THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The retired general who commanded Dutch peacekeepers in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica when Bosnian Serb fighters overran the town and massacred some 8,000 Muslim men won't be prosecuted for involvement in the slayings, authorities announced Thursday.
Relatives of three victims of the worst massacre in Europe since World War II wanted Gen. Thom Karremans held criminally responsible for their deaths, arguing that he turned them over to the Serbs when he should have offered them protection because they had worked for the peacekeepers.
But prosecutors said in a statement that Karremans and two other senior Dutch officers "cannot be held liable under criminal law for having been involved in the crimes committed by the Bosnian Serbian Army in July 1995 in Srebrenica."
The massacre and the Dutch peacekeepers' involvement in it has been a national trauma for the Netherlands, which has long prided itself on offering protection to endangered minorities. A national government resigned en masse after a critical report in 2002 and many of the ill-equipped troops who served in Srebrenica needed medical or psychological treatment when they got home.
Bosnian Serb forces separated the Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica from women and the elderly and then transported them away to remote sites dotted around the hills surrounding the town and summarily executed them before plowing their bodies into mass graves.
In a separate civil suit brought by the relatives of the three victims, a Hague appeals court ruled that the Dutch state is liable for the deaths and must pay compensation to the relatives. That judgment is under appeal at the Dutch Supreme Court.
In another case brought by a group called The Mothers of Srebrenica, the Dutch Supreme Court last year ruled that the United Nations had immunity from prosecution, saying that such legal protection was a key foundation stone to peacekeeping missions around the world.
Liesbeth Zegveld, the human rights lawyer who represents the victims' families, told The Associated Press she will appeal the decision not to launch a criminal case against the three officers.
Zegveld said prosecutors had "failed to do their job" by not sufficiently investigating the case and instead relying on public documents and including U.N. reports, an inquiry by the country's national war documentation center and testimony by Dutch soldiers before the U.N.'s Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, where the alleged architects of the massacre, former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic and his political boss, Radovan Karadzic are on trial for genocide.
Zegveld said that when one of the relatives heard Thursday's decision she asked simply, "Can we ever close this file? Will at some point anyone acknowledge what went wrong?"
Karremans, who no longer works for the Dutch military, could not be traced for comment. He reportedly now lives in retirement in Spain.
In a brief reaction, Defense Ministry spokesman Maarten Hilbrandie said, "It is good that this decision gives clarity to those involved."