Relatives of victims from the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia have sued the Netherlands. They say the Dutch government should have done more to prevent the 1995 killings, which left more than 8,000 people dead.
The Mothers of Srebrenica on Monday brought the suit before a court in The Hague, alleging that Dutch peacekeepers serving under the United Nations in Bosnia did not protect Muslims in Srebrenica from Bosnian Serb forces.
"I wish the Netherlands would finally take responsibility for these events," said Munira Subasic, the head of Mothers of Srebrenica, which represents some 6,000 widows and victims' relatives.
"The Dutchbat was supposed to protect us … as a mother I cannot forgive this," she said, referring to the Dutch peacekeeping battalion.
The town of Srebrenica was a UN-protected safe haven for Muslims when Bosnian Serb forces entered in July, 1995. Troops under the command of General Ratko Mladic brushed aside the lightly-armed Dutch peacekeepers, expelled the women, children and elderly and executed around 8,000 boys and men over the subsequent days. Their bodies were buried in mass graves in what was the worst bloodshed on European soil since World War II.
Dutchbat troops did not intervene, and subsequently withdrew.
The Netherlands denies responsibility in the massacre, saying that its soldiers, who surrendered Srebrenica to Bosnian Serbs without firing a shot, were under UN command. A 2002 report blaming the battalion for failing to prevent the massacre led to the resignation of the Dutch government.
A case against the UN at the European Court for Human Rights last year brought by the Mothers of Srebrenica was unsuccessful after it ruled the UN have immunity from prosecution. The latest civil case had been put on hold pending the outcome of the case against the UN.
Last September, the Dutch Supreme Court ordered the government to pay damages to the relatives of three victims who Dutch soldiers handed over to Bosnian Serb forces.
'Opportunity' for Dutch government
A handful of relatives were at the court in The Hague on Monday to listen to the proceedings.
"This is also an opportunity for the Dutch people to recognize the responsibility of their politicians and soldiers in the genocide of Srebrenica," said Subasic. "This is also an opportunity for the [Dutch] ministry of defense to reclaim their military honor."
Dutch government lawyer Bert-Jan Houtzagers insisted his country's soldiers had no direct control over the Dutchbat unit, and that they had tried to help the victims.
"Dutchbat did what it could with a handful of men," he told the court. "They tried to protect as many refugees as possible."
"That didn't work, but it's twisting the facts to say they led people like lambs to the slaughter," Houtzagers added.
Mladic, who was dubbed the "Butcher of Bosnia" is currently facing charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity before the Yugoslav war crimes court in The Hague. A verdict is expected mid-July.
dr/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)