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Dutch judges want more information about military bombing in Afghanistan 

A 2007 battle for control over the city of Chora in Afghanistan left more than 50 civilians dead. Four Afghan victims have asked the Dutch government to answer for the violence. 

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — A panel of judges in The Hague pressed government lawyers Friday for more information about a 2007 battle in which Dutch soldiers allegedly fired on civilians. 

Four Afghans brought the suit against the Dutch state last year, claiming that the military violated international humanitarian law during a battle over the strategically important town of Chora that left some 250 dead, including 50 to 80 civilians. 

In 2020, the Dutch newspaper Trouw published an interview with a soldier present during the four-day conflict who said he had been ordered to shoot into civilian homes. The story also raised questions about attacks on civilian buildings by F-16 aircraft and helicopters. 

In response, the Ministry of Defense asked the public prosecution service to look into the Dutch use of force during the battle and conducted its own investigation. Both the prosecution service and the ministry found no evidence that the use of force was unlawful. 

Human rights lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, who is representing the victims before The Hague District Court, called it clear Friday that the military decided to bomb the area even though soldiers on the ground did not have up-to-date information about the locations of Taliban forces. That decision was in clear violation of the laws of war, Zegveld said. 

Zegveld noted as an example how soldiers said the Taliban was firing from a house in the afternoon. More than 12 hours later, Dutch air support bombed the building. “How was this determined?” Zegveld asked.

The court held a hearing in March and was expecting to reach a verdict, but the judges ultimately felt they didn’t have enough information and requested more clarification from the defense ministry. In particular, the court wanted the military to turn over a number of archives from their time in Afghanistan. 

In a statement, the ministry said it had concluded there was no wrongdoing. “The final decision on the case rests with the court.” 

Friday’s hearing opened with a series of technical difficulties that left lawyers for both sides huddled around the bench to answer questions about a printed map of the area after accessing Google Earth images failed. One of the lawyers, to provide more visual clarity, began showing photos on her laptop and accidentally started a slide show of vacation snaps including the sun setting over the ocean, a full pint of beer and a bikini drying on a clothesline, which were displayed around the courtroom. 

The Hague court has seen a number of international cases in recent years, including one involving Afghanistan. Under a principle known as universal jurisdiction, some crimes — genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture — are so serious that offenders can be tried in any jurisdiction. Earlier this year, the court sentenced an Afghan refugee to 12 years in jail for abusing prisoners in Afghanistan in the 1980s. An Ethiopian man meanwhile is appealing a life sentence he received in 2017 from The Hague District Court for torturing and murdering civilians, including children, during political violence in the late 1970s in his homeland. 

The lawsuit over the Battle of Chora is a civil action and was not brought under universal jurisdiction. Zegveld called it the first time the Dutch have been asked to answer to events that occurred during combat operations in Afghanistan. 

The judges are expected to rule in the coming months. 

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