15 June, 2007

An interesting case to watch

From the International Security Network:

Relatives of the nearly 8,000 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys who were massacred in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995, have filed a lawsuit against the Dutch government and the UN, seeking compensation for failing to prevent the genocide.

The 228-page complaint accuses Dutch troops securing Srebrenica under a UN mandate of abandoning their positions when Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces approached on 11 July 1995, and handing thousands of men and boys over to be killed.

The lawsuit, prepared over the past six years, alleges that although the UN was aware of a pending Bosnian Serb military offensive at least two weeks before it began, neither the Dutch forces nor the UN took steps to save the local population of some 40,000, and were instead concerned only about the wellbeing of their own forces.

Munira Subasic, who lost 22 immediate and extended family members in the Srebrenica massacre, is the president of the Mothers of Srebrenica nongovernmental organization. Subasic accompanied some 300 women from Srebrenica to The Hague, where they handed over their complaint. The case will eventually be heard in a Hague district court.

"Western nations talk a lot about rule of law and justice, they write books and it is time for them to show that Europe really respects the law. And it is time for victims and their families to find their peace," Subasic told ISN Security Watch in a telephone interview.

A Bosnian and Dutch team of lawyers representing the plaintiffs base the case on Dutch, French and UN reports on the Srebrenica massacre. The lawyers say they will prove that the Dutch state and the UN were responsible for the fact that the enclave fell and genocide took place and therefore liable.

However, Dutch officials are transferring the blame to the UN, which allegedly failed to provide sufficient support to defend the town. Dutch officials say compensation claims should be directed at the perpetrators of the massacre, Bosnian Serbs, whose several high-ranking officers have been sentenced for their roles in the Srebrenica massacre.

For its part, the UN said last weekend that it was immune from legal action, citing Article 2 Section 2 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN.

"The survivors of the Srebrenica massacres are absolutely right to demand justice for the most heinous crimes committed on European soil since World War II […] but this immunity in no way diminishes the UN's commitment to assist the people of Srebrenica," UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe told a press conference.

Okabe also said that the UN is learning from its mistakes and would not rest "until it's fully equipped to prevent such tragedies from occurring in future within its peacekeepers' midst."

A Bosnian lawyer representing the victims, Semir Guzin, told ISN Security Watch that the UN's argument did not stand up to scrutiny because although the world body is granted immunity for the fulfillment of its goals, genocide in Srebrenica genocide was not one of those goals.

"The UN and the Dutch government breached their obligations to prevent genocide as laid down in the Genocide Convention, and there is no immunity for that," Guzin said.

"After all, isn't it hypocritical that the UN, as the world's main moral authority and leader of the fight for justice, is trying to avoid justice by playing the immunity card?" Guzin told ISN Security Watch.

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