News 28 Nov 07

Srebrenica Suit Gets Go-ahead

Sarajevo _ Families of those who died in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia have welcomed a Dutch court ruling to allow them to sue the UN and the Netherlands over their failure to prevent the killings.

The court's decision came in response to the families' move in June to launch a legal process on the grounds that the UN and the Dutch government had failed to call in effective NATO air strikes that could have prevented the massacre of nearly 8,000 Bosniaks after the UN protected enclave in the east of the country fell to Bosnian Serbs forces.

The Dutch ruling opens the way for the first ever suit against the UN.

“I am happy. Justice will finally be served,” said Munira Subasic, the president of the association “Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves.”

Subasic stressed that the genocide happened “under the flag, protection and eyes of the UN”, and therefore it had to take responsibility for being an accomplice in the crime.

Srebrenica was a UN-designated “safe area”, with a small, lightly-armed contingent of Dutch peacekeepers who offered no effective resistance to the Bosnian Serb onslaught.

The massacre that followed its capture in July 1995 was the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II, and the worldwide outcry over its inhabitants' fate contributed to NATO launching a campaign of air strikes against the Bosnian Serb side.

NATO's intervention, in turn, helped pave the way for the Dayton peace agreement concluded at the end of that year.

The Hague magistrate on Tuesday dismissed representations from the Dutch government that the case should be dropped after the UN invoked its legal immunity, and said it would not take part in the proceedings.

“The UN has a duty to prevent genocide. An appeal to immunity in a case of genocide, as in the Srebrenica drama, is irreconcilable with the UN's own objectives, and its international obligations,” said Marco Gerritsen, a member of a mixed Bosnian-Dutch legal team which represents the Srebrenica victims.

In the past the Dutch government tried to blame the UN for abandoning its peacekeepers and failing to provide them with air cover, but numerous reports indicated that Dutch officers had actually prevented NATO's air support, fearing their troops might be hit by friendly fire, or taken hostage by the Bosnian Serbs.

In 2002 the Dutch government resigned over a report blaming politicians for sending Dutch peacekeepers on what was, in effect, “mission impossible”.

Several senior Bosnian Serb officers have been convicted by The Hague war crimes Tribunal over their involvement in the Srebrenica massacre, and others are currently standing trial.

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