A Court in the Netherlands has granted the Dutch state responsible for the deaths of three “Bosnian Muslims” in 1995, men that fell under the protection of Dutch peacekeeping forces. The Dutch troops were mandated by the “United Nations” (UN) to protect the safe haven in the town of Sebrenica. The three men were handed over – along with approximately 300 men and boys – to the “Bosnian Serb forces that conducted the Sebrenica massacre. The decision to grant the state responsible for these deaths came as a surprise, following the 2008 court decision to absolve the same state. This past decision was taken on the grounds that the troops were ill-equipped and acted under a UN mandate. In contrast, others argue that the Dutch troops were actually under the “effective control” of Dutch national officials at the point of the expulsion of men from the camp.
It is unquestionable that the world has seen changes since the 1990s, when it witnessed genocide without intervention (Rwanda 1994 and Sebrenica 1995). Since then, humanitarian interventions – led by UN or a group of states using military forces – became the rule rather than the exception. Such interventions have seen reforms as well: the responsibility to protect (resolution adopted for Libya in 2011) grants the protection of citizens to their own state and advocates for a clearer conduct for international interventions. Also, the “International Criminal Court” (ICC) has been established to enforce the international criminal law.
The same principles and tools that “burden” the world with the moral and now legal “responsibility to protect” the subjects of massive human rights violations are causing deep divisions in the foreign politics sphere. The debates are around concepts such as sovereignty, legitimacy, use of military force and international law. Yet, the key political actors are more and more prepared to respond to massive violations of human rights, be it through a peacekeeping force or military coalition.
Unfortunately, such interventions hold a history of failures rather than successes and the greatest challenge nowadays is to ensure the applicability of humanitarian law to international collective military actions. In this context, while the accountability of collective actions is often unaccounted for, the success of this court case is a great reminder of the initial scope for intervention: universal justice.
This verdict has definitely set a precedent: a state is made responsible for the wrongdoing of its troops acting under a UN mandate. Yet, it is still unsure whether this success will bring accountability for international collective actions, or on the contrary, it will further discourage states to contribute with troops to stop massive violations of human rights.