On Monday 16 June 2008, the District Court of The Hague heard a civil case against the Dutch state relating to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The case was filed by Hasan Nuhanović, a UN interpreter, and by the family of Rizo Mustafić who worked as an electrician for the Dutch UN Battalion at Srebrenica in 1995.
Rizo Mustafić and the parents and brother of Nuhanović were among approximately 8,000 Bosnian Muslims who lost their lives in the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995. The lawyers for Nuhanović and the Mustafić family claim, inter alia, that the Dutch State committed war crimes, was involved in genocide and violated fundamental human rights by handing their family members over to the (Bosnian-Serb) enemy.
Defence counsel for the Dutch government pleaded that the United Nations—and not the Netherlands—was in ‘operational’ command of the Dutch UN battalion defending Srebrenica. Although lawyers for Nuhanović and the Mustafić family did not deny that the UN may have operational command in such situations nowadays, they asserted that this was not the case in 1995. According to Article 97(2) of the Dutch Constitution, the Dutch Government has superior command (‘oppergezag’) over Dutch military forces. Professor Liesbeth Zegveldt, a prominent international humanitarian law specialist acting on behalf of the families in the case, argued that the Dutch Minister of Defence was also the de facto operational commander of the battalion.
Professor Zegveldt reminded the Court that in 2002 the Dutch Government resigned due to the Srebrenica tragedy after a report blamed politicians for sending the Dutch UN troops on an ‘impossible mission’. In the same year the UN refused to recognise responsibility for the decisions taken at Srebrenica.
The District Court is expected to issue a ruling on 10 September 2008.
From Wednesday 18 June onwards, similar issues will play a major role in another civil case when the same District Court begins its hearing in a case brought by a group of plaintiffs known as the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’. The Mothers of Srebrenica represents some 6,000 women who lost family members during the Srebrenica genocide in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. They filed a civil law suit to receive compensation and acknowledgement from the Government of the Netherlands and the UN.
This case has already drawn considerable international attention because of the general issue of liability for acts related to UN peacekeeping and peace-enforcement missions.
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