News 26 Oct 15

Netherlands Taken to Euro Court over Srebrenica

Victims’ families filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights against the Netherlands for failing to investigate whether its peacekeeping commanders in Srebrenica allowed Bosniaks to be killed.

Denis Dzidic
BIRN
Sarajevo
Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica in 1995. Photo: ICTY.

Lawyers representing Bosniaks from Srebrenica appealed to the European court in Strasbourg on Monday, claiming that the Netherlands did not properly look into whether three of its UN peacekeeping commanders in Srebrenica allowed some people to be killed by Bosnian Serb forces after the enclave fell in July 1995.

The appeal to Strasbourg comes after a military court in the Netherlands ruled in April that the commander of the Dutch UN battalion, Thomas Karremans, his assistant Robert Franken and officer Berend Oosterveen could not be held responsible for not safeguarding Bosniak civilians who took refuge at their headquarters in Potocari near Srebrenica but instead handed them over to Bosnian Serb forces.

The appeal was brought by Hasan Nuhanovic, a Srebrenica survivor and former translator for the UN peacekeepers, and the family of Rizo Mustafic, who was killed by Bosnian Serb forces.

When the Bosnian Serb Army overran Srebrenica, Nuhanovic’s relatives and Mustafic, along with several hundred others, sought refuge inside the Dutch peacekeepers’ base in 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.

Nuhanovic’s lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld told BIRN that she was optimistic about the case because the Dutch authorities should have at least brought the case before a criminal court, instead of just briefly dealing with it through a military prosecution.

“We think it is clear the Dutch authorities should have opened a criminal investigation and not just read historical records. The military prosecution said they read the historical records and found the three commanders were not criminally complicit. This was not at all for them to decide,” said Zegveld.

She added that the complaint to the European court would not look into whether Karremans, Franken and Oosterveen were guilty or not, but just whether or not the Dutch authorities looked into the possibility.

“It is an issue of procedural fault. I am very optimistic we can win, since this is a complaint under Article 2 [of the European Convention on Human Rights] - right to life - which is a core article and it cannot be easily derogated. It is a fundamental value,” she said.

In 2011, the Dutch supreme court ruled that the Netherlands was liable for the death of Nuhanovic’s brother and father and of Mustafic, and ordered the state to pay compensation. However, it has refused to file criminal proceedings against the commanders.

Last year the district court in The Hague also 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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