After Srebrenica Paying for Complicity

Dutch troops played an ambiguous role in the massacre at Srebrenica -- they were there to protect the local Muslim population, but they stood by as Bosnian-Serb soldiers slaughtered local men and boys. Now the survivors’ families want to sue The Hague for €2 billion euros in restitution.

Even nine years after the massacre at Srebrenica, the forensic scientists' gruesome work is still unfinished. Like detectives, they travel to the scene of the crime in East Bosnia, where 7,800 Bosnian men and boys were brutally massacred by Serbs in May 1995, and search for bodies of dead Muslims. They hope to identify the dead bodies using DNA. Two weeks ago, one group unearthed a mass grave near Zvornik containing 55 full bodies and pieces of 39 others. A second team found another site at Snagovo, where they pulled up 43 complete bodies and the partial remains of 35 others. The area surrounding Srebrenica -- the world's worst genocide since the Holocaust -- is evolving into a mosaic of horror which has been pushing the Dutch to take a deep look inside their souls for some time now. Many teams investigating the massacre -- which the Serbs this week admitted they planned and executed -- have questioned the role Dutch troops played in the killings. The troops were there as peacekeeping forces in a United Nations security zone, yet they did nothing to stop Bosnian Serb militias from rounding up and gunning down thousands of men and boys. In April 2002, the Netherlands' prime minister, Wim Kok, accepted responsibility for disastrous mistakes in military and political leadership and resigned. Now, however, the Dutch are getting a formal bill for what many are calling the "Disgrace of Srebrenica. In the name of 8,688 relatives of survivors, Bosnian attorneys have prepared a case against the Netherlands asking for €2 billion euros.It's taken the victims' lawyers 30 months to prepare their 28-page case, which they delivered to The Hague on June 18. So far, the former peacekeeping Netherlands has maintained the position delivered via the country's ambassador in Mostar -- it sees no grounds for compensation payments.It's not that no one has found fault with Dutch behavior in Bosnia. Various investigations have. The troops were clearly ill-prepared to stand up to the military prowess of the troops headed by Serbian General Ratko Mladic. As such, say some, they caved in quickly and made the genocide easier for the Serbs. One investigation -- conducted by the Dutch Inter-Church Peace Council -- recreated the events leading up to the deaths in Srebrenica and concluded that the genocide could have been prevented if the Dutch government and military had made different choices. According to the victims' lawyers, as soon as the Serbs began transporting Bosnian men, Dutch officers in charge knew that those selected would be murdered. Just as troubling is the fact that at the same time as the killings were happening, Dutch officers greeted chief slaughterer Mladic (who, along with forrmer Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, remains at large today) cheerfully at an official gathering.Another point is vital to the victims' case. They say that on June 5, 1995, about a month before the killings began, Dutch Commander Tom Karremans received a fax from The Hague warning that a "catastrophe would happen" if policies did not change immediately. Nothing, however, was done. Even worse, the claimants say, is the alleged collaboration of the Dutch with the Serbs. There are plenty of examples of friendly relations and shared toasts. Relations were so good, say the claimants, that it cannot be mere luck or chance that while thousands of Bosnians were killed, only one "among the educated and qualified soldiers," brought to Bosnia to protect the Bosnians died. It remains to be seen if these accusations are enough to justify a case for billions in damages -- that decision will be left up to the judges. The official Dutch response so far has been to toe the political line. Namely, the Hague accepts it made mistakes, but insists the royal army soldiers couldn't have prevented the massacre. There is also no proof, the Dutch ambassador wrote in a letter to the attorneys, that the peacekeeping troops broke any international laws. For their part, the Dutch have stuck with formal arguments and legalese. They say the troops in question, known as "Dutchbat" or "Unity" belonged to the International peacekeeping troops Unprofor and operated under the control of the United Nations. As such, any demands for claims must be made with the UN.Filing the claim won't be without hurdles either. The complaint is already close to 300-pages long, but in order to be legal it has to be brought before the court by a Dutch lawyer. The problem is in Holland it is illegal for lawyers to accept cases on the condition on a commission basis. Discussions with Dutch lawyers also indicate that national pride also plays a role in lawyers' decisions not to take the case. Semir Guzin, a lawyer from Mostar, said it succinctly, admitting that for many of his colleagues, it is difficult to "indict your own government and ask for €2 billion euros."UDO LUDWIG, ANSGAR MERTIN

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