Feature 18 Aug 14

Srebrenica Survivor Seeks Dutch Peacekeepers’ Prosecution

After the Netherlands was found guilty of failing to prevent his father and brother’s killings in 1995, a Srebrenica survivor wants Dutch commanders who were supposed to protect them to be prosecuted.

Denis Dzidic and Amer Jahic
The Hague
Srebrenica survivor Hasan Nuhanovic.

In July 1995, Hasan Nuhanovic was working as an interpreter for the Dutch United Nations peacekeeping battalion in Srebrenica which was tasked with protecting Bosniaks amid a Bosnian Serb assault on the enclave, which had been declared a ‘safe area’ by the UN.

When Bosnian Serb forces overran Srebrenica, Nuhanovic’s relatives, 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.

In 2011, an appeals court in The Hague ruled that the Netherlands was liable for the death of Nuhanovic’s brother and father and of another man, Rizo Mustafic.

Last month, 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.

Now Numanovic and Mustafic’s family have filed a request to the military chamber of the appeals court in Arnhem in the Netherlands, demanding that three senior Dutch soldiers be charged with war crimes in Srebrenica.

Nuhanovic said he was disappointed that prosecutors in the Netherlands did not decide of their own accord to take legal action against the commanders of the ‘Dutchbat’ peacekeeping battalion.

“We are talking about criminal responsibility, and why it is that 19 years after the crime I must insist on this and put pressure on the Dutch prosecution to actually investigate these men, when there is clear evidence that they should be prosecuted?” he asked.

He is asking for Dutchbat commander Thomas Karremans, his assistant Robert Franken and officer Berend Oosterveen to be held responsible for not safeguarding Bosniak civilians in a place that was supposed to protected by the UN.

Rank-and-file Dutch troops at the Potocari base in July 1995.

The July ruling in The Hague castigated the peacekeepers for their inaction and ordered the Netherlands to pay compensation to the victims.

“Dutchbat should have taken into account the possibility that these men would be the victims of genocide and that it can be said with sufficient certainty that, had Dutchbat allowed them to stay at the compound, these men would have remained alive,” the court’s ruling said.

Nuhanovic’s lawyer, Liesbeth Zegveld, said this should have led to legal action against the officers in command of the Dutch troops.

“We asked for them to be criminally prosecuted, this is logical since the Netherlands was already found guilty. However, the prosecution in Arnhem refused to file an indictment, so we have appealed against this decision and the appeal will be held in November,” said Zegveld.

Franken however has argued that he did what he could to save the men who were killed. He testified at the trial of former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic that he made a list of the Bosniaks seeking refuge at the Dutch peacekeepers base when he saw that the situation was deteriorating, in a bid to help them.

“My idea was to make a list to make sure those people have names and it was a list of 251 men. They were in the hands of Bosnian Serbs and I wanted to publish this,” he said.

When Karremans testified at the Hague Tribunal in November 2005, he said he had called for NATO air strikes against Serb forces in Srebrenica, but they never came.

He also said that after the fall of the enclave, he did not see any human rights violations personally, but two of his subordinates reported seeing corpses and people being killed, which he immediately reported to his superiors.

Oosterveen meanwhile told a hearing in the Nuhanovic and Mustafic case that he thought that the Bosniaks were being taken from the Dutch compound to safety, rather than to their deaths.

“I told Mustafic that everybody who was not a UN employee should leave, I told him, ‘It will be OK.’ I assumed that the people being bussed out were being brought to a safe area,” he said.

Oosterveen admitted that with hindsight, the Dutch troops were naïve, but he also blamed the army for briefing the poorly.

“We did not know what had happened before. I did not know who had massacred who, and who had started the war,” he said.

Nineteen years after the massacres, Nuhanovic said that he does not have much hope of success in prosecuting the Dutch commanders.

“I expect nothing. Nothing can surprise me anymore,” he said.

Despite this, he insisted, he intends to keep on seeking justice for his relatives’ deaths for as long as he can.

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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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