Why the Netherlands is liable for 300 deaths at Srebrenica

Jul 16, 2014

Dutch court rules that state must accept some responsibility for Europe's worst genocide since WWII

A court in the Netherlands has ruled that Dutch troops were responsible for the deaths of 300 Bosnian Muslims during the Srebrenica massacre in 1995.

The ruling comes just days after the 19th anniversary of what former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan called the darkest page in UN history. While the ruling delivers justice to the families of some of the victims, others are angry that the Dutch will accept responsibility for only a fraction of the 7,000 or more deaths.

What happened? 

In July 1995, towards the end of the Bosnian war, thousands of Muslim Bosniaks fled to Srebrenica to escape the Bosnian Serb army. Soldiers of the Republika Srpska (VRS) were conducting a campaign of ethnic cleaning under General Ratko Mladic intended to wipe out the non-Serb population.

Srebrenica had been declared a UN-protected "safe zone", so Bosniaks sought refuge at the camp, where 400 Dutch peacekeepers were stationed. But when Serb troops overran the camp the outnumbered Dutch soldiers handed over hundreds of the men to the Serbs "without firing a single shot", Al Jazeera reports.

Thousands of others fled into the forest and were later rounded up by Serb forces.

The women and children were transported back to Muslim-held territories, but more than 7,000 men were executed by Bosnian Serbs, in what international courts have ruled was genocide. Many of their bodies still lie in unmarked mass graves almost two decades later.

Victims of the relatives blamed the Dutch soldiers for allowing the massacre to happen.

What is the ruling? 

The Hague court ruled that Dutch troops were responsible for the deaths of the men they handed over, but not for those of the men who escaped into the forest. Judge Larissa Alwin said the soldiers should have known that the men would be murdered as evidence of Serb war crimes had already been uncovered.

"It can be said with sufficient certainty that had Dutchbat (the Dutch battalion) allowed them to stay at the compound, these men would have remained alive", she ruled. "By cooperating in the deportation of these men, Dutchbat acted unlawfully."

What has been the reaction been? 

The verdict brings a "sense of relief and justice" to the family members of the 300 men, says the New York Times. But, the ruling that the Dutch state should accept responsibility for only a fraction of the deaths has angered others.

"Obviously the court has no sense of justice," Munira Subasic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica group that filed the case, told [3]The Guardian. "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?"

Political analyst Srecko Latal told the NYT that the verdict was important as it showed that the peacekeepers had both a moral and legal responsibility to protect civilians. But he said it was a "symbolic gesture" and a "drop in the bucket" that was unlikely to heal the wounds in Bosnia.

What happens next? 

The Netherlands will be forced to pay compensation to the families of the 300 men and boys, but an amount has yet to be decided on.

The Mothers of Srebrenica say they will "keep fighting for truth and justice" for the rest of the men, and insist: "In the end we will win".

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