AMSTERDAM The Dutch Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the United Nations cannot be prosecuted in the Netherlands for failing to prevent genocide against Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica near the end of Bosnia's war in 1995.
The final ruling was the last legal option in the Netherlands for a group of survivors of the July 1995 massacre, when as many as 8,000 boys and men were killed by Serb forces in an area that the United Nations had declared a "safe haven".
Lawyers representing a group of 6,000 survivors calling themselves the Mothers of Srebrenica said they would appeal against the decision at the European Court of Human Rights.
"The U.N., as the international human rights champion, should not stand above the law but should take responsibility for its role in the Srebrenica genocide in 1995," a statement issued by the group said.
"This is a violation of fundamental human rights and in contravention of the case law of the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Court of Justice (ECJ)."
In 2001 the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) judged that the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre was an act of genocide.
The fall of Srebrenica to Serb forces was the worst single atrocity during the 1992-95 war and the first act of genocide in Europe since the Nazi Holocaust against Jews.
The Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia near the border with Serbia was under the protection of Dutch peacekeeping troops deployed by the United Nations.
"The Supreme Court upholds the opinion of the (lower) court that the U.N. has the most far-reaching form of immunity and cannot be prosecuted by any national court," a summary of the ruling said.
Axel Hagedorn, an attorney at the Van Diepen Van der Kroef law firm representing families of the victims, said an appeal would be filed at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg within six months.
"We will argue that the Dutch soldiers and the United nations violated human rights," he said. "Granting legal immunity to a group claiming to defend human rights is like turning things upside down."
Inexperienced and outgunned Dutch soldiers were unable to prevent attacking Serb fighters from capturing Srebrenica, separating Bosnian Muslim men from women and busing them off to dozens of execution sites.
Last year, a Dutch appeals court found the Dutch state responsible for the deaths of three victims, opening the way for compensation claims over the failed peacekeeping mission.
Former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, indicted by the ICTY near the end of the war for genocide and war crimes over the Srebrenica killings and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo, was arrested a year ago after 16 years on the run.
In December, the tribunal accepted a prosecutor's request to speed up the trial amid fears that Mladic, 69, who has suffered ill health, could die without facing justice as happened with former Yugoslav and Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
(Reporting By Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Mark Heinrich)