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Human Rights

Confronting the Srebrenica massacre

Nineteen years later The Netherlands is found responsible for the deaths of 300 Bosnians killed in Srebrenica.

Last updated: 17 Jul 2014 07:07
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Srebrenica was a UN-protected area besieged by Serb forces during Bosnia's 1992-95 war [H.McRobie/AlJazeera]

A Dutch court has ruled that The Netherlands was responsible for the deaths of more than 300 Bosnian Muslim men and boys killed in the Srebrenica genocide in 1995, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.

On Wednesday the Hague District Court partially ruled in favour of the mothers and widows of the murdered men and boys, who had sued the Dutch state and its military in civil proceedings.

The lawsuit claimed that Dutch peacekeepers had not protected Bosnian Muslims in the UN-protected enclave in eastern Bosnia when Bosnian Serb forces overtook the town, which resulted in the deaths of more than 8,300 men and boys.

"The state is liable for the loss suffered by relatives of the men who were deported by the Bosnian Serbs from the Dutchbat [Dutch battalion] compound in Potocari [near Srebrenica] in the afternoon of 13 July, 1995," the court said.

"Dutchbat should have taken into account the possibility that these men would be the victim of genocide and that it can be said with sufficient certainty that, had the Dutch bat allowed them to stay at the compound, these men would have remained alive," it ruled.

Dutchbat was the name for the Dutch force under the nominal control of the United Nations in the former Yugoslavia.

"By cooperating in the deportation of these men, Dutchbat acted unlawfully," it added.

Srebrenica  was under UN protection until July 11, 1995 when it was overrun by ethnic Serb forces under the command of Ratko Mladic, who is currently on trial on genocide and war crimes charges in The Hague.

More than 8,300 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered and their bodies dumped in mass graves.

Dividing victims

Eight thousand Srebrenica survivors, represented by the organisation Mothers of the Enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa, sued The Netherlands.

How can it be possible that The Netherlands is responsible for one group of people and not the other?

Munira Subasic, Mothers of Enclaves president

Organisation president Munira Subasic said the court had ruled the Dutch state was responsible only for the deaths of the people inside the UN base, not all the genocide victims.

''We will not stop here and if needed, we will go as far as Strasbourg. I am not satisfied with the verdict and that is why we will continue our fight. How can it be possible that The Netherlands is responsible for one group of people and not the other?,'' Subasic asked.

Srebrenica survivors' lawyer Semir Guzin said the verdict was expected, but that the legal team was not satisfied with it.

''The court practically divided victims into three categories and agreed with our lawsuit with respect to the group of men who were inside the Potocari base itself," Guzin said.

"For the rest of those who were inside the base, as well as the biggest group of people moving from the centre of Srebrenica towards the forest, the court ruled the Dutch soldiers had not acted unlawfully. It ruled the soldiers' actions could not be linked to the deaths." 

He said he would lodge an appeal on behalf of the mothers and widows of Srebrenica victims within the three-month  appeal period.

The process could last up to two years.

"March of Death"

Muhamed Durakovic is a Srebrenica resident who escaped the genocide in the summer of 1995 by trekking for three days through forests, on a journey known as the ''March of Death'', as two thirds of the 12,000 who had started the trek were ambushed and killed.

''I don't understand the verdict and don't accept it as it is not clear what indicators were used to decide the number of 300 victims,'' Durakovic told Al Jazeera reporter Mladen Obrenovic.

''It is very well known that thousands of people remained in Potocari – old and infirm, children and the developmentally delayed, invalids. None of those people made it. They were all separated, with the assistance of the Dutch battalion, and taken to their deaths,'' Durakovic said.

Durakovic, head of the Srebrenica Summer University, said Srebrenica survivors ''should not accept partial solutions or the conscience-clearing of the Dutch Government and its battalion, who directly share the responsiblity for the genocide in Srebrenica.''

''It should not be accepted because of other people, because who will decide who makes it into that group of 300 and who doesn't? More than 8,300 people vanished in Srebrenica, so I am asking the question - who is responsible for the 8,000?''

He said the international community and the Dutch Government would have to ''sooner or later face the real facts about what happened in Srebrenica''.

It should not be accepted because of other people, because who will decide who makes it into that group of 300 and who doesn't? More than 8,300 people vanished in Srebrenica, so I am asking the question - who is responsible for the 8,000?

Muhamed Durakovic, Srebrenica resident,

Hatidza Mehmedovic, president of the ''Mothers of Srebrenica'', said the court ruling was ''scandalous''.

The entire city of Srebrenica, not just the UN base in Potocari, was a protected area, she said.

Hasan Nuhanovic, former interpreter at the UN base,  said he was present when a list of 239 men inside the base was made.

''My family was inside the UN base. I witnessed the making of a list of the names of 239 men who were inside the base. Some people did not want to be listed due to fear that ruled at the time and they were not put on the list. Later on, all of the people, those 239 who were listed, as well as those who were not, were forced out of the UN base,'' Nuhanovic said.

He said that after the war in Bosnia, Human Rights Watch helped him access the list of the names of the 239 men.

''That list was found at the Dutch Foreign Affairs Department and HRW later used it in its reports about the events in Srebrenica,'' Nuhanovic said.

He also accessed an International Red Cross list, according to which there were 1.889 people in Potocari who were last seen there.

Last year, Nuhanovic successfully sued the Dutch state over the deaths of his father and brother and another Srebrenica resident, who were forced to leave the base. The Dutch Supreme Court ruled The Netherlands was responsible for their deaths. Nuhanovic is appealing the amount of damages awarded by the court, $27,000 per victim.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court ruled in separate cases, in 2004 and 2007 respectively, that the massacre in Srebrenica constituted genocide.

Dutch soldiers were part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 1992-1995 war.

The Dutch Government resigned in 2002 over the Srebrenica genocide.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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