The Brief – Washing away the guilt

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA]

The largely unconventional and disputed 1907 experiment by US physicist Duncan MacDougall postulated that the human soul weighs 21 grams, no more, no less. The valiant doctor measured the body weight of dying humans just before and after their passing and concluded that the soul does have exact physical weight.

The experiment tickled the fancy of the lovers of all things supernatural, but also drew ridicule from more conventional scientists.  But putting numerical values on human life has continued to this day.

The Supreme Court in the Netherlands, deliberating on the case of Dutch troops assigned to protect the UN-designated safe haven in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, ruled on Friday (19 July) that the Dutch state is 10% reliable for the massacre committed there in July 1995. 10%, no more, no less.

The ruling may well set a precedent for a country assessing its own liability when sending troops to international peacekeeping missions, which in itself is commendable. Many other countries could well have been tempted to make sure the case is never properly addressed or find legal ground to throw it out.

But the Supreme Court’s decision also reduced the Dutch liability from an earlier 30% assessed by lower Dutch courts. Cynics will say this will come in handy if any surviving families of the 8,000 people killed in Srebrenica ever file for compensation from the Netherlands.

Financial matters aside, how does one estimate the ‘percentage of guilt’ for what was the worst mass slaughter in post-WW2 Europe?

In March 1994, the lightly armed Dutch battalion was sent to Srebrenica to protect the Muslim enclave, which Bosnian Serb troops surrounded and then captured on 11 July, 1995.

Having no mandate to fight, except in self-defence, the Dutch retreated to their headquarters compound at Potočari, just outside Srebrenica. Their calls for air support were ignored, until it was too late.

The Dutch took in several thousand refugees, mostly women and children, but also 350 men and boys.  On 12 July, Bosnian Serbs ordered all women and children onto buses that were to take them to government-controlled territory.

The Dutch facilitated the transport, but they also handed over the 350 men and boys to the conquering Serbs, probably knowing that they would not receive fair treatment.

Had the Dutch chosen to keep the 350 inside the compound, their chances of survival would have been “slim, but not negligible,” the Supreme Court ruled. And that’s probably where the 10% comes from.

But Europe does not seem to have learned the lesson. The UN and the EU remain just as divided and inefficient now as they were 25 years ago, when it comes to facing human disaster.

Italy’s fresh opposition to a Franco-German drive to reach an accord on migrants crossing the Mediterranean probably means the impasse will continue and that humans will continue to drown en route to Europe.

UNHCR estimates that 17,821 migrants have drowned while sailing towards Europe in 2014-18. The death toll is more than double that of Srebrenica but no one will be tried except – paradoxically – those who try to help.

The Roundup

The French parliament is supposed to ratify the Canada-EU free trade agreement (CETA) on Tuesday (23 July), but the pending ratification is generating a great deal of opposition in the country.

Greece’s newly-elected centre-right government (New Democracy-EPP) has vowed to implement a smoking ban law in enclosed public places, which has existed since 2008 but never took effect.

According to a new WWF paper published on Monday, EU member states are doing little to curb the impact of extreme weather events on freshwater ecosystems sustainably.

The Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has blocked more than a hundred products from being released on the market due to concerns that the items do not meet security standards, EURACTIV has learnt.

Europe’s support in Hong Kong is needed to “urge Beijing to accept requests from the Hong Kong people,” leading activist Joshua Wong has told EURACTIV, as violence took hold of the city with armed mobs attacking residents, protesters and journalists.

Back in Europe, all boxes of the European Parliament’s complex power-sharing puzzle have now been ticked. EURACTIV brings you all chairs of the Parliament’s 22 committees at a glance.

Galileo, the global navigation satellite system that went live in 2016, malfunctioned for a whole week (11-19 July) as it suffered from a partial outage, caused by the European Space Agency changing the software. EURACTIV’s partner La Tribune reports.

Look out for…

Parliament’s AGRI committee meets.

Views are the author’s

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