The municipality of Bijeljina, consisting of the town of Bijeljina, the village of Janja, and around forty smaller settlements, is located in the northeast corner of Bosnia and Hercegovina, in the Republika Srpska.1 According to the 1991 census, Bijeljina had around 97,000 inhabitants, of which 59 percent were Bosnian Serbs, 31 percent were Bosniaks, and the rest were of other ethnicities.2 The town of Bijeljina had around 37,200 inhabitants, the majority of whom were Bosniaks.3 The village of Janja, some eleven kilometers (seven miles) south of Bijeljina town, had around 11,000 inhabitants, almost exclusively Bosniaks, while the other villages were almost exclusively Serb. Less than 2,700 Bosniaks are estimated to have remained in Bijeljina throughout the war, a number that has hardly grown since the end of the war.
Bijeljina has considerable strategic value: it is the second largest city in the Republika Srpska, located on the main road connecting its eastern and western parts. Moreover, it is also located on the main road to neighboring Serbia, which is separated from Bosnia by the rivers Sava and Drina to the north and east of Bijeljina. Due to its proximity to the Serbian border, Bijeljina is also one of the few areas in the RS with a reasonably functioning economy, although a substantial part of it is based on smuggling and black market activities. Moreover, the Semberija4 region, of which Bijeljina is the center, is a flat, fertile area which is very suitable for agriculture.1 The Dayton agreement established the Republika Srpska, the predominantly Bosnian Serb part of Bosnia-Hercegovina, as one of two entities in Bosnia and Hercegovina. The other entity is the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina, which is predominantly Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Bosnian Croat. Until the signing of the Dayton agreement on December 14, 1995, the Bosnian Serb leadership also referred to the area under their control as the Republika Srpska, although it had not been internationally recognized as such. 2 The rest of the population was mainly Roma, Bosnian Croats (about 0.5 percent), and people who described themselves as Yugoslavs in the 1991 census. Since Human Rights Watch was not able to interview a significant number of representatives of other minorities from Bijeljina, this report will focus on the position of Bosniaks, who were by far the biggest pre-war minority in Bijeljina municipality. 3 Joint Civil Commission Research Team, Bijeljina Special Report, July 18, 1996. 4 The Semberija region is the triangle bordered by the Sava river to the north and the Drina river to the east.