A court on Wednesday found the Netherlands' government liable in the deaths of 300 Muslim men and boys handed over to Bosnian Serbs in July 1995 by Dutch troops assigned to protect the embattled Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica.
The 300 Muslims killed were among thousands of Srebrenica refugees sheltering at the Potocari compound that was the base for the Dutch battalion of a United Nations peacekeeping force tasked with protecting the U.N.-designated haven during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
More than 7,000 other Muslim men and boys were rounded up and killed by Bosnian Serb forces after fleeing the July 11, 1995, fall of Srebrenica but failing to gain refuge at the U.N. compound. A ruling in a previous case brought by survivors of those massacre victims outside the U.N. troops' protection said the Dutch government wasn't responsible for their fate.
In the case brought by the Mothers of Srebrenica group that was decided Wednesday in The Hague, Presiding Judge Larissa Alwin said a distinction had to be made for those who were physically under the Dutch troops' protection.
"By cooperating in the deportation of these men, Dutchbat acted unlawfully," Alwin said, ruling that the Dutch troops who handed over those in their care to Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic on July 13, 1995, should have known the males among them would be executed.
"Dutchbat should have taken into account the possibility that these men would be the victim of genocide and that it can be said with sufficient certainty that, had Dutchbat allowed them to stay at the compound, these men would have remained alive," the Dutchnews.nl website said of the ruling.
The court said in its ruling that relatives of the 300 victims were due compensation from the Dutch government, although the case may be appealed.
The ruling didn't specify the compensation, but an appellate court last year awarded $27,400 to the families of each of three massacre victims who had been handed over to the Serbs from similar protective shelter.
Wednesday's ruling said the Dutch government could not be considered liable for the wider massacre that took the lives of as many as 8,000 Muslim men and boys, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II. The exact number of Srebrenica males executed has never been established as the bodies were buried in mass graves, which were dug up and relocated by the perpetrators in efforts to hide the atrocity.
A leader of the Mothers of Srebrenica group, Munira Subasic, lamented the limited assignment of responsibility to the Dutch peacekeepers for the deaths of their relatives.
"Obviously the court has no sense of justice," Subasic was quoted as saying to the Associated Press after the ruling. "How is it possible to divide victims, and tell one mother that the Dutch state is responsible for the death of her son on one side of the wire and not for the son on the other side?"
Mladic and Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic spent more than a decade as fugitives from justice after the U.N. Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia indicted them for war crimes, including genocide. Both were eventually arrested and extradited to the war crimes court in The Hague, where they are now on trial.