The Bosnia Herzegovina conflict (1992-1995) highlights the connection between several human rights issues and the outbreak of conflict (Andjelic 2000; Marcon 2000). The transition from a federal and multiethnic state (former Republic of Yugoslavia) to several new national states affected also the political and social dynamics of the Bosnia Herzegovina conflict and the protection of human rights in the area. The fast implementation of the self-determination process in a country fragmented in different ethnic groups (Muslims, Serbs, Croats) without common values among the political leadership brought to a violent showdown in 1992 (April), after the referendum (March) which established the independence of the new state.

The lack of an entrenched civic culture, of a rooted civil society and of democracy, as well as the complexities inherent in a multi-ethnic federal state prepared the ground for ethnic-based civil wars. Ethnic/identity discrimination has been viewed as a powerful tool to create the image of an ‘enemy’, supporting nationalist strategies to retain the power and use the conflict to reinforce their leadership.

Ethnic cleansing has been one of the worst human rights violations during the conflict in Bosnia Herzegovina. As a result there have been approximately two million IDPs (internal displaced persons) and refugees on a population of almost four million. Ethnic cleansing has been the objective (rather than the consequence) of the conflict. Other systematic violations of human rights (harassment, rape, etc.) occurred during the consolidation of the conflict. During the war, the “urbicide” (against Sarajevo, Mostar, etc. besieged and shelled for a long time) took place as specific ways of attacking civilian populations and their multiethnic communities.

The Bosnia Herzegovina case study highlights how, in the pre-war stage, the violation of human rights or the perception of vulnerability of ethnic groups generated the conflict and its escalation. The case study will investigate how some faults of the state-building project in Bosnia (rule, procedures and guarantees for minorities and citizens in a multiethnic context; the balances within civil society and institutions) affected the weak protection of human rights and the outbreak of the war.

During the conflict, local and European civil actors emerged playing an important role in defending and promoting human rights. Both humanitarian organisations and citizens’ organisations organised the monitoring of human rights violations, defending multiethnic cities, developing common initiatives against the nationalists and the warlords. Specific good practices were developed by civil actors in the field: ‘diplomacy from below’, ‘bridging the communities’, ‘human shields’ and reconciliation initiatives. Many networks worked to create several linkages with citizens’ organisations from the opposite side, to build from below a peace process based on the role of civil actors. Generally, the role of humanitarian organisations have been remarkable. They have not been neutral to human rights violations and have activated themselves as a part of an international system for the protection of civilians. It will thus be crucial to investigate how track-two diplomacy worked in the Bosnian conflict; the weakness and strength of the approaches and initiatives.

The case study will also highlight the role of the civil actors during the different stages of conflict: the inability to prevent it, the support in building bridges between the communities during the war, the role in the post war stage, as a crucial peace building actor. As a specific part of the case study, it will be important to underline the perceptions that emerged amongst civil society organisations concerning the need for a strong system for the prevention of new conflicts and violent tensions during the consolidation and the end of the conflict.

After 1995 (Dayton Agreement) the war ended, a settlement was reached but the conflict remains to be ‘resolved’. It is thus crucial to examine how -after 1995- the peace process reinforced the capacity building functions of civil society related to the need to create an effective protection system in the human rights field. After 1995, civil society in Bosnia Herzegovina -also thanks to the support of the international community- developed organisations, networks, and lobbying activities. It is useful to highlight how these new organisations perceived the end of conflict, overcame the ‘enemy image’ and enduring tensions, elaborating good practices and specific techniques to entrench human rights and peace.