Court: Dutch liable for 300 Srebrenica deaths

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Court: Dutch liable for 300 Srebrenica deaths
Women from the Bosnian town of Srebrenica stand as judges enter a civil court in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. A court has cleared the Netherlands of liability in the deaths of the vast majority of the 8,000 Bosnian Muslims slain in the Srebrenica massacre 19 years ago, but says it has to compensate the families of more than 300 men turned over to Bosnian Serb forces and later killed. The decision was a victory for only a fraction of the families of men and boys slain in the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia. In an emotionally charged hearing judges said Dutch U.N. peacekeepers should have known that more than 300 men deported from the Dutch compound by Bosnian Serb forces on July 13, 1995, would be slain. (AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis)
Women from the Bosnian town of Srebrenica wait for judges to enter a civil court in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. A court has cleared the Netherlands of liability in the deaths of the vast majority of the 8,000 Bosnian Muslims slain in the Srebrenica massacre 19 years ago, but says it has to compensate the families of more than 300 men turned over to Bosnian Serb forces and later killed. The decision was a victory for only a fraction of the families of men and boys slain in the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia. In an emotionally charged hearing judges said Dutch U.N. peacekeepers should have known that more than 300 men deported from the Dutch compound by Bosnian Serb forces on July 13, 1995, would be slain. (AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis)
Women from the Bosnian town of Srebrenica sit on a bench as one of them makes a phone call after a verdict at a civil court in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. A court has cleared the Netherlands of liability in the deaths of the vast majority of the 8,000 Bosnian Muslims slain in the Srebrenica massacre 19 years ago, but says it has to compensate the families of more than 300 men turned over to Bosnian Serb forces and later killed. The decision was a victory for only a fraction of the families of men and boys slain in the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia. In an emotionally charged hearing judges said Dutch U.N. peacekeepers should have known that more than 300 men deported from the Dutch compound by Bosnian Serb forces on July 13, 1995, would be slain. (AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis)
Women from the Bosnian town of Srebrenica wait for judges to enter a civil court in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. A Dutch court has declared the country liable in the deaths of more than 300 Bosnian Muslim men murdered by Bosnian Serb forces in the United Nations-declared Srebrenica "safe haven" 19 years ago and ordered the government to pay compensation to their widows and families. The decision was only a partial victory for families of some 8,000 men slain in the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre. In an emotionally charged hearing judges said that Dutch UN peacekeepers should have known that more than 300 men deported from the Dutch compound by Bosnian Serb forces on July 13, 1995, would be murdered. (AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis)
A woman from the Bosnian town of Srebrenica is embraced by her lawyer at a civil court in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. A Dutch court has declared the country liable in the deaths of more than 300 Bosnian Muslim men murdered by Bosnian Serb forces in the United Nations-declared Srebrenica "safe haven" 19 years ago and ordered the government to pay compensation to their widows and families. The decision was only a partial victory for families of some 8,000 men slain in the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre. In an emotionally charged hearing judges said that Dutch UN peacekeepers should have known that more than 300 men deported from the Dutch compound by Bosnian Serb forces on July 13, 1995, would be murdered. (AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis)
Bosnian Muslim women rest near a gravestone during a funeral in Srebrenica, Bosnia on Friday July 11, 2014. The eastern, Muslim-majority town of Srebrenica was a U.N.-protected area besieged by Serb forces throughout Bosnia's 1992-95 war. But U.N. troops offered no resistance when the Serbs overran the town, rounding up the Muslims and killing the males. An international court later labeled the slayings as genocide. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)
A Bosnian Muslim woman cries near coffins during a memorial ceremony and funeral in Srebrenica, Bosnia, Friday, July 11, 2014. Thousands of people gathered at the Potocari Memorial Center for a memorial ceremony and funeral of 175 victims of Europe's worst massacre since World War II. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)
Bosnian Muslim men carry coffins during a funeral in Srebrenica, Bosnia on Friday July 11, 2014. The eastern, Muslim-majority town of Srebrenica was a U.N.-protected area besieged by Serb forces throughout Bosnia's 1992-95 war. But U.N. troops offered no resistance when the Serbs overran the town, rounding up the Muslims and killing the males. An international court later labeled the slayings as genocide. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)
Bosnian Muslim people attend prayer during a funeral in Srebrenica, Bosnia on Friday July 11, 2014. The eastern, Muslim-majority town of Srebrenica was a U.N.-protected area besieged by Serb forces throughout Bosnia's 1992-95 war. But U.N. troops offered no resistance when the Serbs overran the town, rounding up the Muslims and killing the males. An international court later labeled the slayings as genocide. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)
Bosnian Muslim people attend prayer during a funeral in Srebrenica, Bosnia on Friday July 11, 2014. The eastern, Muslim-majority town of Srebrenica was a U.N.-protected area besieged by Serb forces throughout Bosnia's 1992-95 war. But U.N. troops offered no resistance when the Serbs overran the town, rounding up the Muslims and killing the males. An international court later labeled the slayings as genocide. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)
Bosnian Muslim woman Senija Rizvanovic cries near the graves of her two sons in Srebrenica, Bosnia, Friday, July 11, 2014. The eastern, Muslim-majority town of Srebrenica was a U.N.-protected area besieged by Serb forces throughout Bosnia's 1992-95 war. But U.N. troops offered no resistance when the Serbs overran the town, rounding up the Muslims and killing the males. An international court later labeled the slayings as genocide. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)
Judges, rear, enter a courtroom in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday, April 7, 2014, as defense lawyer Gert-Jan Houtzagers, left, for the Dutch state and lawyers for the plaintiffs, right, stand up. Mothers and widows of men murdered in Europe's worst massacre since World War II are suing the Dutch government for failing to protect their husbands and sons during the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. The civil case starting Monday in the courtroom focuses on the failure of Dutch troops serving as United Nations peacekeepers to protect Muslim men in the protected enclave in eastern Bosnia from rebel Serbs who overran the town and killed some 8,000 men and boys. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
UNHCR goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie, left, accompanied with British Foreign Secretary William Hague pay respect to victims at memorial center of Potocari near eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica, 180 kms northeast of Sarajevo, on Friday, March 28, 2014. British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Hollywood star Angelina Jolie addressed a conference organized in Sarajevo by Bosnia's Defense Ministry on sexual violence in conflict. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)
THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS - JULY 16: Relatives of the Srebrenica victims and members of ''Mothers of Srebrenica'' association react outside after Dutch court announced of the verdict in a case against the Dutch government in The Hague, Netherlands on July, 16 2014. Dutch court rules the Netherlands is liable for the 1995 massacre of Bosnians at Srebrenica. (Photo by Yasin Yagci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS - JULY 16: Relatives of the Srebrenica victims and members of ''Mothers of Srebrenica'' association react outside after Dutch court announced of the verdict in a case against the Dutch government in The Hague, Netherlands on July, 16 2014. Dutch court rules the Netherlands is liable for the 1995 massacre of Bosnians at Srebrenica. (Photo by Yasin Yagci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS - JULY 16: Relatives of the Srebrenica victims and members of ''Mothers of Srebrenica'' association stand outside after Dutch court announced of the verdict in a case against the Dutch government in The Hague, Netherlands on July, 16 2014. Dutch court rules the Netherlands is liable for the 1995 massacre of Bosnians at Srebrenica. (Photo by Yasin Yagci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Bosnian woman, member of the Srebrenica Mothers Association, is hugged by an unidentified relative after the announcement of the verdict in a court case against the Dutch government on July, 16 2014 in The Hague, Netherlands. The court ruled Wednesday that the Dutch state was liable for the deaths of over 300 victims of the Srebrenica massacre, the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II. Families of the victims had brought a case the Dutch government over the 1995 killings, accusing Dutch UN peacekeepers of failing to protect the 8,000 Muslim men and boys slaughtered by ethnic Serb troops just a few months before the end of the Bosnian war. AFP PHOTO / ANP / BART MAAT netherlands out (Photo credit should read BART MAAT/AFP/Getty Images)
SREBRENICA, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - JULY 13: Relatives of the Srebrenica victims visit old Pilica cultural centre where more than 500 Bosniaks were executed by Serbians during the Srebrenica massacre, the second biggest genocide was experienced after Second World War, on July 13, 2014. (Photo by Ismail Duru/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BRATUNAC, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - JULY 13: Survivors and relatives of the Srebrenica victims visit Kravica concentration camp where more than one thousand Bosniaks were executed by firing squad during the Srebrenica massacre, the second biggest genocide was experienced after Second World War, on July 13, 2014. (Photo by Ismail Duru/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SREBRENICA, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - JULY 13: Relatives of the Srebrenica victims visit old Pilica cultural centre where more than 500 Bosniaks were executed by Serbians during the Srebrenica massacre, the second biggest genocide was experienced after Second World War, on July 13, 2014. (Photo by Ismail Duru/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BRATUNAC, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - JULY 13: Survivors and relatives of the Srebrenica victims visit Kravica concentration camp where more than one thousand Bosniaks were executed by firing squad during the Srebrenica massacre, the second biggest genocide was experienced after Second World War, on July 13, 2014. (Photo by Ismail Duru/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BRATUNAC, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - JULY 13: Survivors and relatives of the Srebrenica victims visit Kravica concentration camp where more than one thousand Bosniaks were executed by firing squad during the Srebrenica massacre, the second biggest genocide was experienced after Second World War, on July 13, 2014. (Photo by Ismail Duru/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS - JULY 11 : People gather to mark 19th anniversary of Srebrenica massacre in the Hague, Netherlands on July 11, 2014. (Photo by Yasin Yagci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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By MIKE CORDER

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) - A court on Wednesday ordered the Netherlands to compensate the families of more than 300 Bosnian Muslims killed after Dutch troops handed them over to Bosnian Serb forces in 1995, in a ruling that could make countries more leery to contribute troops to peacekeeping missions.

The civil court in The Hague cleared the Netherlands of liability in the massacre of nearly 8,000 others, saying that although those people sought protection in the U.N. safe haven of Srebrenica they were never directly in the custody of the Dutch troops.

The ruling could be appealed, however, meaning it's unlikely to resolve the Dutch national trauma over the country's role in the worst massacre on European soil since World War II.

The court ruled that the Dutch peacekeeping troops could have protected the 300-plus men and boys who were among thousands of Muslims - mainly women, children and elderly people - taking shelter in a Dutch compound inside the U.N.-declared safe haven of Srebrenica.

The troops - part of a Dutch U.N. battalion known as Dutchbat - handed over those in the compound two days after the town fell. The Bosnian Serb troops then killed the Muslim men and boys, who "would have survived if Dutchbat had acted properly," said Presiding Judge Larissa Alwin.

The court said the Netherlands could not be held responsible for people who had taken shelter in the town but who were not inside the Dutch compound. Those included thousands of other Bosnian Muslim men and boys who fled into the nearby forests when the town fell and were later rounded up and killed by Bosnian Serb forces.

"Dutchbat cannot be held liable for their fate," the ruling read.

In an emotionally charged hearing attended by a handful of victims' relatives, Alwin said the peacekeepers should have known that the men taken from the compound would be slain because there was already evidence of the Serbs committing war crimes.

"By cooperating in the deportation of these men, Dutchbat acted unlawfully," Alwin said.

On July 13, 1995, the peacekeepers bowed to pressure from Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Gen. Ratko Mladic and forced thousands of Muslim families out of their fenced-off compound.

The Bosnian Serb forces sorted the Muslims by gender, then trucked the males away and began killing them in what would become the bloody climax to the 1992-95 Bosnian war, a slaughter that international courts have ruled was genocide. The war claimed 100,000 lives in all.

The Srebrenica bodies were plowed into hastily made mass graves, which were later bulldozed and scattered among other burial sites in an attempt to hide the evidence.

Relatives of the dead welcomed the limited finding of liability Wednesday, but lamented that it did not go further.

"Obviously the court has no sense of justice," said Munira Subasic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica group that filed the case. "How is it possible to divide victims, and tell one mother that the Dutch state is responsible for the death of her son on one side of the wire and not for the son on the other side?"

The court did not say how much compensation the families should receive. That will be worked out between lawyers and the government once any appeals have run their course. A lawyer for the relatives, Marco Gerritsen, said he would study the 89-page ruling before deciding whether to appeal.

It remains to be seen what effect the ruling will have on U.N. recruitment for peacekeeping missions.

Defense Ministry spokesman Klaas Meijder said the Dutch government began insisting on stricter safeguards for its troops involved in U.N. missions after the Srebrenica massacre, but wouldn't speculate on whether Wednesday's ruling would have a further impact.

"What this means for future missions, I can't say," he said.

But analysts said the judgment could add to increasing concerns among Western nations about their involvement in peacekeeping missions.

"Peacekeeping for quite a long time has been deeply fragile. Traditional donors have been pulling back," said David Connolly of The Hague Institute for Global Justice.

The United Nations itself is exempt from prosecution. Earlier in the long-running case, judges said relatives of the victims could not sue the U.N. itself because its immunity is a cornerstone of peacekeeping operations.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Wednesday that the organization would need to study the ruling before commenting on it.

The Dutch peacekeepers' involvement in the Srebrenica massacre has long been a source of national trauma. In 2002, the government of then-Prime Minister Wim Kok resigned following a report that blamed Dutch authorities and the U.N. for sending ill-equipped troops without a strong enough mandate to prevent the slaughter in Bosnia.

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