Dutch state liable for 300 Srebrenica deaths

The Srebrenica cemetry

A Dutch court has ruled that the Netherlands is liable for the killings of more than 300 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in Bosnia-Hercegovina in July 1995.

The 300 men and boys were among 5,000 Bosniaks, mostly women and children, sheltering with Dutch UN peacekeepers.

But the Dutch state was cleared over the deaths some 7,000 men killed around their Potocari base in Srebrenica.

The case was launched by relatives of the victims under the name “Mothers of Srebrenica”. The Hague district court said that Dutch peacekeeping forces, Dutchbat, did not do enough to protect 300 of the Bosniaks and should have been aware of the potential for genocide to be committed.

It said the state should have known they would be killed by Bosnian Serbs when they handed them over.

“It can be said with sufficient certainty that, had Dutchbat allowed them to stay at the compound, these men would have remained alive. By cooperating in the deportation of these men, Dutchbat acted unlawfully,” the court added.

It said that the Dutch state must accept some degree of responsibility for what happened and pay compensation to the families of the 300 victims.

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But the court stopped short of holding the Netherlands liable for the fate of the majority of men killed in Srebrenica, saying that many of the male refugees at the time had not fled to the UN compound at Potocari but “fled to the woods in the vicinity of Srebrenica”.

This is a hugely significant ruling but a heart-breaking verdict for many of the women because the Dutch state was only found partly responsible for the deaths of 300 of the more than 7,000 men killed. This means many of the relatives of the victims will not be entitled to compensation.

“Obviously the court has no sense of justice,” said Munira Subasic, a representative of the relatives’ group. “How is it possible to divide victims and tell one mother that the Dutch state is responsible for the death of her son on one side of the wire and not for the son on the other side?”

During the 1992-1995 war, Bosniaks from the surrounding area sought refuge in the town of Srebrenica as the Bosnian Serb army carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing, expelling non-Serb populations.

The UN declared Srebrenica a “safe area” for civilians in 1993. It fell in July 1995, after more than two years under siege.

Thousands of Bosniaks went to the UN base just outside Srebrenica at Potocari, where the Dutch peacekeepers were stationed.

However, the Dutch soldiers told them they would be safe and handed the men and boys over to the Bosnian Serb army.

While the women and young children were transported to a Bosniak-majority area, more than 7,000 men and boys were taken away from the UN base by the Bosnian Serbs, and killed. Many of their remains still lie in mass graves around eastern Bosnia.

The two key figures of the wartime Bosnian Serb leadership – one-time President Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic – are on trial for war crimes at the UN tribunal in The Hague.

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