One of the iconic photos of the ill-considered UN effort during the Götterdämmerung of Yugoslavia’s dissolution is that of Dutch Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Karremans sharing a drink with Serb commander, psychopath and war criminal Ratko Mladic after the surrender of Dutchbat, or the Dutch peacekeeping battalion at Srebrenica on July 11, 1995. Even as this photograph was taken, Serbs had begun the massacre of the first of what would eventually total over 8700 men, women, and children.
This was a sad day for the profession of arms. Though Dutchbat was ill-equipped, ill-supported, and seems to have been beset with low morale the true mark of a professional soldier is doing sometimes unpleasant things that can get you killed. Despite having been dealt a terrible hand to play, one is hard pressed to find the conduct of LTC Karremans or Dutchbat acceptable.
Via the New York Times
A Dutch court ruled on Wednesday that the government was liable for the deaths of about 300 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, Europe’s worst ethnically motivated mass murder since World War II, saying that a United Nations team of Dutch peacekeepers had failed to prevent those deaths.
The ruling indicated that the Netherlands was responsible because the Dutch peacekeeping force, outnumbered by raiding Bosnian Serb forces, had handed over nearly 300 Bosnian Muslim men and boys of fighting age after Gen. Ratko Mladic, commander of the forces, ordered that they be “screened for war crimes” against Serbs. The ruling, by the District Court in The Hague, said the peacekeeping force should have known that the Muslims were likely to be killed by the Serbs.
For relatives of the 300 victims, who were among the roughly 8,000 Muslim men and boys massacred at Srebrenica, the ruling, which said the government was liable for any compensation, may bring a sense of relief and justice. They have sought for nearly two decades to bring to account the Dutch peacekeepers, who were stationed near Srebrenica under a United Nations mandate. The relatives of thousands of other victims have not been compensated.
This kind dithering is all to common whenever the UN commits peacekeepers to areas which do not truly want peace and participating nations send officers to command these units who are simply unequal to the task. During the Rwanda Genocide, some of the first casualties were Belgian soldiers from 2d Commando Battalion:
Among the first targets of the genocide were Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and 10 Belgian members of 2nd Commando Battalion, the Paracommando Regiment operating as part of UNAMIR. These troops were murdered after handing over their weapons to Rwandan government troops. They were advised to do so by their battalion commander who was unclear on the legal issues with authorising them to defend themselves, even though they had already been under fire for approximately two hours.
The same uncertainty about legal issues seems to have dominated the thinking of Dutchbat.
Hopefully, the international opprobrium attached to the behavior of the Dutch in Bosnia will result in nations contributing troops to UN missions in the future to ensure the highest quality leadership and clear instructions on use of force to be prerequisites.