Mothers of Srebrenica

By Uliana Ermolaeva 

It’s been 22 years’ since the end of the Srebrenica massacre with only some closure being recognised this year by a long-awaited sentence from The Court of Appeal in Den Haag.

Last month, the Court judgement awarded reparations to the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’; family members of 350 Bosniak men and boys who were evacuated from the UN/Dutchbat compound in July 1995. The Court’s decision comes after years of relentless requests of the community to determine the role and responsibility of the UN and the Netherlands in Srebrenica. An overview of the judgement can be found here.

Firstly, the judgement is curious in its reasoning with an unorthodox approach in apportioning the responsibility to compensate. The Court reasoned that allowing the men to remain inside the compound did not guaranteed their safety, but only gave them a better chance of surviving. Specifically, a 30% chance. The Court therefore found that the State (by its omission) left the male refugees with a 30% less chance of survival. The Court ordered that the State should pay compensation to the families of the men, to the extent of 30% of the damages suffered.

Secondly, in addition to the compensation, the Court ordered that a public acknowledgment of the unlawful conduct of the Dutchbat be made. For the unfamiliar, the Dutchbat was formed by approximately 400 soldiers deployed to Bosnia to secure a “safe” area in a rather unstable region in Servia where armed opposition groups were dominating in numbers and ammunition. The process of withdrawing the Dutchbat was a chaotic process, with conflicting orders coming from UN and the Dutch authorities inviting us to reflect on the difficult role of the soldiers who are obliged to maintain their strictly peacekeeping role in the controversial ‘safe areas’ where they can use force only limitedly  As a matter of fact, more than 100 Dutchbat veterans are currently suing the Dutch State for sending them to an ‘impossible mission’ while UN and the Netherlands try to dodge this issue through immunity policies and the ‘effective control doctrine’.

So, where does this sentence leave us?

The public acknowledgment of Dutch responsibility related to the Dutchbat is a slight win. A State publicly recognising its responsibility for a humanitarian tragedy could serve as a humble acknowledgement for other States to follow in similar footsteps.

For the victims, it is a rather bittersweet end with a cold calculation of the odds of death of their relatives and the lack of culpability for those responsible for the remaining 70% of the causes of death. It appears as though the Dutchbat has served as sort of a ‘scapegoat’; being blamed for a tragedy in which more actors were involved.

However, as we continue to progress, we can only hope that this judgement serves to encourages the notion that future peacekeeping missions should evolve with a more shared, proactive involvement by the UN and sending States to share in the victories, but also in the culpability for tragedies that often ensue in the chaos of conflict.  

(Photo credit: Photo, licensed under CC BYND 2.0, no changes)