Impunity for Abuses Committed during "Operation Storm" and the Denial of the Right of Refugees to Return to the Krajina

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One year ago, on August 4, 1995, the Croatian Army launched Operation Storm, an offensive to retake the Krajina region, which had been controlled by separatist ethnic Serbs since early 1991. The offensive, which lasted a mere thirty-six hours, resulted in the death of an estimated 526 Serbs, 116 of whom were reportedly civilians, and in the displacement of an estimated 200,000 who fled in the immediate aftermath. However, while the Croatian military committed violations of humanitarian law during the course of the offensive such as the bombardment of a column of retreating Serbian civilians and soldiers which caused deaths among the civilians, the vast majority of the abuses committed by Croatian forces occurred after the area had been captured. These abuses by Croatian government forces, which continued on a large scale even months after the area had been secured by Croatian authorities, included summary executions of elderly and infirm Serbs who remained behind and the wholesale burning and destruction of Serbian villages and property. In the months following the August offensive, at least 150 Serb civilians were summarily executed and another 110 persons forcibly disappeared. To create a safe environment for repatriation, it is particularly important that those responsible for serious abuses in the Krajina region be punished for their deeds. Without such justice -- without the emergence of rudimentary rule of law -- few refugees will be willing to attempt to rebuild their lives in Croatia.

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