Dutch state accused of negligence in Srebrenica

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Survivors of the ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica which took place during the Bosnian War are accusing Dutch UN troops of leading victims to their deaths.

17 June 2008

THE HAGUE - A court in The Hague heard two cases brought against the Dutch state by survivors of the ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica which took place during the Bosnian War on Monday.

They are the first civilian cases to come before the court in connection with the massacre on 11 July 1995 of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

In court on Monday, Alma Mustafic, the daughter of UN electrician Rizo Mustafic told the three judges that an official Dutch report says her parents were ordered to leave because of a 'miscommunication'.

Her father, along with the parents and brother of Hasan Nuhanovic, a UN interpreter, were never heard of again after Dutchbat sent them away.

At the time, Dutch UN troops were protecting the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica from the Bosnian-Serb troops under Ratko Mladic.

However, when Srebrenica fell, the Muslim men and boys were taken away and killed. In both cases, it is argued that the Netherlands was negligent in its duty to the massacre victims.

Liesbeth Zegveld, the lawyer for the next of kin, argued that Dutch UN soldiers assisted in the deportation of Srebrenica's Muslim population because they were eager to leave as quickly as possible, event though they suspected the deported men would be killed.

Zegveld said: "They were sent to their deaths, or, in legal terms, exposed to the enemy, which is in violation of Bosnian law, the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Geneva Conventions and the Genocide Convention".

The government attorney argued that people were sent away to protect others. He said there was no mistake or miscommunication, and Nuhanovic's family was never forced to leave. And even if the decision was wrong, the UN would be liable for the victims' deaths, not the Dutch state.

However, Zegveld retorted that when the actions of UN peacekeepers are so clearly in violation of UN policy, they are no longer serving the UN. She said the Netherlands is responsible because Dutchbat ignored the UN instruction to protect the civilian population as much as possible, and decided to evacuate.

The trial, which lasted eight hours, is the focus of international media attention, not just because of the heart-rending stories about the loss of loved ones, but also because the case, in which the Dutch state was charged for the actions of a Dutch UN mission, could form a precedent for other countries which might consider taking part in a future UN mission. The court will deliver its ruling on 10 September.

[Radio Netherlands / Expatica]

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