A Dutch court ruled Wednesday that the Netherlands was liable for the deaths of more than 300 people in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, when 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed by Serb troops a few months before the end of the Bosnian war.
Families of the victims had filed suit against the Dutch government over the 1995 killings, accusing a Dutch contingent of UN peacekeepers of failing to protect the victims of the worst massacre to take place on European soil since World War II.
The judgement was greeted with a mixture of satisfaction and dismay by victims' relatives after the court found the state liable for the more than 300 people killed after being expelled from a UN compound but not all of the estimated 8,000 deaths.
The tiny Muslim enclave was under UN protection until July 11, 1995, when it was overrun by ethnic Serb forces under the command of Ratko Mladic, who is currently on trial for genocide and war crimes in connection with the war in Bosnia, including those perpetrated at Srebrenica.
Mladic's troops pushed through the lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers guarding a "safe area", where thousands of Muslims from surrounding villages had gathered to seek UN protection.
In subsequent days almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered and their bodies dumped in mass graves in what two international courts have ruled was a genocide.
"Today we got justice for one group, that's good," said Munira Subasic, one of the representatives of the Mothers of Srebrenica group, members of which were in court for the judgement.
"But how do you explain to a mother that the Dutch are responsible for the death of one son that stood on one side of the fence, and not for the one on the other side?" she asked through tears.
"The Dutch compound was so big that everyone should have been let in the compound. We will continue to seek truth and justice," she said.
'Dutch forces acted unlawfully'
"The state is liable for the loss suffered by relatives of the men who were deported by the Bosnian Serbs from the Dutchbat (Dutch battalion) compound in Potocari in the afternoon of 13 July, 1995," said Judge Larissa Elwin in her ruling.
"Dutchbat should have taken into account the possibility that these men would be the [victims] of genocide and that it can be said with sufficient certainty that, had the Dutchbat allowed them to stay at the compound, these men would have remained alive," she said.
"By cooperating in the deportation of these men, Dutchbat acted unlawfully," the judge ruled.
However, the court ruled that the state was not liable on all counts.
"Dutchbat's acts prior to the fall of Srebrenica can neither be attributed to the state, nor are they considered to be unlawful," the judge said.
"The fact that air support failed to materialise, or that it was stopped, cannot be attributed to the state either, [nor can] the fact that the enclave was not recaptured."
The Mothers of Srebrenica, representing some 6,000 widows and other victims' relatives, have been seeking justice for years for the massacre, which the UN's highest International Court of Justice has ruled was genocide.
In April, the Dutch government said it would pay €20,000 to relatives of three Bosnian Muslim men murdered after peacekeepers expelled them from the UN compound at Srebrenica.
That move followed a Dutch court's landmark ruling last year that the state was liable for the deaths, the first time a government has been held responsible for the actions of peacekeepers operating under a UN mandate.
Lawyers for the Dutch government left the courtroom on Wednesday without commenting on the judgement.
Wednesday's ruling comes just days after thousands of people gathered in Srebrenica to mark the 19th anniversary of the killings.
So far, the remains of 6,066 people have been exhumed from mass graves in the Srebrenica region for reburial.
The massacre took place just a few months before the end of Bosnia's 1992-1995 war, which claimed some 100,000 lives in total.
Mladic, dubbed the "Butcher of Bosnia", and Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic – both considered masterminds of the massacre – are now being tried for war crimes and genocide at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-07-16