Bosnian women from the "Srebrenica Mothers Association" arrive at the Court of Justice, for the verdict in a higher appeal against the Dutch State, in The Hague, on June 27, 2017. AFP/Getty Images
A court has ruled that the Dutch government is partially liable for the deaths of around 300 Muslim men killed in the Srebrenica massacre.
The Hague court of appeal’s findings largely upheld a civil court judgement from 2014, which found the state was liable for the murder of Bosniak Muslims who were turned to Bosnian Serb troops by Dutch UN peacekeepers.
Presiding judge Gepke Dulek-Schermers said that Dutch soldiers “knew or should have known that the men were not only being screened…but were in real danger of being subjected to torture or execution”.
Dutch soldiers of a Dutchbat convoy chatting with Bosnian fighters in Vares, Bosnia, on 1 March 1994 (AFP/Getty Images)
"By having the men leave the compound unreservedly, they were deprived of a chance of survival," he added.
In a departure from an earlier ruling, the court said the Netherlands should pay only 30 per cent of damages to victims’ families, after estimating odds of 70 per cent that the victims would have been dragged from the base and killed regardless of what action Dutch soldiers took.
The amount of damages will be determined in a separate hearing unless the victims and the state can reach a settlement.
The court rejected a claim from the relatives of other Srebrenica victims, who argued that Dutch government should also be held responsible for the protection of thousands more Muslims who had gathered outside the military base.
Judges have acquitted Netherlands of responsibility for more than 7,000 other victims killed in the Srebrenica area.
"This is a great injustice," said Munira Subasic of the Mothers of Srebrenica group. "The Dutch state should take its responsibility for our victims because they could have kept them all safe on the Dutchbat (Dutch battalions') compound."
Their lawyer, Marco Gerritsen, called the court's assessment of the men's chances of survival “very arbitrary” and said he was looking at the possibility of appealing to the Dutch Supreme Court.
The case is the first time a country has been held liable for the actions of peacekeeping forces operating under a UN mandate.
The Dutch government resigned in 2002 after acknowledging its failure to protect refugees, although the Netherlands maintains that the Bosnian Serbs, not Dutch troops, bear responsibility for the killings.
Around 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed in a genocidal campaign by Bosnian Serb forces in the 1995 massacre – the worst mass murder in Europe since the Second World War.
Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, had been formally designated a “safe area” by the UN Security Council two years before, sparking condemnation of its strategy.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia concluded that the killings at Srebrenica, compounded by the mass expulsion of Bosniak civilians, amounted to genocide and pinned principal responsibility on senior officers in the Bosnian Serb army.
The UN and its Western supporters have accepted a portion of responsibility for failing to protect men, women and children uprooted from their homes in the Bosnian War.
Srebrenica was targeted by Bosnian Serb forces as part of efforts to annex the territory and expel Bosniak civilians, who were subjected to a siege and food embargoes ahead of the massacre.
Thousands march to remember Srebrenica victims
A military advance on the town started in July 1995, seeing Bosnian Serb forces burning Bosniak homes as they advanced, sending thousands of civilians fleeing Srebrenica for the nearby village of Potočari, where around 200 Dutch peacekeepers were stationed.
Some of the Dutch surrendered, while others withdrew and are not known to have fired on the advancing Bosnian Serb forces headed by Ratko Mladić, who told journalists the time had come to “take revenge on the Muslims”.
On the night of 11 July, more than 10,000 Bosniak men set off from Srebrenica through dense forest in an attempt to reach safety, but were found the following morning by Bosnian Serb officers who made false promises of security to encourage the men to surrender.
Thousands surrendered or were captured, while others were forced out of Potočari by a campaign of murder and rape as women and children were transported back to Bosniak territory on buses.
Men and boys were taken to holding sites and executed en masse over several days, with estimates of the final death toll ranging between 7,000 and more than 8,000.
Their bodies were dumped in mass graves, which were later bulldozed and scattered among other burial sites in an attempt to hide evidence of the atrocity.
A UN criminal tribunal indicted more than 20 people for their involvement, including Bosnian Serb commanders, while Mladić was caught in 2011 and is on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity.
(c) 2017 Independent