The Netherlands is liable for about 300 of the more than 8,000 deaths in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, a Dutch court ruled on Wednesday, pinning some of the blame for Europe's worst massacre since World War II on the Dutch state.
A district court in The Hague said Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica, a Bosnian Muslim enclave in Bosnian Serb–held territory, could have known that the 300 men who had sought refuge in their base in the village of Potocari would be murdered if deported by a bus from the Dutch compound.
"The court ruled that [the Dutch battalion] Dutchbat at the end of the afternoon of July 13, 1995, seriously should have taken into account the possibility that these men would find death in a genocide and that with a sufficient degree of certainty it can be said that the men — if Dutchbat would have let them stay on the compound — would still have been alive," an official press release said.
The court said the Netherlands was not liable for the deaths of those who had fled into the forests surrounding Srebrenica, where many of the men and boys were later buried in mass graves.
The ruling could set a precedent with implications for future peacekeeping deployments by the Netherlands or other countries, since troops can be found responsible for crimes committed under their auspices.
During the Bosnian war, Dutchbat had been deployed to protect Srebrenica, which had been designated a safe haven by the United Nations, but surrendered to the much larger Bosnian Serb army, commanded by Ratko Mladic, who is on trial for war crimes at an international court in The Hague.
The case was brought by the Mothers of Srebrenica, a group representing surviving relatives of the victims. They had failed in their bid to have a court find the United Nations responsible for the massacre.
The group of relatives filed an appeal against the ruling on Wednesday afternoon and demanded the court allocate full responsibility to the Netherlands for the massacre, according to Dutch newspaper NRC.
“Of course there is enormous joy over the result,” Marco Gerritsen, the group's lawyer, told the newspaper. “But we represent many more surviving relatives of the victims than the 300 to whom justice was served. We also want justice for the others.”
The failure of Dutch soldiers to protect the Muslim men and boys of Srebrenica left a deep scar in Dutch politics, contributing to the resignation of the Dutch government in 2002.
Boudewijn Kok, a Dutchbat veteran, told Dutch TV station RTL the verdict had left him feeling “slightly unwell.”
“I don’t think the Serbs would have let themselves be stopped by a couple of Dutchbatters, who also weren’t or hardly were armed.
“I don’t see why the Netherlands is responsible. When [Dutchbat commander Col. Thom] Karremans asked for help, the U.N. and with them the whole world turned their eyes away from Srebrenica.” During the last days before the massacre, according to Kok, Karremans had asked for help from the U.N. “dozens of times.”
“The men on the compound would have been taken anyway. The Serbs knew that the U.N. did nothing, they could do whatever they wanted,” Kok added.
The three-year Bosnian war, in which at least 100,000 people were killed, was the bloodiest of a series of conflicts that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Al Jazeera and Reuters