The Dutch government must compensate families of three Bosnian Muslim men slain by Serbs during the 1995 Srebrenica massacre following a landmark court ruling that apportions blame on the Netherlands.
The Hague Appeals Court ruling could form a launch pad for more compensation cases by victims who claim their male relatives should have been protected by Dutch peacekeeping troops during the Bosnian war (1992-1995).
As the BBC reports, the Dutch were in charge of the UN “safe area” near Srebrenica when Bosnian Serb forces overran it and killed about 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in July 1995.
The Dutch state, which has faced several cases in recent years over Srebrenica, has argued that its troops were abandoned by the UN.
Tuesday’s surprise court ruling could also have wider implications for countries sending troops on UN peacekeeping missions, as it opens the possibility of national governments being taken to court for the actions of their troops even when they are under UN control, The Associated Press (AP) reports.
"The court ruled that the Dutch state is responsible for the death of these men because Dutchbat [Dutch UN troops] should not have handed them over," a spokeswoman for the court in The Hague said.
The case was jointly mounted by the family of Rizo Mustafic, who worked as an electrician for Dutchbat, and by Dutchbat interpreter Hasan Nuhanovic, who lost his father and brother in the fall of the Muslim enclave.
The BBC reports that the lawsuit was filed against the Dutch state due to the fact Dutchbat handed over the three men to the Bosnian Serbs, then under the command of Gen Ratko Mladic.
The court ruled that Dutchbat, which abandoned the enclave in the face of a superior Bosnian Serb force, should have foreseen Gen Mladic's soldiers would kill the men. Gen Mladic is currently on trial in The Hague, charged on 11 counts including genocide of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Srebrenica during the Bosnian war.
Outside court one of the relatives, Damir Mustafic, said the decision came just days before he was due to bury his father's remains in a Srebrenica cemetery.
DNA tests have been used to identify about 600 bodies exhumed from mass graves around the town in the past year. All will be interred on July 11 as part of commemorations for the 16th anniversary of Europe's worst massacre since World War II.
"I am very happy, finally," Mustafic told AP. "It has been a long case and it feels especially good because on the 11th, I have to bury my father."
The Hague Appeals Court has not set a compensation figure, but the vctims' lawyer told reporters the sum would "not be in the millions”, adding the case was “never about money".