Will the Netherlands have to accept responsibility for the deaths of Srebrenica refugees?
Decision of the Netherlands Supreme Court on 6.9.2013 awaited
Society for Threatened Peoples (STP)/Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker (GfbV) is anxiously awaiting ruling by the Netherlands Supreme Court in two cases brought against the Netherlands State by surviving relatives of Srebrenica genocide victims. The Supreme Court's judgment will decide whether Dutch United Nations peacekeepers stationed in Srebrenica were effectively responsible for the deaths of Bosnian civilians offered protection on the UN base at Potocari, on the outskirts of the town, but then ordered to leave. A lower court decision found in favour of the plaintiffs. The Dutch government exercised “operational control” over their troops and so was responsible for their actions. By the time the plaintiffs' relatives were ordered to leave the Dutch compound it was known that Bosnian Serbs had begun executing refugees, men in particular, in soome cases directly outside the gates of the UN base. So the refugees were knowingly sent to their deaths.
“Hasan Nuhanovic's father, mother and brother and Rizo Mustafic a father of two, would still be alive had they not been ordered to leave the Protection Force compound”, insists STP/GfbV's General Secretary Tilman Zülch. The Dutch government continues to deny responsibility for the deaths of the refugees, arguing that at the time the Dutch unit was part of the international peacekeeping mission “under the command and control of the United Nations” and therefore immune from prosecution.
If the Supreme Court now finds in favour of the Bosnian plaintiffs, this could have major implications for international peacekeeping missions worldwide. UN Member states contributing troops to UN peacekeeping missions in conflict areas would no longer be able to shelter behind the *general* immunity of the UN but could be held liable for some of the actions of their soldiers. The decision also opens the door to the possibility that relatives of the thousands of inhabitants of Srebrenica who sought protection on the UN base at Potocari, could now seek to hold the Netherlands responsible for the death of their relatives [*(although the decision applies specifically to the situation at the time the plaintiffs' relatives were expelled from the base)*].
On 13 July 1995 Hasan Nuhanovic's father and mother Ibro and Nasiha, his younger brother Muhamed and Rizo Mustafic were ordered by the Dutch troops' commanding officer Colonel Thom Karremans to leave the base. They died at the hands of the Serb forces. The genocide at Srebrenica claimed the lives of 8372 victims including 510 women. Hasan Nuhanovic and Mehida Mustafic-Mujic and her children Damir and Alma, assisted by the Dutch human rights lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, began their legal action against the Netherlands state in 2003, claiming that the Dutch UN troops had delivered the Bosniaks from Srebrenica into the hands of the soldiers commanded by Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.