The Court of Appeal in The Hague has ruled that the Dutch state was responsible for the deaths of three Bosnian Muslim men during the Srebrenica genocide in 1995. The ruling may or may not affect cases being brought by relatives of other Srebrenica victims. Whatever happens, should the Netherlands immediately issue apologies for what happened at Srebrenica?
by Klaas den Tek and Myrtille van Bommel
Lawyer Alex Hagedoorn who is representing the Mothers of Srebrenica group is upbeat following the appeal court ruling. He is involved in a separate ongoing case against the Dutch peacekeepers at the UN base. He says there are many similarities between it and the cases of Hassan Nuhanovic and the relatives of the electrician, Rizo Mustafic, on which the appeal court has now ruled. The loved ones of Mr Hagedoorn’s clients were also sent away from the Dutchbat base in 1995 and were later murdered by Bosnian Serb soldiers.
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The appeal court stressed its ruling only dealt with the “specific situation of these individual cases”. It has not ruled on the cases of any other Bosnian Muslims caught up in the Srebrenica massacres.
Geert-Jan Knoops, professor of international law at Utrecht University, says the ruling is not a precedent.
“It only deals with the people who were under the authority of the Dutch troops. They had been asked to carry out support work for Dutchbat units. I don’t think this constitutes a charter for other Srebrenica victims.”
Willem van Genugten, professor of international law at Tilburg University, agrees that the appeal court has only ruled on one specific situation. However, he thinks the ruling could have wider implications.
“It may, for example, be said, that the evacuation of the Dutch men and the departure of the 8,000 Muslim men marked the beginning of the Srebrenica affair. It could be argued that the Netherlands should have realised that it could all go wrong, and the Dutch should have borne this in mind when deciding how to act.”
Jan Pronk was Dutch development cooperation minister in 1995. He thinks the Netherlands should waste no time in apologising even if the ruling has no bearing on other cases being brought against the Dutch state.
“The United Nations says peacekeepers have to protect people in the vicinity to the best of their ability. That was our duty to these people. Politicians, including myself, have to be called to account for all the mistakes made by those soldiers.”
Mr Pronk thinks it’s high time the Dutch state apologised. Until now, the Netherlands has always maintained it was not responsible because its troops were part of UNPROFOR, the UN mission in Bosnia. Mr Pronk again:
“Apologies should result in dialogue. We’ve hardly entered into discussions with the bereaved. They are still asking questions. How did it happen? Why did it happen? Our position in the Netherlands has always been: Everybody was in the wrong, except us.”