The Dutch state is appealing a 2011 decision that it is responsible for the deaths of three Muslim men after the fall of Srebrenica in 1995.
by Lauren Comiteau, Hilversum
"We are going to the supreme court against the ruling," Defence Ministry spokesman Klaas Meijer announced earlier this week.
A Dutch appeals court last year found the Dutch state responsible for the deaths of the three men in the massacre in July 1995, where Bosnian Serb troops commanded by Ratko Mladic murdered almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys, opening the door for possible compensation claims.
The worst atrocity committed on European soil since World War II happened at the enclave in eastern Bosnia, then under the protection of lightly-armed Dutch UN peacekeepers who were brushed aside.
Passing the buck
The Dutch state has always argued that because its troops were serving under the auspices of the U.N. during the Bosnian war, the Netherlands could not be held responsible for its actions.
But judges last July found that after the fall of Srebrenica, Dutch military and political leaders were in "effective control" of their troops — even though command and control was officially in the hands of the U.N.
In that historic decision, appeals judges ruled that "the State is responsible for the death of these men as Dutchbat should not have turned these men over to the Serbs." The Dutch had already witnessed, according to a summary of the decision, Bosnian Serbs beating up or killing male refugees outside the compound in Srebrenica and were aware of the risks of sending the three men off the base.
That decision marked the first time the state was held responsible for the actions of its UN peacekeeping battalion, which was charged with protecting thousands of Muslims from a Bosnian Serb offensive.
Dutch officials are now taking their case to the country's highest court. "It was the UN that had effective control over the 'Dutchbat' forces, not the Dutch state," Meijer said. “The battalion’s actions are therefore attributable to the United Nations….”
He added that the Ministry would "soon" file its application before the Supreme Court.
The civil case was brought 10 years ago by the Dutch battalion's (Dutchbat) interpreter, Hasan Nuhanovic--who lost his father, brother and mother--and by the family of the Dutchbat electrician, Rizo Mustafic, all of whom were killed when they were handed over by the peacekeepers.
“This controversial issue should not be fought out in a lawsuit with the victims of these horrendous acts but should be solved in New York and The Hague,” Liesbeth Zegveld, the lawyer for the men, told RNW.
“It is unheard of that the victims become victims again, this time of a dispute between the UN and the Netherlands about who is to bear responsibility for crimes committed during peace keeping operations,” she said. “The lawsuit has been going on since 2002. It is time the victims get a remedy.”
The decision to appeal no doubt reopens a painful chapter in Dutch history. In 2002, the government collapsed after an investigation by the National Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) blamed it — along with the U.N. — for sending ill-equipped Dutch soldiers on an impossible mission to Srebrenica.
The alleged architects of the Srebrinca massacres--Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic and the former political leader Radovan Karadzic--are currently on trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Zegveld and Nuhanovic also have a criminal case pending against Colonel Thom Karremans, the commander of Dutch troops during the fall of Srebrenica, and two other Dutchbat personnel.