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CRSV: Croatian War of Independence

This case note documents the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. It contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.

Background of the Conflict

The Croatian War of Independence was fought between 1991 and 1995, between Croat forces that were loyal to the Government of Croatia, and the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and local Serb forces. The JNA ended its combat operations in Croatia by 1992. In the run up to the war, most Croats wanted Croatia to leave Yugoslavia and become a sovereign country. However, many ethnic Serbs in Croatia opposed the secession, and instead wanted Serb-claimed lands to join Serbia (Bassiouni, 1994). They attempted to conquer as much of Croatia as was possible (Brown and Karim, 1995). However, the Government of Croatia declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) on June 25, 1991, while agreeing to postpone its implementation with the Brioni Agreement, which aimed to create an environment to further dialogue (Bassiouni, 1994; Zubrinic, n.d.).

Croatia cut off all remaining ties with Yugoslavia on October 8, 1991. The JNA tried to keep Croatia within Yugoslavia by occupying the full territory (Kadijević, 1993; Bjelajac, et al. 2009). However, this failed, and Serb forces began to establish a self-proclaimed proto-state, the Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) within Croatia. This paved the way for the Log Revolution. A ceasefire followed in 1992, and Croatia was recognized as a sovereign state (Kinzer, 1991). This was followed by the deployment of the UN Protection Force or UNPROFOR. Combat was intermittent in the time that followed, but finally ended in 1995. The conflict resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 people and the displacement of several more.

Prevalence of Sexual Violence

According to the UNDP, rape and other forms of sexual assault were committed on both sides, with around 1400 to 2500 victims (UNDP, 2013). The same report noted that most victims were non-Serbs assaulted by Serbs (UNDP, 2013). It also noted that between 279 and 466 women detained in Serbian camps were targeted with sexual abuse, and that between 412 and 611 Croat women were raped in Serb-occupied territories outside of detention camps between 1991 and 1995 (UNDP, 2013).

Basis of the Use of Sexual Violence

Sexual violence and rape were used to terrorize and intimidate populations. There was a specific aim at asserting Serb dominance in Croatian territory, which became the basis to target specific groups with rape and sexual violence. It was also used as a mechanism to displace populations, as the acts and threats of acts of sexual violence presented a dangerous impact to their lives as individuals and as a community, forcing them to leave the region in droves. In some instances, sexual violence formed a part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing (Bassiouni, 1994), where non-Serb populations were targeted by the Serbs. Sexual violence and rape were also used as acts of torture within detainment and concentration camps.


On May 29, 2015, Croatia adopted the first law in the country to recognize rape as a war crime, namely the Law on the Rights of Victims of Sexual Violence during the Military Aggression against the Republic of Croatia in the Homeland War (Vladisavljevic, Lakic, and Begisholli, 2019). The legislation aims at providing survivors medical, legal, and financial aid, regardless of a court verdict. As of May 2019, it appears that reparations and compensation up to around Euro 3.37 million were awarded to survivors (Vladisavljevic, Lakic, and Begisholli, 2019). Since 2015, 156 out of 249 requests for compensation have been approved (Vladisavljevic, Lakic, and Begisholli, 2019).


  1. Bassiouni, Cherif, M. (1994). Final report of the United Nations Commission of Experts established pursuant to security council resolution 780 (1992), Annex IV – The policy of ethnic cleansing.” United Nations. December 28, 1994.

  2. Bjelajac, Mile; Žunec, Ozren; Mieczyslaw Boduszynski; Raphael Draschtak; Igor Graovac; Sally Kent; Rüdiger Malli; Srdja Pavlović; Jason Vuić (2009). "The War in Croatia, 1991–1995" (PDF). In Ingrao, Charles W.; Emmert, Thomas Allan (eds.). Confronting the Yugoslav Controversies: a Scholars' Initiative. Purdue University Press.

  3. Brown, Cynthia; Karim, Farhad (1995). Playing the "Communal Card": Communal Violence and Human Rights. New York City: Human Rights Watch.

  4. Kadijević, Veljko (1993). Moje viđenje raspada: vojska bez države [My View of Dissolution: an Army Without a State] (in Serbian). Belgrade: Politika.

  5. Stephen Kinzer (December 24, 1991). "Slovenia and Croatia Get Bonn's Nod". The New York Times.

  6. UNDP (2013). "Assessment of the Number of Sexual Violence Victims during the Homeland War of the Republic of Croatia and Optimal Forms of Compensation and Support to Victims."

Vladisavljevic, Anja; Lakic, Mladen; Begisholli, Blerta (June 19, 2019). "Compensation Comes Late for Rape Survivors of Balkan Wars". BalkanInsight. BIRN.

Zubrinic, Darko. (n.d.) Croatia within ex-Yugoslavia.

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