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Mothers of Srebrenica v. the Netherlands and the UN

Judgment, 13 Apr 2012, Supreme Court of The Netherlands, The Netherlands

In July 1995, the safe haven of Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina was attacked by Bosnian Serb forces resulting in the deaths of between 8 000 and 10 000 individuals. Members of the Dutch battalion who were responsible for the safeguarding of the enclave were completely overrun by the forces of General Mladic. In 2007, a civil action was filed before the District Court of The Hague by 10 women whose family members died in the genocide as well the Mothers of Srebrenica, a Dutch association representing 6 000 survivors. They are demanding compensation from the United Nations and the Kingdom of the Netherlands by alleging that both are responsible for the failure to prevent the genocide at Srebrenica.

In the present decision, the Supreme Court upheld the earlier decisions of the District Court of The Hague and the Court of Appeal of The Hague confirming that the UN enjoys absolute immunity from prosecution, even in light of the gravity of the accusations alleged by the Mothers of Srebrenica.


Mothers of Srebrenica v. the Netherlands and the UN

Judgment in the First Civil Law Section, 30 Mar 2010, Court of Appeal of The Hague, The Netherlands

In July 1995, the safe haven of Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina was attacked by Bosnian Serb forces resulting in the deaths of between 8 000 and 10 000 individuals. Members of the Dutch battalion who were responsible for the safeguarding of the enclave were completely overrun by the forces of General Mladic.

In 2007, a civil action was filed before the District Court of The Hague by 10 women whose family members died in the genocide as well the Mothers of Srebrenica, a Dutch association representing 6 000 survivors. They are demanding compensation from the United Nations and the Kingdom of the Netherlands by alleging that both are responsible for the failure to prevent the genocide at Srebrenica.

In the present decision, the Court of Appeal of The Hague confirmed the 2008 decision of the District Court of The Hague that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case as the United Nations enjoyed absolute immunity from proceedings.


Mothers of Srebrenica v. the Netherlands and the UN

Judgment in the Incidental Proceedings, 10 Jul 2008, District Court of The Hague, The Netherlands

In July 1995, the safe haven of Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina was attacked by Bosnian Serb forces resulting in the deaths of between 8 000 and 10 000 individuals. Members of the Dutch battalion who were responsible for the safeguarding of the enclave were completely overrun by the forces of General Mladic.

In 2007, a civil action was filed before the District Court of The Hague by 10 women whose family members died in the genocide as well the Mothers of Srebrenica, a Dutch association representing 6 000 survivors. They are demanding compensation from the United Nations and the Kingdom of the Netherlands by alleging that both are responsible for the failure to prevent the genocide at Srebrenica. In the present decision, the District Court of The Hague determined that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case as the United Nations enjoyed absolute immunity from proceedings. 


The Netherlands v. Nuhanović

Judgment, 6 Sep 2013, Supreme Court of The Netherlands, The Netherlands

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands affirmed the strong approach to dual attribution taken by the Court of Appeal and dismissed the appeal. It found that it is possible for both the Netherlands and the UN to have effective control over the same wrongful conduct and that attributing this conduct to the Netherlands did not in any way determine whether the UN also exercised effective control over the Dutchbat troops (pp. 22-23, para. 3.11.2).

This case is important, as it marks the first time an individual government has been held to account for the conduct of its peacekeeping troops operating under a UN mandate. Liesbeth Zegveld, the Dutch lawyer who represented the victims, stated that “a U.N. flag doesn’t give...immunity as a state or as an individual soldier.” As a result of this judgment, two Bosnian families are now expected to receive damages from the Dutch state, and other cases may follow.


Van Anraat

Decision as to Admissibility, 6 Jul 2010, European Court of Human Rights, France

Frans van Anraat was a Dutch businessman who, from 1984 until 1988, purchased large quantities of the chemical thiodiglycol from the United States and Japan. This chemical was then sold, through a number of different companies located in different countries, to Saddam Hussein’s government of Iraq. After 1984, Van Anraat was the government’s sole supplier of the chemical. The chemical is a key component in the manufacture of mustard gas and was in fact used for this purpose by Hussein’s government who then proceeded to employ the gas in attacks against Iranian military and civilians in the Iran-Iraq war and against the Kurdish population in northern Iraq. The effect was devastating, thousands of individuals were killed and many thousands more were injured with long-term effects including blindness and cancer. Van Anraat was convicted by the District Court of The Hague as accessory to war crimes committed by Hussein and his men. His conviction was upheld on appeal by the Court of Appeal of The Hague and the Supreme Court of The Netherlands. He was sentenced to 16 years and 6 months’ imprisonment.

The present decision is the result of Van Anraat's appeal to the European Court of Human Rights challenging the jurisdiction of the Dutch courts to try his case. His application was rejected as the European Court of Human Rights found, notably, that the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons in warfare was a crime under customary international law at the time the applicant supplied thiodiglycol to Iraq and he could therefore rightly be convicted of violations of this custom of war.


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