Srebrenica relatives drag Dutch state to court

7th April 2014, Comments 0 comments

Relatives of those killed in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre opened a civil suit against the Dutch government on Monday, saying its peacekeepers should have helped prevent Europe's worst bloodshed since World War II.

"I wish the Netherlands would finally take responsibility for these events," said Munira Subasic, whose Mothers of Srebrenica victims' group brought the case before a court in The Hague.

"The Dutchbat was supposed to protect us... as a mother I cannot forgive this," she said before bursting into tears, referring to the Dutch battalion of peacekeepers.

The Mothers of Srebrenica first brought the suit in 2007 in connection with the massacre during Bosnia's three-year war in the early 1990s.

The tiny Muslim enclave of Srebrenica was under UN protection until July 11, 1995 when it was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces under the command of General Ratko Mladic.

Mladic's troops brushed aside the lightly-armed Dutch peacekeepers in the "safe area" where thousands of Muslims from surrounding villages had gathered for protection.

In the subsequent days, almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered and their bodies dumped in mass graves in the worst bloodshed on European soil since World War II.

The Dutchbat troops failed to intervene and subsequently withdrew.

Victims' lawyer Marco Gerritsen said "the protection of civilians is an over-riding principle."

Another lawyer, Simon van der Sluijs, added: "The Dutchbat's own safety was their priority -- in contravention of UN instructions."

- Mothers seek justice -

The Mothers of Srebrenica, representing some 6,000 widows and victims' relatives, have been seeking justice for several years for the massacre, which the UN's highest International Court of Justice has ruled was genocide.

"The Mothers of Srebrenica want the responsibility of the Dutch to be recognised and then compensation, even though this is less important to them," Semir Guzin, another victims' lawyer, told AFP.

"Of course, this procedure is not going to give us our sons and husbands back, but will bring a bit of justice," Hatidza Mehmedovic, one of about a dozen representatives of the Mothers present at the hearing told AFP.

The Dutch state's lawyer argued that the Netherlands had no direct control over the Dutchbat unit during the peacekeeping operation.

"It is about Dutch soldiers, but Dutch soldiers wearing blue helmets and therefore completely under UN control," Gert-Jan Houtzagers told the court.

"Dutchbat did what it could with a handful of men," he said. "They tried to protect as many refugees as possible."

"That didn't work, but it's twisting the facts to say they (Dutchbat) led people like lambs to the slaughter," Houtzagers added.

Dutch courts have previously refused to hear a request by the Mothers of Srebrenica to prosecute the United Nations for the killings, saying the international organisation had immunity.

Last year the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights agreed with that immunity decision.

The civil proceedings against the Dutch state being heard on Monday had been put on hold pending the outcome of the case against the UN.

In September last year, Dutch courts ruled the state was liable for the deaths of three Bosnian Muslim men who were expelled from the Dutchbat compound into the hands of Bosnian Serb forces.

The case specifically related to the three men working for the Dutchbat unit, although the Mothers of Srebrenica at the time said it gave them the "green light" to continue with the current case.

In 2002 the entire Dutch government quit after a report was released blaming the unit and senior military officials from preventing the killings.

Mladic, dubbed the "Butcher of Bosnia", and former Bosnian Serb political chief Radovan Karadzic are currently facing charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity before the Yugoslav war crimes court in The Hague.

A verdict in the case is expected in mid-July.

© 2014 AFP

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