Source: The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation. The Institute’s website address is: www.oorlogsdoc.knaw.nl
The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation was established shortly after the Liberation of the Netherlands on 8 May 1945 because of the great importance of the preceding Occupation period. Ever since the foundation it has housed the archives of the Resistance, as well as illegal newspapers and pamphlets, posters and photographs, books and articles. War Documentation has the following tasks: To collect and store archives on World War II and the Netherlands and to make them accessible and available. To conduct academic research and to publish the research findings. To provide information to government institutions and private persons.
The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation released a report in spring of 2002 that strongly criticized both the Dutch government and the UN for policies leading to the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica.
The Dutch government itself commissioned the report, and it was released by the Institute on 10 April 2002.
In the 1995 massacre, some 7,500 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered by Serb troops. While responsibility for the atrocity belongs to Serb soldiers and their leaders, muddled policy and decisions by the UN and the Dutch played a part in the tragedy.
The United Nations is blamed for declaring a “safe area” in Srebrenica without creating means for its defense. Protection had been offered to any Muslim who sought sanctuary.
The Dutch government is blamed for sending troops (a battalion known as Dutchbat) on an “ill-conceived and virtually impossible mission”, the report states.
The report presents the following conclusions:
- Chief reasons for failure of mission
- Ill-conceived decision-making
- Dutchbat was dispatched:
- on a mission with a very unclear mandate
- to a zone described as a ‘safe area’ although there was no clear definition of what that meant
- to keep the peace where there was no peace
- without obtaining in-depth information from the Canadian predecessors in the enclave (Canbat)
- without adequate training for this specific task in those specific circumstances
- virtually without the resources and capacities for collecting intelligence in order to gauge the political and military intentions of the warring parties
- with misplaced confidence in the readiness to deploy air power if problems arose, and without any clear exit strategy.
Dutchbat and the political and military leadership in the Netherlands were badly prepared for what lay in store in the enclave. Little, if any, attempt was made to obtain information from Canbat or the Canadian government about their experiences. Moreover, the Military Intelligence Service did not receive sufficient extra resources to collect additional intelligence, and this service was not involved enough in the decision-making on Srebrenica. The United States had the strongest intelligence position in Bosnia. The Netherlands could have benefited from this, but lack of interest and the negative attitude of the military and political leadership stood in the way.
After the attack on the enclave at the beginning of July 1995, from a military perspective Dutchbat had few grounds for mounting a counterattack on its own initiative, according to the inquiry, especially because of the limited mandate:
active defence of the enclave by military means was not in accordance with the mandate, the UN policy (the maintenance of impartiality) or the Rules of Engagement
the instruction was for military reaction to be above all reticent
military means could only be deployed if the safety of the battalion was in danger and if it was the target of direct fire the ‘smoking gun’ requirement which the VRS [the Bosnian-Serbian army ]deliberately avoided
the military balance of power was such that, without outside support, Dutchbat (200 lightly armed combat soldiers) would have been defenceless against the VRS in a serious confrontation
as a result of the ‘stranglehold strategy’ (the blockade policy of the Bosnian Serbs), Dutchbat III was no longer a fully operational battalion in terms of manpower, supplies or morale.
Dutchbat could not act on its own initiative
Dutchbat had no option to counter the Bosnian Serbian army when it occupied the Srebrenica enclave. General Mladic’s decision to do so was primarily motivated by the lack of any significant resistance by both Muslim forces and the UN.
The Dutchbat expectation that help would come from outside on the morning of 11 July in the form of massive air strikes was misguided. The UNPROFOR command had completely ruled out air strikes, but was also extremely reticent about lighter support from the air in the form of Close Air Support. It hereby crushed the Dutchbat illusion and the enclave became an easy target for the VRS.
The massacre and aftermath
The tragic nadir of the fall of Srebrenica was the mass killing of thousands of Muslim men by Bosnian Serbian units. A large number of the men killed were members of the Bosnian Muslim army (ABiH) who had attempted to break out of the enclave to Tuzla with some of the male population during the night of 11 July.
This outbreak was a complete surprise, and it came at a very bad time for the VRS. Along with the already existing hatred, eagerness for revenge and the wish for ethnic cleansing, it was one of the factors that led the Bosnian Serbs to settle accounts harshly with the Muslim population of the enclave. This turned into an organised mass slaughter, but it is not the case that it took place “under the eyes of Dutchbat”.
On the days after the fall of the enclave, the efforts of Dutchbat were aimed at preventing the humanitarian disaster which seemed imminent in Potocari. To that end it cooperated, albeit reluctantly, with the evacuation of tens of thousands of civilian refugees. Although those refugees were themselves very keen to leave, in the given circumstances this was tantamount to collaborating with ethnic cleansing.
The battalion command realised that the fate of the men, who were separated from the women and children, was uncertain, but not that it would end in the mass slaughter of these and many other men who fell into the hands of the Bosnian Serbs during their flight to Tuzla.
In Potocari in the vicinity of Dutchbat at least 100 men were killed on the spot during a local settling of scores. Much more went on here than the members of Dutchbat witnessed. But not all of what they saw was reported at the time. The communication and assessment of the available information were a complete failure at the time.
The army top discounted the possibility of Dutchbat seeing what was going on right from the first reports by refugees in Tuzla about massive abuses of human rights. It did so because of uncertainty about what had happened and to preserve the image of Dutchbat and the army. This attitude also characterised the later debriefing processes. The NIOD inquiry concludes that the army leadership made a deliberate attempt, contrary to the wishes of the Minister, to limit the flow of information and, where possible, to avoid sensitive issues.