In 2 judgments issued today, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled that the Dutch state, whose troops withdrew from the U.N.-designated “safe area” of Srebrenica amid a Bosnian Serb attack, is liable for the deaths of 3 men whom the retreating troops left behind. The 3 victims were among thousands of Muslim boys and men massacred at Srebrenica in mid-July 1995. (Prior posts on Srebrenica here and here.)
As stated in the court’s English-language summary of the judgments:
‘The men had sought refuge in the compound of the Dutch battalion (Dutchbat). Dutchbat decided not to evacuate them along with the battalion and instead sent them away from the compound on 13 July 1995. Outside the compound they were murdered by the Bosnian-Serb army or related paramilitary groups.’
The questions before the high court were whether the Dutch battalion’s actions could be attributed to the Dutch state, and if so, did the battalion act wrongfully? The court answered “Yes” to both. (credit for photo of Supreme Court building at The Hague) In so doing, it exercised a notably searching scrutiny of troop conduct; in the words of the court’s summary:
‘[J]udicial restraint in the review of Dutchbat’s conduct, as advocated by the State, would mean that there would be virtually no scope for the courts to assess the conduct of a troop contingent in the context of a peace mission. According to the Supreme Court, this is unacceptable. However, a court that assesses the conduct of a troop contingent in retrospect must make allowance for the fact the decisions in question were taken under great pressure in a war situation.’
The court’s findings pave the way for damages claims by survivors.