Dutch troops blamed for the massacre of 300 Bosnians
A court yesterday ordered the Netherlands to compensate the families of more than 300 Bosnian Muslims killed after Dutch troops handed them over to Bosnian Serb forces in 1995.
The civil court in The Hague cleared the Netherlands of liability in the massacre of nearly 8,000 others, saying that although those people sought protection in the UN safe haven of Srebrenica they were never directly in the custody of the Dutch troops.
The ruling could be appealed, however, meaning it is unlikely to resolve the Dutch national trauma over the country's role in the worst massacre on European soil since the Second World War.
The court ruled that the Dutch peacekeeping troops could have protected the 300-plus men and boys who were among thousands of Muslims – mainly women, children and elderly people – taking shelter in a Dutch compound inside the UN-declared safe haven of Srebrenica.
The troops – part of a Dutch UN battalion known as Dutchbat – handed over those in the compound two days after the town fell.
The Bosnian Serb troops then killed the Muslim men and boys, who "would have survived if Dutchbat had acted properly," said Presiding Judge Larissa Alwin.
The court said the Netherlands could not be held responsible for people who had taken shelter in the town but who were not inside the Dutch compound.
Those included thousands of other Bosnian Muslim men and boys who fled into the nearby forests when the town fell and were later rounded up and killed by Bosnian Serb forces.
"Dutchbat cannot be held liable for their fate," the ruling read.
In an emotionally-charged hearing attended by a handful of victims' relatives, the judge said the peacekeepers should have known that the men taken from the compound would be slain because there was already evidence of the Serbs committing war crimes.
"By co-operating in the deportation of these men, Dutchbat acted unlawfully," Alwin said.
On July 13, 1995, the peacekeepers bowed to pressure from Bosnian Serb forces commanded by General Ratko Mladic and forced thousands of Muslim families out of their fenced-off compound.
The Bosnian Serb forces sorted the Muslims by gender, then drove the males away and began killing them in what would become the bloody climax to the 1992-95 Bosnian war, a slaughter that international courts have ruled was genocide. The war claimed 100,000 lives in all.
The Srebrenica bodies were piled into hastily-made mass graves, which were later bulldozed and scattered among other burial sites in an attempt to hide the evidence.
Relatives of the dead welcomed the limited finding of liability but lamented that it did not go further.
"Obviously the court has no sense of justice," said Munira Subasic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica group that filed the case.
"How is it possible to divide victims, and tell one mother that the Dutch state is responsible for the death of her son on one side of the wire and not for the son on the other side?"
The court did not say how much compensation the families should receive.
That will be worked out between lawyers and the government once any appeals have run their course.