A Dutch Appeals Court on Tuesday has confirmed the Netherlands was partly liable for the deaths of some 300 Muslim men who were expelled from a Dutch UN base after the surrounding area was overrun by Bosnian Serb troops.
The ruling by the Hague court upholds a 2014 decision that Dutch peacekeepers should have known that the men seeking refuge at the base near Srebrenica would be killed by Bosnian Serb troops if they were forced to leave — which they were.
States participating in UN peacekeeping missions have rarely faced legal action over their performance.
Lenneke Sprik, an international security lecturer at Amsterdam’s VU University, said the ruling was “very important for future peacekeeping missions and the law on state responsibility.” She said the decision might deter countries from contributing peacekeeping troops to future missions.
Some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb troops under the command of former general Ratko Mladic at Srebrenica in July 1995, the worst mass killing on European soil since the Second World War.
Many of the Muslim victims had fled to the UN-declared “safe zone” in Srebrenica only to find the outnumbered and lightly armed Dutch troops there unable to defend them. They then headed to the nearby Dutch base.
Reading the complex ruling, Judge Gepke Dulek-Schermers said Dutch soldiers “knew or should have known that the men were not only being screened … but were in real danger of being subjected to torture or execution.”
The ruling relates only to the 300 men who had sought safety on the Dutch-controlled base.
30% of damages
In a departure from the earlier ruling, it said the Netherlands should pay only 30 per cent of damages, as it estimated the odds at 70 per cent that the victims would have been dragged from the base and killed regardless of what the Dutch soldiers did.
The amount of damages is determined in a separate procedure unless the victims and the state can reach a settlement.
Dutch state lawyers left the court building without commenting on the ruling. The Dutch government resigned in 2002 after acknowledging its failure to protect the refugees, though the Netherlands maintains that the Bosnian Serbs, not Dutch troops, bear responsibility for the killings.
Mladic is on trial for genocide with a verdict expected later this year.
The court rejected an appeal from relatives of other Srebrenica victims, who argued the Dutch government should be held responsible for the protection of thousands more Muslims who had gathered outside the base.
“This is a great injustice,” said Munira Subasic of the Mothers of Srebrenica group. “The Dutch state should take its responsibility for our victims because they could have kept them all safe on the Dutchbat [Dutch battalions’] compound.”