Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Courtside: Srebrenica Case

By Chris Stephen in The Hague (TU No. 288, 4 - 8 November, 2002)

A committee sitting in The Hague will hear evidence from more than 20 witnesses - possibly including Wim Cok, who was Dutch prime minister at the time of the massacre.

In April, the Dutch cabinet resigned en masse when an independent report found the government was partly responsible for allowing the massacre to happen.

More than 7,000 Muslim men were killed by Bosnian Serb forces after they overran the town of Srebrenica, an enclave in eastern Bosnia, in July 1995.

A battalion of Dutch troops was guarding the town but surrendered to the Serb forces and handed over thousands of Muslim men, who were later executed.

While the April inquiry has found collective responsibility, the current committee is looking at individual responsibility and will be interviewing key officials involved at the time - including former army generals.

The committee will finish interviews in December and will report on January 27. Its findings will be closely watched by relatives of the murdered men to see if they allow them to launch compensation cases against the Netherlands.

Srebrenica has gone down as a day of infamy, not just for Holland but for the United Nations in general.

The Dutch battalion stationed in the pocket was designed as a trip-wire force and lacked the heavy weapons necessary to fight off a Serb attack.

When Serb forces launched an offensive against the town, Dutch commanders repeatedly asked the UN to authorise air strikes. One attack was made, in which a Dutch plane destroyed a single Serb tank.

But UN commanders then ruled out further strikes, leaving its officers on the ground to decide resistance would be ineffective.

Nevertheless, the manner of their surrender has caused controversy. Armoured vehicles were handed over to the Serbs without being immobilised by their crews. When these were later driven along local back roads, a number of Muslims emerged from their hiding places as they believed them to be under UN control.

Three years later, these same vehicles were used again by Serb forces - this time by Yugoslav army units fighting against ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Kosovo.

Chris Stephen is IWPR Bureau Chief in The Hague.

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