Srebrenica families ask pan-Europe court to try Dutch commanders

Escape from Srebrenica. New York Times, July 1995. [David X. Noack/Flickr]

The families of three Bosnian Muslims who were killed after leaving UN protection in 1995 have asked the European Court of Human Rights to prosecute three ex-UN commanders for their deaths, their lawyer said Sunday (25 October).

The move came after a Dutch appeals court ruled in April that Dutch Battalion (“Dutchbat”) commander Thom Karremans, his deputy Rob Franken and personnel officer Berend Oosterveen should not be prosecuted.

Liesbeth Zegveld, a Dutch human rights lawyer representing the families, said in the filing that the earlier investigation “was not independent” and came under “undue pressure” from the Dutch defence ministry, she told AFP.

Relatives of the victims first took the Dutchbat commanders to court in 2010, saying the three were expelled from a military base into certain death at the hands of Bosnian Serb forces during the darkest episode of the country’s 1991-95 civil war.

Serb forces commanded by Ratko Mladic slaughtered almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys in mid-July 1995 in the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II.

>>Read: Tensions high between Bosnia and Serbia on massacre anniversary

The complaint against the three Dutch officers was made by relatives of Muhamed Nuhanovic, his father Ibro, and Rizo Mustafic.

Nuhanovic, then 27, was employed as a translator for Dutchbat, and Mustafic as an electrician.

The victims had sought safety — along with some 5,000 other Muslims, mainly women — with Dutch troops.

The plaintiffs say the men were then forced to flee into the hands of the Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Mladic — himself now on trial for genocide and war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia based in The Hague.

The Dutch government last year said it would pay the families €20,000 euros each in compensation after a civil court ruled that the state was indeed liable for the deaths.

The role of Dutch blue helmets at Srebrenica has cast a long shadow in The Netherlands, with an entire cabinet resigning in 2002 after a report laid some blame for the atrocity on the government.

Even today, the massacre prompts endless soul-searching as to whether the men of Dutchbat could and should have done more to protect Srebrenica’s Muslim population.

>>Read: EU seeks to revive Bosnia’s membership bid

Some 2,000 Dutch soldiers served as peacekeepers at the height of the three-year conflict, which left 100,000 people dead and another 2.2 million homeless.

The defence ministry on Sunday rejected the new case as “unfounded”, with a spokesman telling Dutch news agency ANP that the justice system was fully independent.

The ECHR, whose judges come from each of the 47 members of the Council of Europe, was established by the 1953 European Convention on Human Rights.

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