THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Dutch government put the safety of its own troops ahead of that of Bosnian Muslims during the Srebrenica massacre, lawyers for relatives of thousands of victims of the 1995 slaughter told a court Monday in a civil suit.
The government rejected that charge and countered that it had no official control of its troops because they were "blue helmets" taking part in a United Nations peacekeeping mission during the Bosnian war.
The comments came in the latest legal battle in the Netherlands over the country's responsibility in Europe's worst massacre since World War II. Some 6,000 relatives of the approximately 8,000 men and boys slain by Bosnian Serb forces in the Srebrenica safe haven in July 1995 are seeking to hold the Dutch government liable because its troops failed to prevent the slayings.
A handful of the relatives listened to the proceedings at The Hague District Court via a simultaneous translation. They sat stoically, mostly in silence, but occasionally responding angrily to the government lawyer's comments.
"This is also an opportunity for the Dutch people to recognize the responsibility of their politicians and soldiers in the genocide of Srebrenica," said one of the "Mothers of Srebrenica" Munira Subasic. "This is also an opportunity for the (Dutch) ministry of defense to reclaim their military honor."
Lawyers for the relatives are demanding compensation in a case that could set legal precedents for other peacekeeping missions.
Dutch government lawyer Bert-Jan Houtzagers insisted the Dutch forces did all they could and the government was not in a position to issue orders.
"They were troops in blue helmets ... exclusively under U.N. command and control," he told the three-judge panel.
If judges accept that argument when they deliver their judgment later this year, it could leave the relatives with no more legal avenues; Dutch judges threw out attempts by the women to also sue the United Nations, saying the world body has legal immunity.