Dutch Supreme Court Affirms Nation’s Role in Massacre

International War Crimes Tribunal investigators unearth dozens of Muslim victims of the Srebrenica massacre buried in a mass grave near the village of Pilica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in September 1996. (AP file photo/Staton R. Winter)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – The Dutch Supreme Court on Friday upheld the Netherlands’ liability for the deaths of hundreds of Muslim men killed in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, but reduced the amount of potential compensation for victims’ families.

Some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed in the eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina town of Srebrenica in July 1995, even though the town had been declared a United Nations safe zone. About 100,000 people died in the three-year conflict in southeastern Europe, which involved the first genocide since World War II.

In particular, 350 men and boys were sent out of a U.N. compound, guarded by Dutch soldiers, after Army of Republika Srpska, or VRS, forces claimed they wouldn’t be harmed.

A lower court found in 2014 the Dutch government was 30% responsible for their deaths, after the case was brought by a group called the Mothers of Srebrenica, which represents relatives of the victims. According to that ruling, the 350 men and boys had a 30% chance of survival if they had been allowed to stay within the compound.

On Friday, however, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands, also known as Hoge Raad, found that the Dutch government was only 10% liable for the deaths.

According to the ruling, read aloud in court by presiding Judge Kees Streefkerk, “The Dutch State bears very limited liability in the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’ case. That liability is limited to 10% of the damages suffered by the surviving relatives of approximately 350 victims.”

The court found that the lightly armed Dutch troops had little chance of saving the men, even if they had allowed them to stay. The VRS “would have done everything in their power to remove them,” the court found, and the chance of help for the outnumbered battalion was small.

The Dutch had repeatedly called on the U.N. for assistance during the massacre.

“They could have saved people, including my son,” Munira Subasic, one of the members of the Mothers of Srebrenica, said after the ruling was issued.

In 2002, a 7,000-page report found the government liable, resulting in the resignation of the prime minister and his entire cabinet.

“Humanitarian motivation and political ambitions drove the Netherlands to undertake an ill-conceived and virtually impossible peace mission,” according to the report from the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation.

Radovan Karadzic, known as the Butcher of Bosnia, was convicted of ordering the massacre by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and was sentenced to life in prison earlier this year.

Friday’s ruling ends the case in the Dutch courts, but the Mothers of Srebrenica could further appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. Their lawyer, Simon van der Sluijs, declined to comment if that was the group’s intention.

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