The Hague / Göttingen, 10 September 2008
Decision due on 10.9.2008 at The Hague in first civil court action brought by Srebrenica survivors against Dutch state
Why were Ibro, Nasiha and Muhamed Nuhanovic and Rizo Mustafic sent to their deaths when the United Nations had promised to ensure their safety?
Today the Netherlands District Court in The Hague will deliver its verdict on whether the Dutch state and its contingent of United Nations peace-keeping troops can be held responsible for handing over Bosnian refugees who had looked to them for protection to be murdered by Serb soldiers in July 1995.
"We hope that the Dutch government, along with the international community, will finally accept responsibility for the deaths of 8376 men and boys from the town and for their surviving relatives", declared GfbV/STP General Secretary Tilman Zülch, speaking in Göttingen, Germany, today. "The eyes and thoughts of all the survivors of the massacre who hold the Dutch UN troops and the Dutch government responsible for the the death of their defenceless relatives are focused on The Hague. The judges must not disappoint them."
In July 1995 Bosnians who had sought refuge In the UN forces' base at Potocari were ordered by Dutch UN peacekeepers to leave the safety of the base and sent to face the prospect of certain death with Bosnian refugees already being killed and raped by Serb soldiers only a few metres outside the area under UN protection . The UN forces even denied protection to Bosnians who were known personally to them and to the family of their interpreter.
Six years ago the family of electrician Rizo Mustafic, who was murdered at Srebrenica, and Hasan Nuhanovic, whose parents and brother were also among those killed, began their civil action in the District Court at The Hague. They sought to hold the Dutch state accountable for the failings of the Dutch UN battalion. What the court has to determine is whether the Dutch government and the Dutch command within UNPROFOR should be held accountable for the shameful conduct of Dutch forces who were more concerned for their own safety than they were for the protection of the civilians in their care.
Hasan Nuhanovic lost his parents and his younger brother. His father's remains have been found in a mass grave and identified but the fate of his mother and brother remains unknown. Many mass graves were subsequently dug up by Serb troops using bulldozers to conceal the evidence. The remains were reburied elsewhere.
Alma Mustafic, daughter of the murdered Rizo Mustafic, has written to GfbV that, "Deep in my heart I am hoping that the court will deliver a just verdict and that these crimes will not be trivialised or denied."
Background: the tragedy of the Nuhanovic family:
Hasan Nuhanovic spent the night of 12-13 July 1995 with his parents and brother in a makeshift office on the UNPROFOR base at Potocari, on the outskirts of Srebrenica, working to the orders of the Dutch officer Andre de Haan. De Haan, who was staying in the same room with them and a doctor and nurse, had in the past been a welcome guest of the family and had enjoyed Mrs Nuhanovic's cooking . Nevertheless he did nothing to help her as she came close to breaking down on hearing that nine men had been killed in the area in front of the UNPROFOR base . The following morning, between 5 and 6 a.m., de Haan said, "Hasan, tell your mother, your brother and your father they must leave the base.“
Nuhanovic has painstakingly researched the story of the terrible events at Srebrenica which he documented in meticulous detail in his 550-page book, "Under the UN Flag", before taking his case to court.
Jasna Causevic, GfbV/STP's Southern Europe desk officer, can be contacted in The Hague by telephone on 0179 524 35 38.
Amsterdam, 8 September 2008:
DISTRICT COURT'S RULING AWAITED ON THE DUTCH STATE'S FAILURE TO PROTECT CIVILIAN REFUGEES FROM GENOCIDE AT SREBRENICA
Judgment in two civil actions due to be given at 10 a.m. on 10 September 2008 in the District Court at The Hague (Prins Clauslaan 60, The Hague, Netherlands).
On 10 September 2008 the District Court at The Hague will give its decision in the first civil actions brought against the Dutch State by relatives of the victims of genocide at Srebrenica. Hasan Nuhanovic and the family of Rizo Mustafic are seeking to establish that the Dutch state is responsible for the failure of Dutch troops acting under a United Nations mandate to protect their family members who were massacred at Srebrenica in July 1995.
Hasan Nuhanovic, a U.N. interpreter who lost his father, mother and younger brother, and the family of Rizo Mustafic, an electrician employed by the Dutch battalion of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), claim that the Dutch government failed to protect the lives of their relatives after the safe area established by U.N. Security Council Resolution around the town of Srebrenica in Eastern Bosnia was allowed to fall into the hands of the Bosnian Serb Army.
The Nuhanovic and Mustafic families were among thousands of refugees who sought protection inside the compound of the U.N. base at Potocari but were handed over by the Dutch UNPROFOR forces to Serb General Ratko Mladic. Dutch soldiers in U.N. blue helmets are alleged to have watched on as women and young girls were taken away and raped and men and boys separated before being taken away for summary execution.
In a tort action against the Dutch state in which much of the legal debate has revolved around the division of responsibility between the United Nations and national states, the plaintiffs' lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld has argued that the Dutch government and the Dutch command within UNPROFOR were responsible for the gross negligence shown by Dutch troops, they were primarily concerned for the safety of their national contingent and they showed scant regard for the safety of the civilian population entrusted to their care.
The families have been concerned above all to establish the truth about why Ibro, Nasiha and Muhamed Nuhanovic and Rizo Mustafic were sent to their deaths in brutal circumstances when the United Nations had promised to ensure their safety.
The final hearing before the District Court on 16 June 2008 took place before the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, President of the Bosnian Serb Republika Srpska. Since the hearing Karadzic has been charged with responsibility for the genocide at Srebrenica and is currently in The Hague awaiting trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
Prof. Dr Liesbeth Zegveld, Böhler Franken Koppe Wijngaarden (BFKW) , Attorneys, Keizersgracht 560-562, Amsterdam 1017 EM, Tel.: +31 20 - 344 62 00, Fax: +31 20 - 344 62 01, e-mail:
Prof. Dr. Liesbeth Zegveld studied law at Utrecht. She obtained her doctorate with distinction in 2000 and was sworn in as an attorney in Amsterdam the same year. In 2005 she became a partner at Böhler Franken Koppe Wijngaarden, where she is a member of the international law & human rights department. She has written many articles on issues in the field of international humanitarian law. She is a guest lecturer at the University of Amsterdam and a member of the International Law Association's Committee for Compensation for War Victims. In September 2006 she was appointed professor of International Humanitarian Law, in particular the Rights of Women and Children, at Leiden University.