Families to take Srebrenica legal battle to European court

AMSTERDAM: The relatives of three Bosnian Muslims killed 20 years ago in the Srebrenica massacre are taking their long-running legal battle against the Dutch government to the European Court of Human Rights.

The group is seeking criminal prosecution of three senior Dutch peacekeepers who were stationed in the UN-protected enclave at the time of the murders.

Dutch prosecutors in 2013 declined to bring charges against the three officers and a court upheld that decision on appeal in April.

Now a lawyer for the families, Liesbeth Zegveld, is taking the case to the rights court based in Strasbourg, France.

"This is really about holding them responsible," Zegveld said in a telephone interview before the case was publicised Sunday.

Zegveld alleged that the Dutch Defense Ministry "exerted undue pressure" on prosecutors not to file charges against the officers and that the probe into whether a criminal case was warranted was not independent.

Defence Ministry spokesman Klaas Meijer called the claim of ministerial interference in the investigation "totally unfounded."

The case revolves around three men murdered after leaving a Dutch military compound in Srebrenica. In an earlier civil case, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that the Netherlands was liable in their deaths and ordered the state to pay compensation.

Srebrenica was overrun in July 1995 by Serb forces who subsequently murdered some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Europe's worst massacre since World War II.

The mass slayings have been labeled genocide by international courts. The fact they happened despite the presence of vastly outnumbered and lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers has been a national trauma for the Netherlands, which has long prided itself on offering protection to endangered minorities.