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Srebrenica Civil Action Suit Updates

July 10, 2008

h/t: Owen for keeping me up to date!

Article 1 of The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide states: “The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish. “  The treaty was originally approved December 9, 1948 by the Security Council and entered into force on January 12, 1951. The Netherlands joined this treaty by accession on June 20, 1966.

April 16, 1993, the UN established Srebrenica as a “safe haven”.   On July 11, 1995, under UN supervision Srebrenica would fall to the Bosnian Serb Army and over 8,000 unarmed men and boys would be handed over.  In 2004, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia unanimously ruled that the Srebrenica massacre was a genocide.  In 2007, the International Court of Justice confirmed that ruling.

The question now stands as to what happens when the UN fails to undertake preventing genocide.   The immediate answer to that question is that the UN claims immunity.  However, on June 19, 2008, an organization called the Mothers of Srebrenica, which represents 6,000 relatives of the victims of the Srebrenica genocide, asked the district court in the Hague to waive the UN’s immunity plea.

In November of 2007, the UN had let it be known outside of court proceedings held later in that month that it would invoke immunity and therefore would not attend the proceedings.  The court had at that time ruled in favor of the Mothers of Srebrenica and declared the UN in default after failure of appearance.  The State of the Netherlands had then asked the court to be allowed to plead the case of immunity on behalf of the UN.  While an extraordinary move, it is seen as a strategic position.  Establishing immunity for the UN would allow the State of the Netherlands to then shift the blame to the UN.

Today, the day before the 13th Anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre, the Dutch Court has ruled that it has no jurisdiction to hear a case against the UN.  However, the civil case against the Dutch state will proceed in September.

While this news, to quote Owen “wasn’t the most welcome news to receive the day before the anniversary commemoration” it wasn’t exactly unexpected either.  The lawyers of the plaintiff have said that they would appeal in regards to UN immunity.  The case could end up in the European Court of Human Rights.

Two similar cases were heard before the district court in the Hague on June 16, 2008.  These two cases were brought by Hasan Nuhanovic and the Mustafic family who accuse the Dutch state of failing to protect their relatives who were, in July of 1995, handed over by the Dutchbat UN contingent at Srebrenica to the Bosnian Serb Army.  The final verdict in regards to these two cases will be issued on September 10, 2008.

These three cases are landmark cases in the international law arena.   If an organization such as the UN cannot be held accountable for failing to yield its own conventions then what is going to ensure that they do enforce them?  If member states are able to use UN immunity as a scapegoat then what is going to ensure battalions will remain unbiased in conflicts?  What is going to keep another genocide from occurring when examples are being set that the UN is either hopeless or unwilling in fulfilling their mandates?  How likely is it that another group is willing to disarm while under the supposed protection of the UN?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2008 9:53 am

    What exactly does it mean to charge the UN? Is the person who made the decision to surrender Srebrenica being charged?

  2. July 11, 2008 2:15 pm

    It is a civil suit seeking damages – not a criminal suit. (did I say charged anywhere – let me know if I did so I can correct it)

  3. Owen permalink*
    September 11, 2008 2:30 pm

    Sergei, no-one made the decision to surrender Srebrenica. You may remember that Ratko Mladic’s heavily armed Bosnian Serb Army forces overran the enclave, disregarding the presence of the lightly armed and ineffective peace-keeping forces of UNPROFOR’s Dutchbat contingent.

    The population of the enclave fled, some through the woods, others followed the Dutch suggestion to move to Potocari close to the UNPROFOR compound.

    The Dutch allowed 5-6000 refugees into the compound then insisted that a further 25000 or so remain outside.

    When Mladic’s forces arrived the Dutch contingent assisted the Bosnian Serb Army separate the men and boys from the women and young children among the refugees outside the base.

    Then even though they had seen the evidence of the Bosnian Serbs raping some of the women and killing some of the men they ordered the refugees inside the compound – under their protection – to leave, effectively handing them over to what was for the men almost certain death.

    The Dutch State is being sued as a sovereign state by Hasan Nuhanovic and the family of Rizo Mustafic for the failure of Dutch troops to protect Hasan’s father, mother and brother and Rizo Mustafic from death when they were ordered out of the base. The UN as an international organisation is being sued by the Mothers of Srebrenica because it failed to provide the safety it had guaranteed the people of the “safe area” of Srebrenica.


  1. Global Voices Online » Bosnia and Herzegovina: Srebrenica Anniversary
  2. Global Voices بالعربية » البوسنة والهرسك: الذكرى السنوية لسريبرينيتسا
  3. Global Voices in Italiano » Bosnia Herzegovina: Anniversario di Srebrenica

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