A court has cleared the Netherlands of liability over the deaths of most of the 8,000 Bosnian Muslims killed in the Srebrenica massacre 19 years ago.
It did, however, order the nation to compensate the families of more than 300 men turned over to Bosnian Serb forces and later killed.
In an emotionally-charged hearing at a civil court in The Hague, judge Larissa Alwin said Dutch UN peacekeepers should have known that the men deported from the Dutch compound by Bosnian Serb forces on July 13, 1995 would be killed because there was already evidence of the Serbs committing war crimes.
“By co-operating in the deportation of these men, Dutchbat acted unlawfully,” the judge said, referring to the name of the Dutch UN battalion.
The victims were among thousands of Muslims killed after Bosnian Serb forces commanded by General Ratko Mladic overran the town of Srebrenica on July 11 in what was to become the bloody climax to the 1992-95 Bosnian war that claimed 100,000 lives.
Two days later, the outnumbered Dutch peacekeepers bowed to pressure from Mladic’s troops and forced thousands of Muslim families out of their fenced-off compound.
Bosnian Serb forces sorted the Muslims by gender, then trucked the males away and began executing them.
Their bodies were piled into hastily-made mass graves in what international courts have ruled was genocide.
But the ruling cleared Dutch troops of responsibility over the murder of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men who fled into the forests around Srebrenica and were later rounded up and murdered by Serb forces, saying “Dutchbat cannot be held liable for their fate”.
Relatives of the dead welcomed the limited finding of liability but lamented that it did not go further.
“Obviously the court has no sense of justice,” said Munira Subasic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica group which filed the case. “How is it possible to divide victims and tell one mother that the Dutch state is responsible for the death of her son on one side of the wire and not for the son on the other side?”