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Dutch court to rule on UN liability
Compensation sought for 1995 massacre of Muslims in "safe haven" of Srebrenica.
Last Modified: 18 Jun 2008 20:12 GMT
Srebrenica saw the worst massacre of civilians in Europe since World War II [GALLO/GETTY]
The UN should be held liable for failing to prevent the genocide of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, lawyers for victims' families have argued in a Dutch court.
 
The families are seeking compensation after Serb forces killed more than 8,000 men and boys around the UN-declared safe zone of Srebrenica in one week in July 1995.
Dutch UN peacekeepers were overwhelmed by the Serbs' superior force and even assisted in separating women and children as the victims were led away from their custody.
 
Lawyers for the Dutch government told the Hague district court that the UN is immune from prosecution in national courts.
But lawyers for the families said on Wednesday there was nowhere else to turn for a fair hearing of grievances.
 
Axel Hagedorn, whose firm says it represents 6,000 family members of victims in the unusual class-action suit, said he believed the UN's immunity is not applicable in a genocide case.
 
"They may be responsible but unable to be called to account because of immunity," he said.
 
"This is unacceptable legally, humanly and morally."
 
The court said it will rule on the bid by the Dutch state to uphold the UN's immunity on July 10.
 
Mothers' appeal
 
The Mothers of Srebrenica, relatives of the men and boys killed, are the most vocal claimants in the civil suit seeking compensation from the UN and the Dutch state.
 
The victims lawyers' earlier cited a figure of $4bn as a starting point for compensation negotiations.
 
But Bert Jan Houtzagers, representing the Dutch state, told the three-judge tribunal that a ruling for the victims would have broad implications.
 
"It is not true that the United Nations believes it is over and above the law, but the question is whether a Dutch court is competent to hear a case against it," he said.
 
"Because if a Dutch court does, any court in any country could do so and that would thwart the viability of the United Nations."
 
But Hagedorn said if the Dutch court refused to hear the suit, it would leave the victims with no venue for their claims, in contravention of international treaties on genocide.
 
Marco Gerritsen, another lawyer for the victims, said the UN and Netherlands "should not hide behind each other or each point the finger at the other" to avoid claims.
 
The case is one of several seeking to determine whether the Netherlands and the UN can be held liable for failing to carry out a promise of protection for civilians in the UN enclave.
 
The court said it will take several months to rule on UN immunity and did not set a date for a decision.
 
Partial blame
 
An independent report by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation in 2002 placed partial blame for the massacre with the Dutch government for sending its ill-prepared troops on an impossible mission.
 
It faulted the UN for designating the area a "safe haven" for Bosnian war refugees, but not defining what that meant.
 
The report led the Dutch government to resign, but the state denied liability for the murders, saying that rested with the Serb forces.
 
The UN war crimes tribunal set up to prosecute war crimes committed during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia is still seeking the two prime criminal suspects in the Srebrenica massacre: General Ratko Mladic, who commanded Serb forces in Bosnia; and Radovan Karadzic, the political leader of Bosnian Serbs.
 
A petition by Bosnia seeking war reparations from Serbia was rejected by the International court of justice in the Hague.
 
Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated province within Bosnia, paid about $31m for the creation of a memorial and for the reconstruction of the infrastructure in and around Srebrenica.
 
The Netherlands donates about $23m annually in aid to Bosnia.
Source:
Agencies
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