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UN deserves no immunity
Op-ed: Ruling on UN failure in Srebrenica genocide should be of great interest to Israel
Earlier this month, a Dutch court of appeals in The Hague decided ruled that the Netherlands was responsible for the deaths of three Bosnian Muslims in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. Dutch UN peacekeepers who were stationed there at the time had expelled these and many other Bosnians from their compound - in spite of the fact that the peacekeepers knew their lives would be in danger. The three men were subsequently murdered by Bosnian Serb soldiers.

 

A recap of the main events of this genocide: On 11 July, 1995 the Bosnian-Serb army overran the UN protected Srebrenica enclave and began murdering people. In total, an estimated 6,000-8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed. Ten days later, the Dutch battalion of the UN forces fled the Srebrenica area for the Croatian capital Zagreb. The direct order for this flight was given by the Dutch government.

 

 

A lower court ruled in 2008 that all military action carried out by Dutch soldiers of the United Nations Protection Force in was under the aegis of the UN, which itself enjoys legal immunity from prosecution. Another court case, presently under appeal, could widen Dutch co-responsibility to include many more Bosnians who were murdered in Srebrenica.

 

The importance of this courageous decision handed down by the Dutch Court of Appeals is poorly understood by the international community. Ultimately, the European Court of Justice may even be asked to lift the legal immunity of the UN and put the organization where it belongs: On the bench of the accused.

 

The Dutch court decision should be of great interest to Israel because of the direct role the UN and many of its sub-organizations play in the Jewish state’s demonization. That these bodies can be accessories to murder and at the same time enjoy legal immunity is extremely problematic.

 

Regarding the failure of the UN in the 1994 Rwanda genocide, none of its employees or any person associated with it had to appear before a court, let alone sit in jail. A UN report published in April 2000 examined the “circumstances surrounding the failure of the international community to prevent the systematic slaughter of some 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994.” The late Richard C. Holbrooke, who was the US permanent representative at the UN, noted: “The report made clear that in Rwanda - as in Bosnia and Somalia - we failed.”

 

Dutch fiasco

The Srebrenica genocide had similar characteristics of failure. In 1993, the UN Security Council decided that the Srebrenica enclave would be a safe area. While declaring this, the UN should have known that it was incapable of implementing its promise. At the time of the resolution, the Canadian soldiers stationed in Srebrenica were to be withdrawn. Several countries were asked, but refused to send soldiers to replace them.

 

The Dutch could have responded similarly. However, Dutch generals told then Minister of Defense, the late Relus ter Beek, that stationing a Dutch battalion in Srebrenica was an assignment “full of honor, not simple, but doable.”

 

A Dutch parliamentary inquiry in 2000 concluded that decisions about participation in peace missions were often made on the basis of insufficient information and faulty communication between government ministers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats and the military leadership. The Minister of Defense at the time of the genocide, Joris Voorhoeve, declared before the parliamentary commission of inquiry that he had been aware since 1994 that the Srebrenica enclave was indefensible. Yet he took no measures to correct the situation.

 

To put Dutch military behavior into an even more negative light, the commander of the land forces had decided that the Dutch soldiers who had left the population of Srebrenica to its tragic fate were entitled to a party after their successful flight to Zagreb. Dutch historian Henry Beunders would later write: “While the Bosnians were standing up to their knees in blood, the Dutch soldiers in Zagreb were standing up to their ankles in beer, being applauded by Crown Prince Willem Alexander, (Prime Minister) Kok and Voorhoeve.”

 

Many Israeli politicians and the Israeli media give little attention to events in Europe. Yet analyzing them can contribute greatly to Israel’s public diplomacy. Understanding how other countries as well as the UN function during emergencies helps to put frequently exaggerated external and internal condemnations of Israel’s performance into perspective, even if lesser criticism is in place.

 

Two examples of how such reactions to Israeli military responses are greatly overblown concern the condemnations of Israel’s actions against the violent provocations by the participants in the first Gaza flotilla and the Syrian government sponsored border transgressions on “Nakba day."

 

Manfred Gerstenfeld is the author of 20 books. Last year his book in Dutch The Decay; Jews in a Rudderless Netherlands sparked a major debate in the Netherlands

 

 

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