On Monday, the government of the Netherlands offered its “deepest apologies” for the Dutch peacekeepers’ failure to prevent the genocide perpetrated 27 ago in Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb forces massacred some 8,400 Bosnian Muslims.
“Only one party is to blame for the horrific genocide: the Bosnian Serb army,” said the Duch Minister of Defence, Kajsa Ollongren said “But let me be clear. The international community failed to offer adequate protection to the people of Srebrenica and as part of that community, the Dutch government shares responsibility for the situation in which that failure occurred. And for this, we offer our deepest apologies.”
Dutch courts had already determined that the Netherlands was partly responsible for the fall of Srebrenica. The Dutch government has paid compensation to survivors, but this is the first time they have apologised to the victims’ relatives.
Dutch soldiers were sent to war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of a UN peacekeeping force. They were tasked with guarding Srebrenica, which was intended to be a safe haven for refugees. But in July 1995, the area was surrounded by Bosnian Serb forces, who eventually overwhelmed the peacekeepers, entered Srebrenica, and began the systematic massacre of men and boys, whose bodies were then dumped into mass graves. With 8,372 victims, Srebrenica witnessed the worst single atrocity of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, which claimed the lives of about 100,000 victims on both sides of the conflict.
In 2002, Prime Minister Wim Kok resigned along with his entire cabinet, saying that this was the way the Dutch government accepted its responsibility for the massacre but not the blame. Relatives of the victims, however, felt it was not enough and kept pushing for an apology for years. The relatives were outraged when last month the Dutch government extended apologies to the Dutch soldiers present at the massacre for the conditions in which they had to serve.
“The events of 1995 led to deep human suffering that is palpable here to this day. We cannot relieve you of this suffering. But what we can do is to look history straight in the eye,” said Ms Ollongren during her visit to Bosnia to commemorate the genocide.
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