The Netherland’s highest court has upheld a ruling holding the country partially liable for the deaths of Muslim men at Srebrenica in 1995, where 8,000 were massacred by Bosnian Serb forces.
The Dutch Supreme court said on Friday that Dutch troops, acting as UN peacekeepers, had a 10 per cent liability in the in the deaths of 350 Bosnian Muslims after they were expelled from a United Nations base nearby the staging ground for the grisly massacre, the worst mass murder in Europe since World War Two.
The ruling could set a crucial precedent establishing the liability of national governments for the actions of their troops while in UN peacekeeping roles. The Associated Press reported that the ruling, the final chapter in years of legal wrangling and appeals, has been the longest running-legal battle by the launched by the families of the victims of Srebrenica.
In its ruling, the supreme court in The Hague said the Dutch peace keepers had evacuated men from their base near Srebrenica in the knowledge that they "were in serious jeopardy of being abused and murdered".
The men were a portion of 5,000 Muslim residents who sought refuge at the UN peacekeeping base in July 1995 as the area fell under the sway of Gen Ratko Mladic’s Bosnian forces. Dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia,” the former army chief was sentenced in 2017 to life imprisonment for his role in the killings.
The families of the victims, The Mothers of Srebrenica, were unequivocal in their condemnation of the Dutch as the ruling was upheld. "They are responsible and they will always have a stain," Munira Subasic, one of the relatives who brought the case, said. "We know what happened we don't need this court to tell us,” she added.
Though the ruling has not specified exactly what monetary damages should now be paid to the families, the decision by the court will mean the survivors are likely to receive thousands of euros from the Dutch government.
In a statement in response the Dutch government has said it accepts its partial liability in accordance with the ruling. The government accepts the verdict of the Supreme Court", the Defence ministry said. "The state thereby accepts liability for the damages as determined by the Supreme Court," it added in a statement on Friday.
By upholding the ruling, the supreme court has once again ignored the protests of the Dutch government, which has said repeatedly that its troops, outnumbered and lightly armed, had been sent on an impossible mission in Bosnia.
Referring to a 2017 judgement in which the Hague Court of Appeal had ruled the Dutch were 30 per cent liable for the 350 deaths, the country’s Advocate General had issued a non-binding advisory calling the decision irrational.
In 2002, a report into the Srebrenica massacre that blamed the Dutch government and senior military officials for their roles prompted a mass resignation by the Dutch government.
The long-running case has related specifically how Mladic’s forces were able to pick out men as they left the Dutch base, essentially selecting them for murder. Bosnian Serb forces trucked off thousands of Muslim men after taking control of Srebrenica, killing them and then disposing of their bodies in hastily dug graves.
In March of this year former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the massacre and war crimes in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. He had evaded authorities for 13 years before his capture.