Both during and after the Balkan wars of the 1990s, PHR led efforts to document atrocities across the former Yugoslavia – including the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were taken from a UN safe area and slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces. PHR investigators exhumed and identified remains in several large mass graves and gathered evidence showing the victims were executed, many with their hands tied behind their backs, and dumped in shallow graves. PHR’s findings were entered as evidence during the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The evidence, along with testimonies by PHR’s Dr. William Haglund, who headed the international team of investigators, led to the 2016 conviction of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
In addition to joining an international movement to convict Karadzic of his crimes, PHR also called for the arrest and trial of the former military leader of Bosnian Serb forces, Ratko Mladic, who assisted Karadzic in ordering the rape, murder, and forced displacement of Bosnians. Mladic was arrested in 2011 and his trial began at The Hague International Criminal Court in May of the following year. In November 2017, after a trial spanning 530 days, Mladic was found guilty of genocide and sentenced to life in prison.
In 1992, at the request of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the former Yugoslavia, PHR sent a team of physicians to investigate reports that rape was being used as an instrument of war in the embattled republic. The groundbreaking findings indicated that rape was widespread and in some cases being used as a tool in “ethnic cleansing” and for fostering inter-ethnic hatred. On all sides of the raging conflict, women and girls had been raped, often repeatedly. Under the conditions observed by the medical team, PHR stated that rape should be considered a war crime under the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 1977. The findings were published in 1993 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, titled “Rape as a Crime of War.”