Dutch peace­keep­ers li­able for Srebrenica deaths

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

THE HAGUE: A Dutch ap­peals court yes­ter­day con­firmed that the Nether­lands was partly li­able for the deaths of some 300 Mus­lim men and boys who were ex­pelled from a Dutch UN base after the sur­round­ing area was over­run by Bos­nian Serb troops.

The rul­ing by the Hague Ap­peals Court up­holds a 2014 de­ci­sion that Dutch peace­keep­ers should have known that the men seek­ing refuge at the base near Srebrenica would be mur­dered by Bos­nian Serb troops if they were forced to leave – as they were.

States par­tic­i­pat­ing in UN peace­keep­ing mis­sions have rarely faced le­gal ac­tion over their per­for­mance.

Len­neke Sprik, an in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity lec­turer at Am­s­ter­dam’s VU Univer­sity said the rul­ing was “very im­por­tant for fu­ture peace­keep­ing mis­sions and the law on state re­spon­si­bil­ity”. She said the de­ci­sion might de­ter coun­tries from con­tribut­ing peace­keep­ing troops to fu­ture mis­sions.

Some 8 000 Mus­lim men and boys were killed by Bos­nian Serb troops un­der the com­mand of for­mer Gen­eral Ratko Mladic at Srebrenica in July 1995, the worst mass killing on Euro­pean soil since World War II.

Many of the Mus­lim vic­tims had fled to the UN-de­clared “safe zone” in Srebrenica only to find the out­num­bered and lightly-armed Dutch troops there un­able to de­fend them. They then headed to the nearby Dutch base.

Read­ing the com­plex rul­ing, Pre­sid­ing Judge Gepke Dulek-Scher­m­ers said that Dutch sol­diers “knew or should have known that the men were not only be­ing screened… but were in real dan­ger of be­ing sub­jected to tor­ture or ex­e­cu­tion”.

The rul­ing re­lates only to the 300 men who had sought safety on the Dutch-con­trolled base.

In a de­par­ture from the ear­lier rul­ing, it said the Nether­lands should pay only 30% of dam­ages, as it es­ti­mated the odds at 70% that the vic­tims would have been dragged from the base and killed re­gard­less of what the Dutch sol­diers did.

The amount of dam­ages is determined in a sep­a­rate pro­ce­dure un­less the vic­tims and the state can reach a set­tle­ment.

Dutch state lawyers left the court build­ing with­out com­ment­ing on the rul­ing. The Dutch gov­ern­ment re­signed in 2002 after ac­knowl­edg­ing its fail­ure to pro­tect the refugees, though the Nether­lands main­tains that the Bos­nian Serbs, not Dutch troops, bear re­spon­si­bil­ity for the killings.

Mladic is on trial for geno­cide with a ver­dict ex­pected this year.

The court re­jected an ap­peal from rel­a­tives of other Srebrenica vic­tims, who ar­gued the Dutch gov­ern­ment should be held re­spon­si­ble for the pro­tec­tion of thou­sands more Mus­lims who had gath­ered out­side the base.

“This is a great in­jus­tice,” said Mu­nira Suba­sic of the ‘Moth­ers of Srebrenica’ group. “The Dutch state should take its re­spon­si­bil­ity for our vic­tims be­cause they could have kept them all safe.”

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

A Bos­nian Mus­lim woman ex­am­ines coffins in Po­to­cari, near Srebrenica, in July 2011.

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