News 29 Apr 15

Dutch Court Rejects Prosecuting Srebrenica Peacekeepers

A Dutch military appeals court ruled that commanders of the UN peacekeeping mission in Srebrenica cannot be prosecuted for allowing Bosniaks to be killed by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995.

Denis Dzidic
BIRN
Sarajevo
UN peacekeepers in Srebrenica.

The military court in Arnhem ruled on Wednesday that the commander of the Dutch UN battalion Thomas Karremans, his assistant Robert Franken and officer Berend Oosterveen cannot be held responsible for not safeguarding Bosniak civilians who took refuge at their headquarters in Potocari near Srebrenica, which was supposed to protected by the UN, but instead handing them over to Bosnian Serb forces.

The court made the ruling after Hasan Nuhanovic, a Srebrenica survivor and former translator for the UN peacekeepers, and the family of Rizo Mustafic, who was killed by Serb forces, appealed against a decision not to charge the three former ’Dutchbat’ peacekeepers with war crimes.

Nuhanovic's lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld called the decision a "sad day for judicial control of military operations".

"If this case does not call for a full investigation, then perhaps it would be better to abolish criminal law for our military forces. What everyone knew - that the Bosnian Serbs were out to get the Muslim men - the Dutchbat leadership did not know, according to the appeals court", said Zegveld.

Bosnian Serb forces overran Srebrenica in July 1995, when Nuhanovic’s relatives and Rizo Mustafic, along with several hundred others, sought refuge inside the Dutch peacekeepers’ base in nearby Potocari.

Instead of finding safety however, they were handed to the Serbs by Dutch soldiers and subsequently killed. In total, Serb forces executed more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys from Srebrenica in massacres which have been defined as genocide by international court rulings.

Zegveld argued that according to the appeals court decision, the Dutch peacekeepers were within their rights to send the Bosniak men into the hands of Bosnian Serb troops.

"The family of Mustafic and Nuhanović were terrified on July 13, 1995, but Dutchbat did not have to fear for their fates and was allowed to send them off the [UN] compound, according to the appeals court," she said.

Zegveld also said that according to the appeals court decision, "the events in question happened too long ago". She said this was unfair because "we continue to prosecute criminals from the Second World War".

She said that she plans to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Last year the district court in The Hague found the Netherlands guilty of failing to protect around 300 Bosniaks who were trying to escape from Serb forces by hiding in the Dutch battalion’s compound in Potocari.

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Background

Srebrenica: Genocide Reconstructed

In July 1995 Srebrenica was shelled and occupied by the Army of Republic of Srpska,VRS, despite being declared a protected area by the United Nations. More than 7,000 people were killed, the victims of genocide.

Ratko Mladic: The Force Behind the Srebrenica Killings

The Bosnian Serb commander’s role in the genocide committed in Srebrenica is described in detail in many indictments and verdicts pronounced before local and international judicial institutions.

The Indictment Against Ratko Mladic

Indictments in 1995 and 2000, further amended in 2002 and 2010, charge the former commander of the Republika Srpska Army with genocide and other crimes.

Ratko Mladic: From Promising Officer to Bloodstained Warlord

When Mladic ordered his army to bomb the people of Sarajevo until they ‘go insane’, he revealed the murderous intentions that would culminate in the Srebrenica massacre.

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