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Dutch state accepts partial liability for Srebrenica deaths

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The Dutch government accepted on Friday that the state was partially liable for the deaths in 1995 of 350 Muslim males who were expelled from a U.N. base and killed by Bosnian Serb forces at Srebrenica.

FILE PHOTO: People pray near coffins of their relatives, who are newly identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, which are lined up for a joint burial in Potocari near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 11, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands upheld a previous ruling against the Dutch state and set its liability at 10% of the overall loss suffered.

“The government accepts the verdict of the Supreme Court,” the defense ministry said in a statement. “The state thereby accepts liability for the damages as determined by the Supreme Court.”

The Dutch ruling paves the way for payments to the families of victims and survivors of the killings at Srebrenica, when around 8,000 Muslim men and boys in all were taken away and murdered in what was the worst mass slaughter on European soil since World War Two. It was recognized as a genocide by the International Court of Justice.

The adjudication of 10% liability means claimants are only likely to receive around a few thousand euros in compensation.

However, the case could still set an international legal precedent for states’ liability when they contribute troops to peacekeeping operations.

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During the Bosnian conflict in 1995, several hundred outgunned Dutch peacekeeping troops had been assigned to protect a U.N.-designated “safe area” where thousands of Muslims had sought refuge from Bosnian Serb forces - among them 350 men who made it into the Dutch base.

The Supreme Court found that the Dutch forces could have allowed those men to stay in the base and that, by handing them over, they had knowingly and unlawfully sent them to possible abuse or death at the hands of the Bosnian Serb troops.

“They took away the men’s chance to stay out of the hands of the Bosnian Serbs,” it said.

Kada Hotic, one of the Mothers of Srebrenica group of survivors present in court, told Reuters that the Dutch government was responsible for the start of the genocide in Srebrenica.

“No matter if it’s one percent, ten percent or 100 percent, they are responsible,” she said.

A lawyer for the victims said he would study the verdict to see if there are possibilities to fight the case further at the European Court of Human Rights.

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While the supreme court upheld the partial liability of the state, it rejected a second charge - that the assistance given by Dutch forces in removing those gathered outside the base had been unlawful.

“Their accountability can never be erased. We won’t leave it here, we will go to the European court to see if we have the right to justice as Muslims,” said Munira Subasic, another plaintiff in the case.

The amount of the damages was not specified by the Supreme Court on Friday, but in an earlier case the Dutch state paid tens of thousands of euros to several survivors.

Hotic said the amount of compensation was not the priority for the Mothers of Srebrenica. “We want justice.”

Additional reporting by Bart Meijer; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Toby Chopra