Srebrenica victims’ relatives take the Netherlands, UN to court

167.jpgRelatives of victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre took legal action against the UN and the Netherlands on Monday (June 4th) for allowing thousands of Bosnian Muslims to be killed by Bosnian Serb forces.

“The goal is not financial for the mothers and other survivors — it’s about satisfaction,” Marco Gerritsen, a lawyer from Dutch law firm Van Diepen Van der Kroef, representing about 6,000 surviving relatives of victims of the worst massacre in post-World War II European history, told the AP.

On July 11th, 1995, forces under the command of former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic captured the strategically located Srebrenica enclave, which was a UN safe haven sheltering thousands of Bosnian Muslims.

About 450 Dutch soldiers, serving under a UN mandate, were responsible for defending the region. Instructed to fire only in self-defence, the peacekeepers failed to prevent thousands of Bosnian Muslim women and men from being taken away in buses by the Bosnian Serb forces.

“As a result, between 8,000 and 10,000 people lost their lives,” the Dutch law company said in a statement on June 1st. “In the last three years, a strong case has been built against the Dutch state and the UN, who will be held jointly responsible for the fall of the enclave and the genocide that took place there.”

The Netherlands has been maintaining that the UN abandoned the Dutch peacekeepers by failing to give them air support. However, citing public documents, the lawyers said there was evidence that a group of Dutch military officials actually obstructed air support for fear their troops could fall victim to friendly fire.

“It is a wrong idea that the Dutch soldiers were let down by the UN,” Gerritsen said. “It was a decision by high ranking Dutch officers, together with the Dutch state, to see that requests for air support were denied.”

In 2002, the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation issued a report on the Srebrenica massacre, clearing the Dutch troops of responsibility for the killings and blaming politicians instead for sending them on an impossible mission. This prompted the resignation the government of Prime Minister Wim Kok.

Gerritsen said on Monday that in addition to the aid of about $20m that the Dutch government is giving BiH annually, it should also compensate the victims personally. The compensation sought amounts to $34,000 for ten mothers of victims.

On Monday, 200 women from the group known as the Mothers of Srebrenica marched to Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s office, near Parliament, carrying banners with the victims’ names.

“I have waited 12 years for this, this could be another injustice if it is going to take a long time again,” said Munera Subasic, chairwoman of the Foundation of Mothers of Srebrenica. “No money can suffice the deaths of our children. However, we may reach a settlement if they take responsibility.”

Among the witnesses the lawyers plan to call is former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was responsible for UN peacekeeping operations at the time and who has acknowledged that there were “errors of judgment” regarding Srebrenica.

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