Dutch state liable for three Srebrenica deaths - court

Matthew Price reports on the ruling by the Dutch Supreme Court

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The Dutch supreme court has ruled that the Netherlands was liable for the deaths of three Bosnian Muslim men killed in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

The men had been ordered to leave a UN compound run by Dutch peacekeeping forces when Bosnian Serb forces overran it.

The ruling upheld an earlier decision by an appeals court in 2011.

Considered Europe's worst massacre since WWII, 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed in the atrocity.

The case centred on three Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) who were working for the Dutch force, Dutchbat, during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

Analysis

For the relatives of the three victims there is relief. Almost two decades after their unimaginable loss and grief, and a full 10 years since their legal action began, they have now been told the Dutch state is liable for the deaths of their family members. That opens the door to possible compensation from the Netherlands, in the case of these three.

But more importantly for the victims, it means they have won their argument that these men - and possibly many of the other 8,000 men and boys killed at Srebrenica - could have been saved. The organisation that represents the widows of other victims, Mothers of Srebrenica, called it "encouraging news". It said "the Dutch state is responsible for all victims".

This ruling doesn't mean that. However, it does hold to account those who were sent in to protect civilians, and who failed them. Some fear the precedent could dissuade countries in the future from staffing UN peacekeeping missions. Perhaps. But for the victims of Europe's worst massacre since WWII, this marks another step on their long road to justice.

They were electrician Rizo Mustafic and the father and brother of former UN interpreter Hasan Nuhanovic.

The three men were among thousands who took shelter in the UN compound as Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Gen Ratko Mladic overran Srebrenica on 11 July 1995.

Two days later, Dutch peacekeepers forced the Bosniaks out of the compound.

Mr Nuhanovic and the relatives of Mr Mustafic, who launched the case in 2003, had argued that the three men should have been protected by the peacekeepers.

The Dutch government had argued that the soldiers were under United Nations' control.

'Very relieved'

In 2011, the court ruled that the Dutch troops should not have handed the three men over to Bosnian Serb forces.

"The (appeals) court decision is upheld," Judge Floris Bakels said as relatives of the victims broke down in tears and hugged each other.

He said it would be "unacceptable" for countries not to be able to hold their peacekeepers to account.

"It's great, it's really great," said Mr Nuhanovic, who also lost his mother in Srebrenica, but he said it is only one of "many battles" being fought in Bosnia as "hundreds of war criminals still roam the streets".

Mr Mustafic's daughter Alma, who was 14 at the time of his death, said she was "very relieved". "It's always very difficult to grieve, but I hope this decision will help us," she said.

The final ruling means that relatives of the victims can now claim compensation from the Dutch state.

Correspondents say the ruling may have an impact on future UN peacekeeping missions, as states could be reluctant to participate in foreign military operations amid fears of being held responsible for situations that get out of control.

The United Nations has said it is too early to say whether there will be any implications for international peacekeeping in future.

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