Dutchbat III peacekeepers drop legal action against government
Men claim trauma and vilification arising from Srebrenica massacre in 1995
Bosnian Muslims, refugees from Srebrenica, go to be transported from the eastern Bosnian village of Potocari to Moslem-held Kladanj near Olovo, on July 13th, 1995. Photograph: Nick Sharp
Dutch soldiers who say they were traumatised and vilified after failing to protect the UN “safe haven” of Srebrenica in 1995 have abandoned a legal action against the Netherlands government for sending them on what it allegedly knew was an impossible mission.
“This was never about the money,” said their lawyer, Michael Ruperti. “These men need emotional, social, and, sometimes, financial support. We now finally trust that the department of defence will provide that support.”
More than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred at Srebrenica during the Bosnian War when the lightly-armed battalion of 230 Dutch peacekeepers – known as Dutchbat III – stood aside and the enclave was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces under Gen Ratko Mladic.
What followed was the worst mass killing on European soil since the second World War, and Gen Mladic – infamous as “the butcher of Bosnia” – was convicted and jailed for life last November on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity , a sentence now under appeal.
A damning official report in 2002 into the Dutch failure to stand their ground led to the fall of the government and the resignation of prime minister Wim Kok, who declared: “The international community has no face and cannot bear responsibility. I can and I will.”
In the years since, the Dutch supreme court has also ruled that the state was responsible for the deaths of three Muslim men who were turned out of their compound by the Dutchbat troops, who should have known, the judges said, that they would be killed.
The Netherlands accepted “a debt of honour” to the people of Srebrenica, and has paid at least €5 million a year since for the reconstruction of the town, to identify the remains of victims, and to promote reconciliation.
However, new information has led to substantial changes in the perception of what happened on July 11th, 1995 – and of whether the Dutch government did, indeed, leave its own troops in the lurch.
In 2015, former defence minister Joris Voorhoeve revealed in an angry TV interview that the Dutch had called for Nato air strikes 10 times – and, having being told that 40 aircraft were in the air, only four arrived and had minimal impact.
That led to further revelations, including the fact – confirmed by former Clinton adviser Sandy Berger – that the US, Britain and France had secretly agreed to end air strikes without telling the Dutch, because British and French peacekeepers had been taken hostage by the Serbs.
Mladic, however, was aware of that deal – and knew he would face no real opposition at Srebrenica.
The agreement with the Dutchbat veterans – who had claimed only a “symbolic” €22,000 each – is based on a promise by defence minister Ank Bijleveld to commission a report into their medical, mental and economic needs, and then to deal with those findings on a case-by-case basis.
“We were let down 23 years ago,” says Ronald Wentink, “and although we still need help, trust is hard to find.”