How Netherlands expunged responsibility for genocide in Srebrenica

Aurora Weiss, IDN-InDepthNews.

Thousands of people converged on the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica on July 11 to mark the 27th anniversary of Europe’s only acknowledged genocide since the Holocaust. While thousands of Bosniaks grieve over the more than 8,000 loved ones killed by the Serbs, the Netherlands erases its responsibility for the genocide more and more every year. Srebrenica is a missing chapter in Dutch history.

Research shows that more than 70 per cent of young people in the Netherlands between the ages of 16 and 29 do not know what happened in Srebrenica. The chapter on participation in the Bosniak genocide was missing from Dutch history books. The Bosnian community has provided more information about the largest genocide since World War II in the literature on the Dutch education system. Even 27 years after the massacre, the victims’ families and survivors are fighting to be seen and heard. What they are asking from the Dutch Government is to personally go to the commemoration in Srebrenica and express their regret.

In 2019, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that the Dutch state was partially responsible for the death of 350 Bosniaks in Srebrenica. They were expelled from the UN safe zone under the control of the Dutch military contingent in 1995, liquidated by Bosnian-Serb police and the army forces.

In 2014, the High Court ruled that the Netherlands was 30 per cent to blame, but after an appeal, the Supreme Court reduced that figure to only 10 per cent.

Two years ago, Prime Minister Mark Rutte, on the “Day of Remembrance of the Genocide in Srebrenica”, expressed his remorse and regretted the terrible event with a video link on all media channels, including social networks. On July 11, the day of remembrance for the victims, that was missing. Two years ago, Prime Minister Mark Rutte, on the occasion of the “Day of Remembrance of the Genocide in Srebrenica”, expressed his remorse and regret for the terrible event with a video link on all media channels, including social networks. On July 11, the day of remembrance of the victims, that was missing.

But he apologized to the hundreds of Dutch soldiers who were sent to defend the enclave of Srebrenica during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. Rutte admitted that the Dutchbat III unit had been given an “impossible task” of keeping the peace in eastern Bosnia without sufficient fire- and manpower. The Netherlands has always insisted that its lightly armed troops were abandoned by the UN, which did not provide them air support.

Alma Mustafic (41) was separated from her father at 14, and it was the last time she saw him. She told the Dutch media that the delegation’s visit and education would be a gesture with which the Dutch would show that they do not turn their heads from responsibility for the genocide.

“By talking about what happened and the genocide after the Second World War, we can prevent something like this from happening again on the European continent,” Mustafic told the Dutch media.

However, the event also affected the Dutch soldiers who were held responsible. Before their eyes, around 30,000 Bosniak women and children were deported in just three days. Thousands of women and girls were raped, and 8,372 men and boys were killed.

“If I were the prime minister, I would be much more open about what happened. Recognition is needed; it would change a lot. However, in the Netherlands, it’s tough to self-reflect. I know other soldiers who are still struggling with it. I never had the feeling that we could have done more than what was done. Many ask themself how we could have reacted, but at that moment, we were overwhelmed. It was absolute chaos,” veteran Liesbeth Beukeboom, who witnessed the event as part of Dutchbat III, recalls for the Dutch media.

Because of Srebrenica, the entire Dutch government resigned

The elimination of people took place before the eyes of the Dutchbat, the Dutch battalion of the UN whose task was to protect civilians. ‘Srebrenica’ was the biggest genocide in Europe after the Second World War. Forensic investigations continued to uncover new mass graves in the years that followed.

‘Srebrenica’ has also become the most debated issue in Dutch politics regarding international protection and peacekeeping. In April 2002, a comprehensive government commissioned NIOD report was published. The report on the role of the Netherlands in the massacre in Srebrenica in 2002 resulted in the resignation of the entire Dutch government.

In 2011, the Supreme Court in The Hague ruled that the victims’ families are entitled to compensation from the Dutch state because the Netherlands (Dutchbat) failed to protect their family members. In 2015, NIOD received a new investigative task from the government regarding the circumstances of the fall of Srebrenica.

Bosnian- Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, were both convicted of and sentenced for genocide in Srebrenica by a special UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. In all, the tribunal and courts in the Balkans have sentenced close to 50 Bosnian-Serb wartime officials to more than 700 years in prison for the Srebrenica killings.

Hasan Nuhanović, witness to the genocide: On July 13, the UN soldiers had a party. He survived the genocide in Srebrenica and ran the “For truth and justice” campaign on behalf of other survivors and relatives of the victims. He is the author of the book “Under the UN Flag”. He is also known for suing the Kingdom of the Netherlands for responsibility for his family members’ death; after more than ten years, he won a verdict.

Nuhanović, the Dutchbat translator at that time, witnessed how the city was falling and how the responsible people at the UN base were not doing enough to save the town and protect civilians. He witnessed the arrival of around 30,000 refugees in Potočare who sought salvation in the UN security zone.

He made a plan with a few people on how to protect the civilians, but he did not find understanding with the mayor of UNPROFOR, Tom Karremans.

After meeting with Ratko Mladic and returning to the base, the Dutch battalion delivered all the men and boys to the executioners over the next three days.

People were also killed near the base. The Dutch were looking at the dead bodies, and sixteen years later, the Dutch veterans spoke out about the fact that they buried some bodies inside the “UN security zone” in Potočari.

Hasan Nuhanović was one of the key witnesses who said that Dutch officers ordered their soldiers not to carry rifles, body armour, or helmets outside.

“Those who were inside and who were forcing the people out, into the hands of the Chetniks (Serbian) forces were in full military gear, armed. Therefore, the Dutch carried out the expulsion from the security zone with weapons,” Nuhanovic emphasized in his media appearances, highlighting the Dutch participation in the genocide. For him, it was a thin, fragile line that separated the role and guilt of UNPROFOR, that is, the Dutch, from the responsibility of the perpetrators of genocide.

When they delivered everything to the Chetniks, including Hasan’s parents and younger brother, 29 Bosniaks remained in the base. Most of them worked for international organizations.

“On the night of July 13, when they got rid of the refugees, the UN soldiers had a party. They listened to music and drank beer,” Hasan witnessed this with his own eyes and was shocked.

In his media appearances, he says that he heard the shots of Serbian soldiers around: most of the men had not yet been killed at that moment, and that means they could have been saved. This motivated him to devote his entire life to the search for the truth and the fight to bring everyone’s responsibility to justice.

Meeting between Mladić and Karremans: “I’m a piano player. Don’t shoot the piano player.”

Photos speak more than a thousand words. The picture of Ratko Mladic sipping wine with the commander of the Dutch peacekeeping forces in Srebrenica shortly after the fall of the United Nations “safe area” on July 11, 1995. is just one such piece of historical evidence.

Then the commander of the Dutch troops in Srebrenica, Thom Karremans, apologized to Mladic for briefly opening fire in a last-ditch attempt to deter Bosnian-Serb forces from entering the enclave. He portrayed himself as a humble “pianist” performing a score designed by others.

” I’m a piano player. Don’t shoot the piano player,” pleaded the Dutch peacekeeper, apparently hoping to lighten the mood, witnesses said.

“You are a bad pianist,” responded Mladic, before offering Karremans a cigarette and a drink.

During the court hearing for participation in the genocide, it was established that Karremans was under considerable personal and psychological pressure at the time he was appointed commander of the Dutch peacekeeping battalion, or Dutchbat, in Srebrenica. According to his superior officer, General Hans Cousy, he was in the process of an unpleasant divorce and was not entirely focused on his military duties.

Karremans left most of the decisions regarding the Srebrenica to his deputy, Major Robert Franken. Last year, a Dutch appeals court found that both Karremans and Franken had reason to believe that Serbs had killed at least some of the civilians by the late afternoon of July 13.

Today retired lieutenant colonel Franken also recalled how Serbian forces forbade members of UNPROFOR to accompany convoys with exiles from Srebrenica. After a few days, he signed a document as a representative of the UN in which the Army of Republika Srpska stated – that the Bosniak civilians left voluntarily.

The appeals court’s ruling said the Dutchbat command violated a standing order from the Dutch Ministry of Defense not to “send” aid recipients anywhere if such action would expose them to “physical threat.” It also cited a fax-text to Karremans from his superior officer on July 11 instructing him to “take all reasonable measures to protect refugees and civilians in your care.”

The Canadians reacted differently in the military operation ”Storm” and protected Serbian civilians.

It is essential to mention how other United Nations commanders reacted differently when faced with similar situations. In August 1995, a month after the events in Srebrenica, around 700 Serbs sought protection at the United Nations base in Knin (Croatia) after the Croatian army liberated the area from Serbian control in Operation Storm. Croatian generals demanded that the refugees be “screened” for alleged war criminals – the same argument Ratko Mladic used in Srebrenica. The commander of Canadian peacekeeping forces, General Alain Forand, rejected the Croatian request.

At the Hague Tribunal, it was stated that Canadian peacekeepers would be violating the “Charter of the United Nations” if they allowed Knin refugees to be subjected to “arbitrary arrest or detention” by Croatian forces to be investigated alleged war crimes. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 July 2022]

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