THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Dutch government on Saturday formally apologized to military personnel sent as UN peacekeepers to defend the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica with insufficient firepower and manpower to keep the peace.
The soldiers – veterans now – were overrun by more heavily armed Bosnian Serb forces led by General Ratko Mladic, who then massacred 8,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1995, in a massacre that an international war crimes tribunal called genocide.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte addressed hundreds of veterans of the Dutchbat III peacekeeping unit on Saturday at a military base in the central Netherlands and said that after almost 27 years “some words have still not been said”.
“Today, on behalf of the Dutch government, I offer my apologies to all the women and men of Dutchbat III. For you and the people who can’t be there today. With the greatest possible appreciation and respect for the way in which Dutchbat III continued to try to do good under difficult circumstances, even when that was no longer possible,’ said Rutte.
The ceremony took place after a report was published last year about the experiences of the approximately 850 men who formed Dutchbat III. The study made recommendations, including that the government make a “collective gesture” to address what it called “the perceived lack of recognition and appreciation given the exceptional circumstances in which the near-impossible has been demanded” from Dutch peacekeepers.
The Netherlands has long struggled with the legacy of the Srebrenica massacre. Then Prime Minister Wim Kok resigned in 2002 after a report harshly criticized the Dutch authorities for sending soldiers into a danger zone without a proper mandate or the weapons needed to protect about 30,000 refugees fleeing to the Dutch base in Eastern Europe. Bosnia had fled.
In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the Netherlands is partially responsible for the deaths of approximately 350 Muslim men killed by Bosnian Serb troops during the massacre.
The court ruled that Dutch peacekeepers evacuated the men from their military base near Srebrenica on 13 July 1995, despite the fact that they knew they were “in grave danger of being abused and killed” by Bosnian Serb forces.
The UN has also been criticized for not authorizing NATO air strikes in July 1995 to support the lightly armed Dutch troops when they were attacked.