News / Europe

Court Holds Netherlands Responsible for 3 Srebrenica Deaths

Appeals judges ruled ordering the Dutch government to compensate the men's relatives. The landmark ruling could open the path to other compensation claims by victims who claim their male relatives should have been protected by the Dutch U.N. peacekeepers
Appeals judges ruled ordering the Dutch government to compensate the men's relatives. The landmark ruling could open the path to other compensation claims by victims who claim their male relatives should have been protected by the Dutch U.N. peacekeepers
Lauren Comiteau

In a historic decision, appeals judges in a Dutch court have ruled the Netherlands is responsible for the deaths of three Muslim men after the fall of Srebrenica in 1995. Dutch U.N. troops were, at the time, in charge of what was designated a U.N. safe haven during the Bosnian war. About 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed after the enclave was overrun by Serb forces.

For nine years, U.N. interpreter Hasan Nuhanovic, who lost his brother and father, and family members of electrician Rizo Mustafic have been trying to get the Dutch government to take responsibility for the murder of their relatives. The three men were thrown out of the U.N. compound by Dutch soldiers and taken by Bosnian-Serb troops under the command of Ratko Mladic. All three were killed.

When Hasan Nuhanovic finally heard the verdict, all he could say was he felt relief.

"I prepared myself for a negative, not positive outcome," Nuhanovic said.

The appeals verdict overturned an earlier decision that sided with the Dutch state. It had argued that because its troops were serving under the United Nations, the Netherlands could not be held responsible for the crimes.

But appeals judges ruled that after the fall of Srebrenica an “extraordinary situation” developed, and that Dutch military and political leaders were in “effective control” of their troops.They said its soldiers should not have sent the men off the base.

The lawyer who brought the case, Liesbeth Zegveld, called the ruling “historic."

"It is the first time, I believe, that a state is held accountable during a peacekeeping operation that went wrong.  Court ruled that state responsibility exists, although there was a peacekeeping operation and command and control had been transferred to the United Nations," said Zegveld.

"The state has always warned, almost threatened, during the procedure that we will not contribute any new troops," Zegveld added. "And that will also be the reflection of many other states. Let us see."

Netherlands government officials say they need to read the verdict before deciding whether to appeal.  

The government has also been ordered to pay compensation to the families of the three murdered men, although there are not any figures yet.

But at the very least, the ruling paves the way for compensation cases against the Dutch by other survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, especially for the many Muslim men who sought refuge on the Dutch-U.N. base in Srebrenica. But Zegveld says this case was never about money, but about establishing facts and accountability.

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