THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — The Dutch military violated international humanitarian law when it bombed a group of residential buildings during a 2007 battle with the Taliban, a court in the Netherlands ruled Wednesday.
Agreeing that the Dutch did not do enough to establish building complex was a military target before shelling it from the air, killing 18 people and destroying a mosque, the Hague District Court sided with four survivors who have brought a civil suit against the government.
The Dutch Ministry of Defense argued that Taliban forces had been using the compound to fire on coalition soldiers, making it a valid military target.
But the three-judge panel found that too much time had passed, more than 12 hours, since Taliban fighters had been active in the complex to be certain. “There were insufficient data on the basis of which a reasonable commander could regard this quala as a military target,” the court wrote, using a word common in Muslim-majority countries that refers to a fortified building.
A copy of Wednesday's ruling is available only in Dutch.
The bombing occurred at 4:30 a.m. while the victims, mostly family members, were asleep. "The distinction between military and civilian targets is paramount," Liesbeth Zegveld, a lawyer for the victims, told Courthouse News Service in an interview. She is happy with the outcome.
Eighteen civilians who were in the walled compound made up of residential and agricultural buildings died, Zegveld said.
According to the ruling, shots last came from the area more than 12 hours before the bombing took place, on the afternoon of June 16. In the earlier morning hours of June 17, Dutch aircraft, including F-16 fighter jets and attack helicopters, dropped at least seven bombs on the complex.
Taliban forces had been advancing on a Dutch military post ahead of the attack. The ensuing Battle of Chora, named for the strategically important city in central Afghanistan where the conflict occurred, left 250 Afghans dead as well as one American, two Dutch, and 16 Afghan soldiers.
The Dutch Ministry of Defense estimated that between 50 and 80 of those killed were civilians, though it disputes how many of those deaths were the result of its own actions. At a hearing in September, lawyers for the ministry claimed its troops had done nothing wrong and many of the deaths were caused by the Taliban.
“It’s uncommon for the state to be held liable,” said Lenneke Sprik, a lecturer in safety and security management at Thorbecke Academy in the Netherlands. In an interview, she pointed to only two other events in the last two decades that have led to complaints against the government: an attack on the Iraqi city of Hawija that left some 70 civilians dead and the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
The defense ministry says the four plaintiffs involved in this case have already been compensated for the destruction of property and the loss of livestock. Some 30 animals were also killed in the bombing. The exact amount of financial remuneration will be determined by the court sometime next year.
The Dutch government has three months to appeal the decision.
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