A Dutch appeals court ruled on Wednesday that three former Dutchbat commanders will not be prosecuted for their role in the massacre of Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995.
Family members of three victims had asked the Dutch court to order the prosecution of Dutch commanding officer Thom Karremans, his deputy Rob Franken and personnel officer Berend Oosterveen, accusing them of knowingly allowing or forcing three Muslim men to leave the UN peacekeepers compound, which led to their deaths.
The three former UN Dutchbat commanders led the Dutch soldiers during the fall of the Muslim enclave. About 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered and buried in mass graves in mid-July 1995 at Srebrenica by Serb forces commanded by Ratko Mladic, himself now on trial for genocide and war crimes before the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
According to the court in Arnhem, prosecutors had made the right judgment in deciding last year not to prosecute the three soldiers for forcing two of the men to quit the compound after reaching terms with the Serbs. It held that there was no basis to assume that the three former commanders knew about the massacres that had taken place elsewhere (paragraph 9.3 of the ruling). Moreover, the former Dutchbat commanders had no knowledge at the time of the genocidal intent of the Bosnian Serbs (paragraph 11.1 of the ruling).
The court said that the commanders were not obliged to realise that Muhamed Nuhanovic, one of the victims, ran an appreciable chance of being murdered after leaving the compound.
Ibro Nuhanovic, another victim, voluntarily decided to leave the compound along with his wife and son. He had been one of the representatives who was present during a meeting with Dutchbat and general Mladic and on the basis of this involvement he was allowed to stay with Dutchbat. When he decided to leave the compound, he was told by Franken that he was allowed to stay. According to the court, Nuhanovic’s decision to leave was a brave decision, for which he deserves all respect, but it was his own decision, for which the accused cannot be held responsible.
The third victim, Rizo Mustafic, could also have remained in the compound as he was employed as an electrician by the Dutch battalion. However, he was told by Oosterveen, who was not aware that Mustafic was on the list of local employees that could stay with Dutchbat, that he had to leave the compound along with the other refugees. According to the court, Oosterveen made a “stupid mistake”, with terrible consequences. However, it held that there was no question of malicious intent. At most, Oosterveen could be prosecuted for manslaughter, but it added that the charge would have expired because of a statute of limitations.
Liesbeth Zegveld, the lawyer of one of the victims’ families, called the decision a sad day for judicial control of military operations and said that said that a similar case was being prepared to be taken shortly to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.
The Dutch Supreme Court had ruled in September 2009 that the Dutch State was liable for the deaths of the three victims and the Dutch government announced that it would pay the families 20,000 Euros each in compensation.