Netherlands: Court set for ruling on complaint lodged by relatives of Srebrenica massacre victims

Later this week, four relatives of Srebrenica massacre victims will find out if Strasbourg judges agree that the Netherlands violated their human rights.

The complaint Mustafić-Mujić and Others v. the Netherlands (no. 49037/15) will be the subject of a European Court of Human Rights ruling on Thursday 22 September.

There are four applicants in this case, all of whom are relatives of victims of the Srebrenica massacre. The first three applicants are: Mehida Mustafić-Mujić, born in 1956, who is a national of Bosnia and Herzegovina and lives in Srebrenica (a municipality in eastern Bosnia); and her two children, Alma and Damir Mustafić, born in 1981 and 1979 respectively, who are both Netherlands nationals and live in Utrecht and Veenendaal.

The fourth applicant is Hasan Nuhanović, born in 1968, who is also a national of Bosnia and Herzegovina and lives in Sarajevo.

During the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Srebrenica and its environs were designated a “safe area” by the United Nations Security Council, intended to be free from attack or any hostile act. United Nations peacekeeping troops were stationed there. In 1995 the peacekeepers were a Netherlands army battalion known as Dutchbat. They were based on a compound in the village of Potočari.

In July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces overran the UN-designated “safe area” of Srebrenica and its environs. Thousands of civilians converged on the Dutchbat compound, seeking safety. Dutchbat was permitted to withdraw taking locally recruited UN staff with them. A list of 29 staff members was drawn up; they were to await evacuation with Dutchbat. Civilians who were not on the list were ordered to leave the Dutchbat compound.

The case concerns the deaths of Rizo Mustafić, Ibro Nuhanović and Muhamed Nuhanović on or shortly after 13 July 1995. Rizo Mustafić, the husband and father of the first three applicants, was employed by Dutchbat as an electrician, and was included in the list of 29 who would be allowed to leave with the Netherlands forces.

However, the Dutchbat non-commissioned officer in charge of locally recruited staff mistakenly ordered him to leave. Muhamed Nuhanović was the younger brother of the applicant Hasan Nuhanović, who had been an interpreter for Dutchbat and was included on the list. He asked the Dutchbat deputy commander also to include his brother.

The deputy commander refused, and Muhamed was ordered to leave the compound. Ibro Nuhanović was the father of Muhamed and Hasan, and had also been permitted to stay with the Dutchbat forces because he had acted as the refugees’ representative in negotiations.

However, when his son Muhamed was ordered to leave, Ibro chose to go with him.

In the following days, 7,000 to 8,000 Bosniac men were killed by the Bosnian Serb army and Serb paramilitaries. The victims included Rizo Mustafić, Muhamed Nuhanović and Ibro Nuhanović.

On 5 July 2010, the applicants lodged a criminal complaint with the public prosecutor. They requested that a criminal investigation be launched into the actions of the Dutchbat commander and 6 deputy commander and the non-commissioned officer aforementioned, for their alleged complicity in the genocide or war crimes committed against their family members, on the basis that those three servicemen had exposed their relatives to their likely death in full awareness of their probable fate.

On 7 March 2013, the public prosecutor informed the applicants that no prosecution would be brought. The applicants lodged a complaint about the public prosecutor’s decision with the Military Chamber of the Court of Appeal of Arnhem-Leeuwarden.

On 29 April 2015, the Court of Appeal dismissed the complaint, finding that convictions were unlikely to result in any case.

The applicants complain about the Court of Appeal’s refusal to order the prosecution of the three servicemen, or at least a criminal investigation into their involvement in the deaths of their relatives.

They rely on Article 2 (right to life).

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