They gathered in the Hague to express their disgust. Over a decade after Srebrenica, demonstrators have slammed the Dutch government. They are outraged that peacekeepers have been honoured by the state, despite failing to prevent Europe’s worst civilian massacre since the Second World War.
The ceremony took place at a military base in the north of the Netherlands. Members of the Dutch battalion charged with protecting the ill-fated Muslim enclave were decorated. “It was completely unjust that you were personally held responsible,” Defence Minister Henk Kamp told the men.
He said the Dutch peacekeepers were themselves powerless to prevent the fall of Srebrenica and protect its citizens. “What has hurt you the most is that you have been left alone by politicians, who gave you this impossible mission,” he added. Today, Bosnia has two separate entities – a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Bosnian Serb Republic, the Republika Srpska. But, as the former Yugoslavia broke up in the 1990s, it was caught up in three years of bloody ethnic war.
When Srebrenica, a UN safe haven, was overrun by Ratko Mladic’s forces, Dutch peacekeepers stood by, and even helped to separate women from the men and boys – over 7,000 of whom were killed by the Bosnian Serb troops. Four years ago the Dutch cabinet resigned after the government was blamed in an independent report for failing to prevent the massacre.