terrorized. In such cases, the International Red Cross (IRC), UN and other humanitarian representatives organize "saving", by obtaining the permission for these people to leave. Thus, cleaning of a territory, a genocide, ends with appraisal for those who performed it and a "success" of international humanitarians.


The role of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is "seeking permanent solutions for the problem of refugees...(by) facilitating the voluntary repatriation of such refugees, or their assimilation within new national communities" (11). Refugees are defined by documents before World War II and after it as "any person, who owning to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality..." In defining the role of the UNHCR, it is indicated that it should, together with governments and humanitarian organizations, help the refugees by all means, from promoting their admission to assisting the efforts in promoting voluntary repatriation (11). Since the present conflict produced more refugees than any other event since World war II (3), the character of these refugees, the kind of help they need, and what should be offered must be defined so that the world can decide whether it is willing to give it and if is it giving it.

At the very beginning of the conflict, first refugees were created in Kosovo through a social pressure. This was an extension of economic pressure of the sixties and seventies, which already caused large number of people from Croatia and Kosovo to leave for work in the Western countries (from other parts of the former Yugoslavia also, but to a lesser extent). The events in Kosovo very soon led to the use of methods of direct terror (cultural, social, medical, police), resulting in a large number of refugees and individuals from Kosovo seeking political asylum, but they still fell within the scope of the traditional definition, that is, as individuals they were seeking refugee or asylum status in different countries being relatively well aware of their human rights - where and how to seek them.

After the beginning of the aggression in Croatia (spring 1991) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (spring 1992), the character of refugees changed: this was no longer an individual but a mass phenomenon. There was no voluntary leaving of homes; the victims were forced to leave as a result of fear for life, by signing false agreements, and by direct force (3,6,7,12,13,19,20).

These refugees were not permitted to take their assets and to prepare in any way for the refugee status. They were becoming refugees exclusively because of their nationality and religion. They did not want to become refugees (17). Then and now, their primary goal was to return to their country, region and home, not to be accepted by another country, village, or build a new home. When leaving, this population was not leaving behind others of the same religion and nationality, all had to leave. The entire physical territory, region or village had to be emptied of the people because they were Croatians or Moslems, or anything else but Serbians (3,6,12,17). These people, even today, are not only willing, but have as the prime goal to return to their homes. They do not want to be given asylum status, to be accepted as refugees in foreign countries and be given human rights over the entire planet, these people ask for human rights in their village.

This is a crucial point in the refugee question, and the way it will be settled will have significant consequences for the time ahead.

4.1. The Help for Balkan Refugees

Another important point is how to treat displaced persons and refugees during the period of displacement. We must state, with definite national pride, the impressive result of Croatia in its ability to take care of the number of refugees reaching up to 25% of its population at the time when 25% of its territory is occupied, more than 50% exposed to aggression and the economic production under 50% of the pre-war production (6,13). The analysis of that work needs a special report because it is important as a technology of mass refugee care within severely limited resources. At the same time, we must point out a relatively low level of efficiency and effectiveness of the UNHCR and international humanitarian organizations (3). These organizations offered enormous help and did an impressive human effort but often their intervention came late, they could not offer help in occupied territories, and did not coordinate work of all humanitarian organizations to reach optimal results in observing and fulfilling the needs of the displaced persons and refugees. Such organization has led not only to economic loss but also to tragic events described above trough forced evacuation of people.

4.2. The Refugee Insurance

If we accept that the right to stay and to go home is a human right, then on both accounts care of the refugees is an international responsibility in every form, professional and economic. For this reason we trust that as a part of the USA status and at least regionally in Europe, a refugee insurance should be introduced, which would cover economic costs needed to take care of the displaced and refugees as well as their return to their homes. It should also be defined, through quotas, what proportion of refugees, in cases of large numbers, which country is responsible to take. Professional workers should create, in case of need, a joint humanitarian work force, in the same manner as the UN Army is conceived.

With respect to overall instability, economic, social and political, in the present world and particularly in Russia and neighboring new states, it is of utmost importance not to loose orientation in human rights and humanitarian policy in the question of refugees. If refugees and displaced persons in Croatia and BH are given effective support in their right to go home, and other people in the Balkans (Moslems in Sandžak, Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia, and Macedonia itself) are protected before aggression reaches the point of exodus, it could help millions of people in remaining in their homes in these unstable areas and spare Western Europe of being flooded by millions of tragic refugees.

4.3. Refugees as a Resource

Refugees in Croatia had all forms and levels of education, knowledge of dozens of foreign languages and experience in a great number of skills. They became the refugees after the policy of investment in people became the major policy of many countries, Croatia included. On average, among one million of refugees, there was approximately 10 million school-years invested. Remembering the Jewish emigration to the USA as symbolized by Albert Einstein, we did not regard these people as a burden but as a resource. In doing the refugee census in Dubrovnik, for each refugee we collected data on his/her profession, knowledge of languages and know-how. A registry was thus obtained of the refugee human resources and used in all forms of work during the siege of Dubrovnik (Lang et al, in preparation). This approach also allowed a collection of data on chronic diseases, regular medicines, diets and other medical characteristics and needs of the displaced and refugees. This broadened the health care from emergency needs to a comprehensive picture and planning.

4.4. A Comprehensive Support

At the time of the siege of Dubrovnik (3,21), a traditional war camp mentality was developing in the town. It meant evacuation of women and children, reduction of social relevance of many of human activities (art, science) and concentration on military strength and support. The paradox of the situation was an impossibility of confronting the Serbian army by a dozen of shotguns. Instead, we opted for a combined spirit of Massada, Alamo and Mary, Mother of Jesus. This meant using the city as a springboard for freeing occupied areas, of remaining free regardless of the cost, and refusing of mothers and wives to leave their sons and husbands to legitimize the killing. Such concept also asked to identify the role of each human being, from children to old people, as a resource of freedom and dignity. In this way, all human activities were supported: human rights committee, different art and music groups, children's activities, women groups, care of the elderly groups, international communication center, publication of the newspapers in Croatian and English, organization of information systems, research center, religious groups, etc. All this gave enormous moral and practical strength to the defense of Dubrovnik.


5.1. The Red Cross

The Red Cross activities in the conflict were analyzed in a separate paper (3), and only some key points will be mentioned here.

1. All Geneva Conventions should apply to all conflicts and should not be limited either to declared wars or differentiated by the forms of conflict.

2. The International Red Cross (IRC) should rely and cooperate during a conflict on local Red Cross organizations. It should also evaluate whether the local Red Cross is respecting the principles of the Red Cross.

3. Each population, especially endangered one, and especially when it is a direct focus of aggression, has a right to have its own Red Cross organization in the time of conflict. For example, it is unacceptable that on the occupied territory of Croatia, occupied population of Croatians does not have the Red Cross organization (3).

4. Modern technology should be used to give support to local Red cross through media technology, basic vehicles and store rooms. This should allow an integration of local Red Cross into the international network, protect its existence and allow it to reach each human being. It is unacceptable that the IRC drives in expensive cars in Zagreb, with all kinds of electronic devices, whereas at the same time the Red Cross representatives in war-thorn and occupied areas try to help people and reach them on foot, by bicycles or drive old cars at the risk of their own lifes, without being able to inform anybody about suffering of their people. Local Red Cross representatives in this war are being killed in silence, without international community even knowing it.

5. Throughout the conflict and in detail at the end of the conflict, the work of the Red Cross (as well as of other humanitarian organizations) must be evaluated. Quality assurance is a prerequisite in today's world.

5.2. The Drugs

Very often, the drugs that were sent as humanitarian help were beyond the date of validity (more than 100 tons to Croatia only, ref. 22). This created confusion among the medical personnel, and sometimes disappointment and anger also. This experience teaches us that either the curve of efficiency, extended beyond the expiration dates, or a new, war-related date of validity should accompany the instructions.

5.3. Hunger

During the conflict, we faced problems of mass hunger, hunger strike and food transport (miners in Kosovo, use of hunger as arms in East Bosnia, refusal of food from the UN supplies as a form of solidarity in Sarajevo in February 1993, UNHCR decision to interrupt food delivery in the same event as a form of pressure, etc.). International declarations (Tokyo and Malta, ref. 11), related just to individual cases of hunger strikes; the issues of collective hunger strikes and cases of mass hunger should be faced and treated also.

5.4. Women and Children

The aggression towards women and children was practiced in this armed conflict in the most brutal way (8,23,24). The role of women in defense has not been adequately recognized. Organized women played the key role in the defense of Dubrovnik, but in order to accomplish it they had to change traditional approach to women and children, by refusing to leave the war area (3). The aggression towards, and importance of women in the modern conflict is so great that they should participate at all levels of leadership, reporting and negotiations.

It is important to realize that the rape of women was practiced as a part of sexual terror (cutting of sex organs from males, rape of men, ref. 3) which again was a part of genocide. Special question are the pregnancies and the future of children conceived by this terror (24). In this conflict, the rape was primarily practiced from Serbian, Orthodox men over Moslem and, to a lesser extent, Croatian Catholic women. Raped and then pregnant women were exchanged or in other way sent to Croatia which is grossly Catholic. The question arose whether these fetuses should be born or not. The debate was often passionate and confrontation strong. These children were given life by three religions simultaneously, in the midst of war, destruction, genocide and all forms of breaking the human rights. Their abortion would be the final victory of hate over love. We are not advocating any legal or other pressure towards pregnant women, we are challenging ourselves and the entire Western culture to offer love to the point where these women will opt for motherhood and their babies become the children of love not of hate.


In the Health for All program of the WHO, peace is defined as the first precondition for health (25). With such approach, the WHO not only pointed out that the war is a threat to peace but also indicated that peace work is part of contemporary heath work. During this armed conflict it has been clearly shown. In this war, the central problem was not the atomic bomb or faraway airplanes; this war was and is fought from house to school, from school to church, from church to village, from village to city... Making peace goes the same way. Although it is very important to have diplomatic and military contacts at the highest level, each individual must also find his own peace. Contacts between neighbors have to be established, displaced and refugees must return to their homes, houses should be rebuilt, mines taken out of fields, environment regenerated...

In the Balkans, the war was no longer either nuclear or Moscow-Washington conflict, and for achieving the peace it was not enough to demonstrate in front of the White House, on the Red Square, or have an intellectual talk in Paris bistros. It was no longer a parent-child relationship. Peace movement had to grow, it had to have the ability of seeing not just the White House but Vukovar, Dubrovnik, Jajce and Sarajevo houses. It must be able to march not only down the Champs Elissee but also to take displaced and refugees home through Slavonian planes or Bosnian mountains. Negotiations cannot be held only on lines between Geneva, London, Paris and Washington, but also in thousands of villages and cities whose social and physical existence has been severely damaged by the war. The end of negotiations cannot be just a diplomatic success, but a real rebirth of thousands of unknown villages growing wheat and corn, children going to school, the word of God being present and doctors helping people.

Peace making and human rights in the Balkans moved beyond ideology and become a part of everyday right to live, and duty of every man, part of primary health and the entire medicine. Moving from ideological to problem-oriented and know-how system, from cataclysmic to everyday risk and from global to local risks requires a fundamental transformation of peace and human rights work.

Our experience identified different forms of peace: inner (personal) peace, our (group) peace, peace between us (among groups), and peace for groups (supported by the third). Peace work has five stages: peace keeping and peace making (existing military and diplomatic UN tools), peace developing (education, media, training, research, information systems), peace sustaining (strengthening key peace work as a permanent challenge from young to academic and governmental level), and war-preventing (reaction to hate building, lack of tolerance, population aspects of human rights violations, beginning of conflicts). The existing tools are rather useful but do not fill the entire needs for peace and are only crisis-oriented, lacking the holistic, civilization-level dimension. We should propose the following:

1. Peace and human rights are not just individual rights but obligations as well.

2. Tolerance, methods of negotiations, care of the displaced and refugees, humanitarian work, information systems, Red Cross work, and the entire field of human rights have reached the level which justifies formations of schools for peace and human rights as part of each university.

3. Peace and human rights studies cannot be oriented just globally (nuclear risk) or just locally. "Think globally and act locally" does not hold any more: we should think and act globally and locally. Practically there is no nation which already does not have fascinating results and great men in fight for peace and human rights, but this experience and know-how is not systematically assembled and shared. Who among the readers knows of Stjepan Radić (3)? Important military battles, even the ancient ones, regardless of whether victories or losses, are studied today; the peace and human rights battles must be studied as well.

4. There must be war-criminal trials but we must also cherish the good-people's work. We cannot pass from generation to generation with just the name of Hitler and Auschwitz, without studying the human rights and humanitarian work of Germans who during the Nazi era saved people at the cost of their own lives.

5. At the beginning of the century, the schools of public health were created to have practical and problem-oriented approach to health; they were simultaneously created on all continents; now it should be done for peace and human rights!

6. Each university should start a project and collect, from its own state, nation and culture, treasures of experience and know-how of peace and human rights. Each university should have a center for peace and human rights, participating in the global network of knowledge, science and dedication, capable of initiating and challenging the young and supporting good people, from ground level to the top of the government, and effectively applying in practice the existing knowledge by direct action and focusing international network.


Human rights showed to be of utmost importance in the present Balkan war, but the existing international frames and methods were not sufficiently strong. In 1990, the WHO asked the minister of health of Yugoslavia if they could send experts with respect to poisoning in Kosovo; when he refused, the WHO did nothing! In 1992, T. Mazowiecki, as a special UN human rights envoy, was not permitted to enter Serbian concentration-like camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina; he turned and went back. Amnesty International published first extensive report on the area in late 1991. Human rights organizations were largely running late and without integrating their effects. This rendered them unable to prevent new problems, answer new questions, and to see the cumulative effects of human rights breaches. Some effects of this are described above in the discussion of genocide.

After the World War II, the world accepted the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (11). This led to further identification of the human rights and the beginning of technology and tools of human rights. In mid-seventies, after KESS, this was no longer enough and therefore the Helsinki Commission and technology were developed (Physicians for Human Rights, training in human rights, etc.). Now, the end of the Cold War asks for a new level in concepts and technology of human rights. Application of traditional and by now inadequate concepts and technology by human rights organizations to Balkan conflict has often led to sad misunderstandings and divisions. The concept of "equal guilt" and general lack of clear position, inability for either continuous or sufficiently strong presence of human rights organizations at the places of great sufferings and inadequate priorities have sometimes themselves created endangered groups - whose human rights were endangered by human rights organizations (e.g., ethnic cleansing of UNPA-zones in Croatia, ref. 20).

Immense need for human rights in Balkans has led people to organize themselves for the protection of human rights without even knowing the theory (e.g., women of Dubrovnik, refs. 3,21). On the other hand, the western groups sometimes risked their lives just to collect witnesses for the support of their otherwise out-of-date models. In other words, the new experiences in defense and protection of human rights developed in the Balkan war should be systematized, studied and employed for the future needs.


Jewish question has always been present in this war, its history, present and even the future. Before the height of the armed conflict, Jewish-Serbian Friendship society was formed in Belgrade; regrettably, not to develop a friendship but to justify hate against Croatians (26). For this purpose, the tragedy of Holocaust and concentration camps in Croatia during the World War II were intensely marketed throughout the world (5,26). At the same time, there was no mention of the Holocaust of Jews in Serbia during the World War II (5). During the same period, a bomb was planted at the Jewish Center in Zagreb. When the armed conflict begun, the picture cleared: Serbian bombs destroyed some of the most important Jewish graveyards (Vinkovci) and synagogues (Dubrovnik) of the past, complementing the complete disrespect for sacred places (e.g., using the Jewish graveyard in Sarajevo as a location for Serbian artillery), and finally forcing the Jews to leave after 500 years of continuous living in Sarajevo.

Important international Jewish figures arrived among the first to see the truth of the conflict (Finkelkraut, Kouchner, Levy, Glucksmann, Mazowiecki, Weil). A number of local Jews, individually and as organizations, participated in all forms of defense of Croatian and Moslem people, from battlefield to international work.

Three general forms of antisemitism were manifested during this armed conflict: (a) The antisemitism was used as a part of Serbian aggression to focus attention on the history and hide the contemporary genocide over Croatians and Moslems. (b) The attempts to mobilize Jews in Serbia and internationally, by revival of their historical pains, are essentially antisemitic. If there are crimes without statutory limitations, there is also pain without statutory limitations, such as Jewish pain. Serbian politics tried to mobilize this pain, not as a source of humanity but as a source of hate. Such misuse of Jewish tragedy could have led Jewish community internationally to a dangerous moral trap. (c) Antisemitism in Croatia itself exists as in any other country in the world; it should be studied in its present form using scientific means as it was done in all other countries. It should be understood in its present-day form and confronted by modern tools.

Acknowledgemet: We thank Dr. Ana Marušić for critical review of the manuscript.


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Published in International Minds 1993;4:6-13.