THE HAGUE (AFP) — Survivors of the 1995 Serb assault that killed 8,000 Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica cannot sue the UN in the Netherlands for failing to protect their families, a Dutch court ruled Thursday.
"The court .. has no jurisdiction to hear the action against the United Nations," read a judgment handed down by the district court in The Hague.
"... the Court concludes that in international law practice the absolute immunity of the UN is the norm and is respected."
The United Nations claimed immunity in a bid by a group of survivors to hold it accountable for the massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the enclave guarded by Dutch UN troops.
The plaintiffs comprise a group calling itself the "Mothers of Srebrenica", representing some 6,000 survivors of the massacre, and 10 individual widows who lost their husbands in the assault.
They were seeking a trial for the UN and the Dutch state for peacekeeping troops' alleged failure to protect the enclave. They also want compensation.
But the Dutch state brought a counter-application, arguing the court had no jurisdiction to hear a case against the UN which, it argued, enjoyed immunity.
The district court agreed, ordering the original plaintiffs to pay the costs of the matter.
Alix Hagedorn, lawyer for the plaintiffs, said they would appeal the decision and approach the European Court of Human Rights if unsuccessful.
"That the UN has unlimited immunity even if a genocide happens, we can't accept," he said after the judgment.
"If we go to the Court of Human Rights, we are going to succeed. It is necessary. It is difficult but necessary for the credibility of the UN."
The case against the Dutch state would continue, Hagedorn told AFP, but the court may decide to put it on hold pending the outcome of the appeal process in the UN matter so as not to split the two issues.
Srebrenica was a UN-protected Muslim enclave until July 11, 1995, when it was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces who loaded thousands of men and boys onto trucks, executed thousands, and threw their bodies into mass graves.
The Serbs brushed aside lightly-armed Dutch UN peacekeepers in the "safe area" where thousands of Muslims from surrounding villages had gathered for protection.
The Srebrenica massacre, Europe's worst atrocity since World War II, has been termed genocide by the International Court of Justice, which handles disputes between nations, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), set up by the UN to try war crimes committed during the Balkans conflict.
The remains of thousands of victims have been found in mass graves around Srebrenica since the end of Bosnia's 1992-1995 war.
In 2002, the entire Dutch government resigned over an official report that stated its peacekeepers had been sent on an "impossible" mission.
The UN has also admitted it failed to protect the Muslims of Srebrenica from mass murder, but none of its officials were held responsible.
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