Netherlands to pay compensation over Srebrenica massacre

The Netherlands has been ordered
to pay compensation for the deaths
of Bosnian Muslims in the 1995
Srebrenica massacre in a ruling
that opens up the Dutch state to
compensation claims from
relatives of the rest of the 8,000
men and youths who died.
The judgment by Holland's supreme
court is the final decision in a
protracted claim brought by
relatives of three Muslim men who
were expelled by Dutch soldiers
from a United Nations compound
during the Balkans conflict then
killed by Bosnian Serb forces.
Although the case related only to
the murder of three victims, it
confirms the precedent that
countries that provide troops to UN
missions can be held responsible
for their conduct.
The case was brought by Hasan
Nuhanovic, an interpreter who lost
his brother and father, and
relatives of Rizo Mustafic, an
electrician who was killed. They
argued that all three men should
have been protected by Dutch
peacekeepers. Mustafic and
Nuhanovic were employed by the
Dutch, but Nuhanovic's father and
brother were not.
The men were among thousands
who had sought shelter in the UN
compound as Bosnian Serb forces
commanded by General Ratko
Mladic overran the area on 11 July
1995. Two days later the
outnumbered Dutch peacekeepers
bowed to pressure from Mladic's
troops and forced thousands of
Muslim families out of the
compound.
Bosnian Serb forces sorted the
Muslims by gender, then began
executing Muslim men and boys.
The bodies of approximately 8,000
were buried in hastily dug mass
graves.
The international criminal tribunal
for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in
the Hague has ruled that the killings
constituted genocide and Mladic is
on trial for crimes committed at
Srebrenica. The atrocity was the
worst massacre on European soil
since the second world war.
The Dutch court ruling held that in
the chaos of the Serb takeover of
Srebrenica, UN commanders no
longer had control of the troops on
the ground and "effective control"
therefore reverted to Dutch
authorities in the Hague.
The human rights lawyer Liesbeth
Zegveld, who represented the
Bosnian families, called the ruling
historic because it established that
countries involved in UN missions
can be found legally responsible
for crimes, despite the UN's far-
reaching immunity from
prosecution. "People participating
in UN missions are not always
covered by the UN flag," she said.
Toon Heisterkamp, a supreme court
judge responsible for briefing the
media, insisted that the narrow
focus of the case meant it was
unlikely to have far-reaching
effects.
Outside the courtroom Nuhanovic
said he was stunned by the ruling,
which ends a 10-year legal battle
and opens the door to
compensation claims against the
Dutch government.
"I was thinking about my family,
they are dead for 18 years," he
said. "It does not change that, but
maybe there is some justice. It
should have happened years ago.
In the future countries might act
differently in peacekeeping
missions and I hope the lives of
other people in the future will be
saved because this mistake was
admitted."
The Dutch government resigned in
2002 after the National War
Documentation Institute blamed the
debacle on Dutch authorities and
the UN for sending underarmed
and underprepared forces into the
mission and refusing to answer the
commanders' call for air support.
The government accepted "political
responsibility" for the mission's
failure and contributes aid to
Bosnia, much of which is
earmarked for rebuilding in
Srebrenica. But it has always said
responsibility for the massacre
itself lies with the Bosnian Serbs.
The three men were among the last
to be expelled, the 2011 ruling said,
and by that time the peacekeepers,
known as "Dutchbat" for Dutch
battalion, had already seen
Bosnian Serb troops abusing
Muslim men and boys and should
have known they faced the real
threat of being killed.
"Dutchbat should not have turned
these men over to the Serbs," a
summary of the judgment said.
The Hague appeals court in 2011
ordered the families of the three
dead men to be compensated, but
no figure was ever reached,
pending the outcome of the
government's appeal to the
supreme court.
Zegveld said the amount of
compensation the families will
receive was not important. "It's far
more important what's been
decided today than any amount
that will be established in the
future," she said.
The Srebrenica massacre has
turned into a national trauma for
the Netherlands. Dutch troops
returning home faced accusations
of cowardice and incompetence.
The Dutch soldiers, many of whom
feared for their own lives, helped
the attacking Bosnian-Serb troops
as they separated Muslim men from
women. The men and boys were
then bussed to execution sites. A
subsequent inquiry exonerated the
ground forces.
"Dutchbat decided not to evacuate
them along with the battalion and
instead sent them away from the
compound," a summary of the
supreme court ruling said.
"Outside the compound they were
murdered by the Bosnian-Serb
army or related paramilitary
groups."