The Dutch Supreme Court has ruled that Dutch soldiers serving as UN peacekeepers in Srebrenica should not have sent away the more than 300 men who were at their compound in July 1995. They ruled this an unlawful act.
The men were separated from the women and taken away to be shot by Bosnian Serb army forces during what has been recognized as a genocide against Bosniacs (Bosnian Muslims). It was clear at the time, stated the Court, that torture, inhuman treatment or murder awaited them. However, the Court added that the men had little chance of survival whether or not the Dutch soldiers sent them away. Therefore, the Dutch government will pay the surviving relatives just 10% of the compensation they had sought.
At the same time, the Supreme Court ruled that the State of the Netherlands cannot be held responsible for the death of approximately 8,000 men who were also killed during the genocide in Srebrenica but who were not at the compound in these crucial July days
End of legal process
With this ruling, the civil lawsuits brought by survivors of the Srebrenica genocide against the state of the Netherlands have come to an end. But PAX’s Dion van den Berg prefers to see this judgment as the stepping stone for a political process.
“The most important thing for us is that it confirms that Dutchbat [the Dutch Battalion under UN command] should not have sent those men out of the compound. Let’s learn from this — this should be a lesson for upcoming peace missions. But of course for the relatives who brought the suit, the case was about the thousands of men who were killed, not just the 300 sent away from the compound. So it makes sense that the Mothers of Srebrenica are critical of the ruling.”
Time to apologize
PAX is calling for a political process in which the government and parliament hold open discussions with the relatives but also with the Dutchbat soldiers. Van den Berg says, “From the moment that the legal cases started back in 2001, and the resignation, over Srebrenica,of Prime Minister Wim Kok’s cabinet in 2002, politicians have refused to take a political position on the Dutch role in the atrocities, referring to the ongoing court cases and the principle of non-interference in the work of the judiciary. Now it’s time for politicians to step up. We feel the Netherlands should apologize for the Dutch mistakes that were made during the mission. And that apology must include the fate of the entire group of 8,000 men, as well as the women who were raped and killed. It would be possible to do so before the next year’s 25th anniversary of the genocide.”
PAX also supports the request from the Dutchbat soldiers for apologies from the Dutch government. Van den Berg emphasizes that the apologies must be made in the correct order. “First apologize to the survivors and relatives, and then to the Dutchbat soldiers.”
Read more about PAX’s work in Bosnia and Herzegovina