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(Washington, DC)— The Netherlands was responsible for the deaths of three Bosnian Muslims during the 1995 Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a local appeals court in The Hague has ruled today.
The case is the first time that an individual government has been held accountable for the conduct of its peacekeeping troops carrying out a U.N. mandate.
The court ruled that on July 10, 1995 Dutch troops serving as U.N. peacekeepers in Srebrenica allowed three Bosnians to leave a "safe area," and effectively handed them over to Bosnian Serb forces. These forces killed the men and later went on to slaughter an additional 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the genocide.
"Up to now, states have behaved as if their peacekeepers operate with absolute immunity," said Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International's director of law and policy. "This decision establishes that no international peacekeeper can avoid responsibility for crimes under international law."
The civil suit against the Dutch government was brought by relatives of the three men killed in the Srebrenica genocide. They claimed that Rizo Mustafic, an electrician who assisted the Dutch troops, as well as two others, died because the Dutch battalion allowed them to leave the "safe area."
The court ruling noted that Dutch troops had previously witnessed "multiple incidents" of Bosnian Serb forces mistreating or killing men outside the "safe area." The decision could also lead to possible compensation from the Dutch government to surviving family members of others killed in the genocide.
Another case is pending before the Supreme Court by a group called the Mothers of Srebrenica. The group has demanded compensation from the Dutch authorities and the U.N. for having failed to protect them and their families from the Srebrenica genocide. In that case, the lower courts held that they could not hear the claim because they concluded that U.N. peacekeepers had immunity.
The Dutch government has faced several lawsuits in the past over the Srebrenica genocide, but this is the first time it has been found responsible for any of the deaths. Other attempts to hold international peacekeepers to account for human rights violations have been unsuccessful, including cases involving U.N. peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo.
"This case shows that courts are prepared to hold states accountable for the conduct of international peacekeepers," said Bochenek.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org