UN immunity challenged in Dutch court
Relatives of the victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre challenged the notion of UN immunity Wednesday in a Dutch court that must decide whether the families can sue the world body.
The idea of unlimited immunity in such a case is "unacceptable and undermines the credibility of the United Nations," said Axel Hagedorn, one of the lawyers representing 6,000 relatives seeking to sue the UN and the Dutch state, the AFP reported.
The families argue that UN forces, and in particular the Dutch contingent in Srebrenica, failed in their duty to protect civilians in the Bosnian Muslim enclave.
After the lightly-armed Dutch troops abandoned the town, it was taken by Bosnia Serb forces commanded by Ratko Mladic who massacred some 8,000 Muslim men.
The UN has refused to take part in the case, citing immunity, and was represented in court by the lawyer for the Dutch state, Bert Jan Houtzagers, who argued that the court had no competence to hear a suit against the world body.
Citing the UN convention on immunity privileges, Houtzagers said the plaintiffs were asking for a judgement on the UN's primary role of guaranteeing peace and security.
"It is precisely to exercise this function that the UN's immunity was created," he said.
"The immunity provided to international organisations is aimed at guaranteeing their independence," he argued, adding that any attempt to restrict the boundaries of that immunity could have "serious ramifications for future peacekeeping missions".
He also stressed that real responsibility for the massacre lay with Mladic and the Bosnia Serbs under his command.
Mladic and former political leader Radovan Karadzic remain at large almost 13 years since being indicted on war crimes charges by the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
The Dutch court said it would rule on the immunity question on July 10.
The Srebrenica massacre, Europe's worst atrocity since World War II, has been termed genocide by two United Nations tribunals.
In 2002, the entire Dutch government resigned over an official report that stated its peacekeepers had been sent on an "impossible" mission.
In a separate suit heard on Monday by the same court, other relatives of survivors had sought to have the Dutch state declared liable for its troops' failure.
Houtzagers insisted that while the international community had been unable to stop a "terrible tragedy", this did not mean any individual state could be held liable.
"The state contributed troops to keep the peace and prevent war crimes. The fact that they did not succeed does not mean they are liable."
As the arguments continued at The Hague, forensic experts in eastern Bosnia said they had completed the exhumation of a mass grave believed to contain several dozen victims of the Srebrenica massacre.