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Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The Failure of UN Forces in Srebrenica

Filed under: International Law
Publication: Jerusalem Viewpoints

No. 458   24 Tammuz 5761 / 15 July 2001

In the UN safe area of Srebrenica, 6-8,000 Bosnian Moslems were murdered in July 1995 by the Bosnian Serbs, making it the largest civilian massacre in Europe since the Holocaust. The United Nations leaders, those of their peace-keeping forces, and the Dutch government had known for some time that the enclave was not defensible and had not taken adequate protective measures. Although aware that Serbs were executing Bosnian Moslems, the Dutch UN forces fled the area. Before that, Dutch soldiers helped separate the Bosnian men from the women. No UN or Dutch political or military leaders have ever been held accountable for their failure to prevent these crimes.

Genocide in Bosnia

On July 11, 1995, the Bosnian Serb army conquered the Srebrenica enclave, a declared UN “safe area,” and began murdering Bosnian Moslems. Ten days later, on July 21, the Dutch battalion (Dutchbat) of UNPROFOR (the United Nations Protection Force) fled the Srebrenica area for Zagreb. The death toll rose to at least 6-8,000, with several sources putting the figure higher, making it the single largest slaughter of civilians in Europe since the Holocaust.

The current mayor of Srebrenica, the Moslem Nesib Mandzic, told the Dutch daily De Volkskrant that Lieutenant Colonel Thom Karremans, commander of Dutchbat, had totally forgotten the Moslems whom his forces were supposed to protect.1 According to an official UN report, up to 20,000 Bosnian Moslems were killed in and around all of the “safe areas” that the UN had established for their protection.2

Though it was already known that Bosnian hostages had been executed, and rumors of genocide were rife,3 the commander of the Dutch land forces at the time, General Couzy, decided that the Dutch soldiers in Zagreb were entitled to a party. The Dutch historian Henri Beunders wrote a year later: “While the Bosnians were standing up to their knees in blood, the Dutch soldiers in Zagreb were standing up to their ankles in beer, being applauded by Crown Prince Willem Alexander, [prime minister] Kok and [minister of defense] Voorhoeve.”4 Among the Dutch soldiers were racist radicals who were known to make the Nazi salute.5

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan offered his perspective five years after the Srebrenica massacre: “The tragedy of Srebrenica will forever haunt the history of the United Nations. This day commemorates a massacre on a scale unprecedented in Europe since the Second World War — a massacre of a people who had been led to believe that the United Nations would ensure their safety.”6

The Serbs have taken the brunt of Western criticism, while the crimes of the Croats and Bosnians have remained in the shadows. This is partly due to the mass murder in Srebrenica. The Serb assault began on July 6, 1995, and lasted for a full six days through July 11, 1995. Mass executions continued for another week. In other words, UNPROFOR, its French commander, the United Nations, or even the Dutch government had considerable time to monitor, report, and decide on immediate intervention in order to stop the bloodshed.

On June 25, 2001, when the prosecutor of the Yugoslavia Tribunal in the Hague, Mark Harmon, requested a life sentence against Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic, Harmon claimed that the plan for the Srebrenica genocide was made only between July 11-12, 1995, in Hotel Fontana, where Krstic and Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic also met with Dutch commander Karremans on those days. To what extent did the impressions obtained in the meeting before the plan was finalized help the Serb military in making their decision?8

The UN and Rwanda

There is much to be learned from the various wars in which the United Nations and its member states have been involved as “peacekeepers,” observers, or even participants. One major example involves the failure of the international community in Rwanda, a year before the Srebrenica massacre. A UN report published in April 2000 examined the “circumstances surrounding the failure of the international community to prevent the systematic slaughter of some 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994.”9 Richard C. Holbrooke,  then the U.S. permanent representative at the UN, noted: “The report made clear that in Rwanda — as in Bosnia and Somalia — we failed.”10

Ingvar Carlsson, Chairman of the Independent Inquiry into United Nations Actions during the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, concluded: “The [Security] Council’s decision to reduce the strength of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (Unamir) after the genocide started, and despite its knowledge of the atrocities, was the cause of much bitterness in Rwanda.”11

Double Standards

The United Nations is one of the main forums today where, inter alia, criminal dictatorships are given a respectable opportunity to express moral judgments. In addition, through the UN’s involvement in wars as “peacekeepers,” the organization itself may carry a major degree of responsibility for crimes against humanity. The same may be true for various Western countries, institutions, and individuals who were involved in several “peacekeeping” operations.

So-called moralists both in Israeli society and abroad frequently claim that Israel should only do things which are internationally acceptable, conveniently ignoring the systematic double-talk of the international community. Another claim is that Western countries are governed by enlightened moral principles, to which Israel should measure up. The Netherlands is one of those most often commended as a shining example of such leadership. This fantasy needs deflation. The continual measuring of Israel against the imaginary standards of others is both perverse and socially dangerous.

Sharon, Srebrenica, and Belgian Morals

The case of the Dutch association with the Srebrenica massacre becomes particularly relevant against the background of the claims brought against Israeli Prime Minister Sharon in a Belgian court in June 2001 for his alleged responsibility for the murders of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatilla committed by Lebanese Christian Phalangists. This makes one wonder if the Belgians are ready to examine the role of their northern neighbor, The Netherlands, or their southern neighbor, France, in the Srebrenica massacre.

Indeed, Belgium has one of the worst records of any colonial power. In his book The Africans, David Lamb describes the late nineteenth century rule of King Leopold II “as tyrannical and corrupt as any African president in the 1980s.”12 In fact, genocide was committed during civil wars in Rwanda and Burundi both before and after their independence from Belgium. At the end of the 1950s, an estimated 100,000 people were murdered in Rwanda, and another 200,000 were killed in Burundi in 1972. Furthermore, accusations have recently re-emerged in the media that there was Belgian involvement in the 1961 execution of former Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Considering Belgium’s interference in its former colonies, there may be other skeletons in its closet as well.

Documenting the Facts

Documenting these double standards requires a task force which will need many years to investigate the multitude of facts and the huge documentation. This subject merits a series of books. Even the full analysis of a single case — like that of the Dutch actions and failures in Srebrenica — is far beyond the scope of a single essay. There are several reasons for this, one being the mass of documentation.

In 2000, the Dutch Parliament appointed an ad hoc committee headed by Bert Bakker of the D66 Party, a left-of-center grouping which is part of the government,13 to investigate the Dutch involvement in various UN missions. Its main report, published in 2000, numbers more than 500 pages,14 with supporting material

even larger.15 Another key document is the United Nations investigation on the Srebrenica case, published in 1999.16

Furthermore, six years after the massacre, the main Dutch investigation of the Srebrenica case by the NIOD, the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation, has still not been completed. The assignment to the NIOD was given in 1996 and the report is now expected by November 2001. NIOD will have access to foreign material, and has also been shown all the Dutch government’s secret minutes concerning Srebrenica, none of which were seen by the Bakker Commission. Both bodies lacked the power to investigate witnesses under oath. This may explain some of the multiple contradictions in witness reports before the commission which were not investigated further. Some parliamentarians have pushed for a parliamentary investigation, which would have the right to hear witnesses under oath. This issue may re-emerge after the publication of the NIOD report.

Despite these limitations, many relevant insights concerning the Srebrenica massacre can be obtained by focusing on a number of key questions. In this way, one can get a strategic overview of the way in which the Dutch political and military leadership, and Dutch society, dealt with the events.

The Dutch Involvement in the Yugoslav War

The first question to ask is: Why did the Dutch government send soldiers to former Yugoslavia? One element involved the Dutch public’s wish for action in view of the evidence of atrocities they had seen on their television screens. The Dutch political system also offered some moral arguments as another reason for their decision.

One well-informed former United Nations official has different views on the European intervention in Yugoslavia. Phillip Corwin, the former chief UN political officer in Bosnia and Herzegovina, discussed this question in Dubious Mandate: A Memoir of the UN in Bosnia, Summer 1995.17 In his opinion, the European states intervened in the civil war in Yugoslavia to stop streams of refugees coming to their countries: “Their interest was neither altruistic nor genuinely humanitarian. They were motivated by domestic and racist concerns. They cared little if one million Moslems or Serbs or Croats moved from one part of former Yugoslavia to another part, no matter how cataclysmic that move might be, as long as those refugees didn’t try to enter their countries.”18

Corwin adds that UNPROFOR’s intervention did indeed significantly reduce Yugoslav emigration. In his opinion, also, “Ironically, one of the main dangers in the region at this point does not stem from ethnic nationalisms, but from NATO’s need to establish a post-Cold War identity and to make itself a credible deterrent to any alteration in the new world order.”19

Another view comes from the London Independent`s correspondent Robert Fisk: “Although never formally acknowledged, reports from European Community [ECMM] monitors in Krajina were altered, truncated and sometimes censored out of existence during Germany’s presidency of the European Union. When the ECMM recorded unfavourable to the Croats or favourable to the Serbs, these paragraphs were simply deleted by the Germans. Germany, of course, was Croatia’s ally, the first to recognize Croatia’s independence in 1991, just as it had been, under somewhat different leadership, in 1941.”20

Brendan O’Shea, an observer for the ECMM in Bosnia, recounted some of the findings of hearings by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee in May 1996: “Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott…went on to confirm that on 27 April 1994 the Clinton administration decided to help Iran ship arms to Bosnia through Croatia.” O’Shea concludes that the U.S. “effectively chose to condone a gross violation of a UN arms embargo, which they had supported themselves in the first instance.”21

Why Send Soldiers to Srebrenica?

The question remains: why did the Dutch government send its soldiers specifically to Srebrenica? Several other countries were asked first to replace the Canadian soldiers stationed there: all of them refused. Should not the Dutch have realized that Security Council Resolution 819 of April 16, 1993 — which declared Srebrenica a safe area — was something that the UN could not implement? The Bakker Commission concluded that decisions about participation in peace missions were often made on the basis of insufficient information, with faulty communication between government ministers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats, and the military leadership.22

In December 1993, Dutch generals told then-Minister of Defense Relus Ter Beek that stationing a Dutch battalion in Srebrenica was an assignment “full of honor: not simple, but doable.”23 It was only after the massacre that Dutch voices began to emerge saying that Srebrenica was a “mission impossible” from the start. General A. Van der Vlis, then-Dutch Chief of Defense Staff (the highest Dutch military position), declared before the Bakker Commission that he had considered resigning in 1993 when Minister Ter Beek had wanted to send soldiers to Srebrenica.24

In fact, many orders were given by various UN and NATO officials without their taking into account the predictable fatal consequences. These officials included UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Kofi Annan, and UN Special Envoy to the former Yugoslavia Yasushi Akashi.

In view of earlier massacres, these top UN officials knew that they could not competently execute the mission defined by the Security Council, for which there were no adequate resources. Kofi Annan himself concluded in his 1999 report: “We committed unforgivable mistakes in assessing the extent of the evil that we were facing, and because of that we did not succeed in protecting the inhabitants of Srebrenica from the planned attack and massacre.”25

Functioning in an Emergency

A second question should be: Did the Dutch function adequately in an emergency situation? The answer must be negative. At the political level, a new government had been elected in The Netherlands in 1994. The socialist Wim Kok replaced Ruud Lubbers as prime minister, and Lubbers’ CDA Christian party went into the opposition. In that cabinet, the liberal Joris Voorhoeve became Minister of Defense. He would later declare before the Bakker Commission that he knew from 1994 that the Srebrenica enclave was not defensible.26 The Dutch government also knew well that decision-making at the United Nation’s headquarters and at the command level was structurally inadequate.

Various witnesses before the Bakker Commission contradicted each other. Voorhoeve told the commission that he had never believed the UN’s promises of air support for the Dutch troops in Srebrenica.27 Former Prime Minister Lubbers and former Foreign Minister Kooijmans declared that they had believed Boutros-Ghali’s guarantee. Former Dutch UN Ambassador Niek Biegman said that it could not be concluded from Lubbers’ meeting with the Secretary-General that there was any guarantee.28 Member of parliament Blaauw (VVD Liberal party) stated before the commission that the Dutch parliament had believed that the UN would lend its support.29

Prime Minister Kok stayed in the background during the critical days of July 1995, rather than taking command of a situation which the Dutch government should have seen coming had it shown due diligence. The NRC Handelsblad concluded: “It became clear from the Bakker Commission hearings how coordination is lacking in the event of a crisis such as Srebrenica and Kosovo. Kok doesn’t take the lead in an emergency situation.”30

The Dutch researcher Norbert Both, who wrote his doctoral thesis about Srebrenica and since 1998 has been working at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reported that former ministers Ter Beek and Voorhoeve had told him that, between

1990 and 1995, there had never been a solid discussion in the Dutch cabinet on the political situation in the Balkans. He added: “The real moral question concerning Srebrenica — whether the Dutch UN soldiers could protect the Moslem population in the enclave — never played a role in the decision-making.”31

Shortly after the Srebrenica massacre, Richard Holbrooke was sent to Bosnia by President Clinton as America’s chief negotiator. After the fall of the enclave he had recommended using air power against the Bosnian Serbs in other parts of the country, as well as in Srebrenica. This was rejected by the Pentagon, and by the Western European nations that had troops at risk in Bosnia: “Everywhere one turned, there was a sense of confusion in the face of Bosnian Serb brutality. The first line of resistance to any action was the Dutch government, which refused to allow air strikes until all its soldiers were out of Bosnia….For a week I called our Ambassador in the Netherlands, Terry Dornbush, instructing him to press the Dutch to allow air strikes, but to no avail. The other Europeans had reached their limits; with their own soldiers also at risk, they were not going to agree to any action that endangered the Dutch.”32

The Failure of the Dutch Military

The Dutch military commander in the field was no better than his country’s political leadership. Srebrenica mayor Mandzic was present, as the representative of the Bosnian Moslems, in the negotiations in those fatal days in July 1995 between Serbian Bosnian General Ratko Mladic and the Dutch commander Karremans. Karremans patiently underwent the monologues of Mladic, according to Mandzic, and was intimidated by him.33 On that occasion Karremans toasted Mladic with a glass of champagne. A Dutch editorial states that he also accepted a gift for his wife from the general.34

Mandzic says of Karremans: “What I do not understand is that he could forget the fate of the Bosnians entirely. He did not think for a second about us. In all their reports, none of the military mentioned one word about what could happen with the Moslem population.”35

Six days after the fall of Srebrenica, Karremans’ deputy at Srebrenica, Major R.A. Franken, signed a declaration that the Bosnian Serbs had treated the Moslem refugees well, though he later said that he had only done so under duress. Franken declared before the tribunal on Yugoslavia in the Hague last year that he knew what would happen to the Moslems whom the Serbs had taken prisoner in Srebrenica.36

He was not alone. Corwin, the chief UN political officer in Bosnia, wrote in his diary on July 12, 1995: “Not a single one of us believes that the Moslem population of Srebrenica will be safe. The pattern is all too familiar, and it is a pattern used by Croats and Moslems as well. The draft-age men will be separated from their families, then tortured, imprisoned, executed. Women will be raped. Mass graves will be hurriedly dug to hide the evidence.”37

France’s Role

The French also have much to explain. In his declarations before a French parliamentary commission in January 2001, former French Prime Minister Alain Juppe said that The Netherlands had been opposed to saving the enclave. Then Dutch Foreign Minister van Mierlo denied this, claiming that, until the fall of the enclave, the Dutch had asked the United Nations to carry out air bombardments against the Bosnian Serbs. He added that these were refused — for reasons that remain unclear — by French General Bernard Janvier, commander of all UNPROFOR troops in former Yugoslavia.38 A Spanish

member of the European Parliament, Mr. Mediluce, a former UN civil servant, charged (on France 2 television) that General Janvier was as responsible for the slaughter at Srebrenica as were the Bosnian Serbs.39

In December 2000, the French humanitarian organization Doctors Without Frontiers published a “confidential” UN document in which the special UN representative in Yugoslavia, Yasushi Akashi, reported to Kofi Annan about his meeting on June 17, 1995, in Belgrade with the Yugoslav leader Milosevic. According to the French daily Liberation, this document suggests that Chirac had promised Milosevic that air bombardments would stop in exchange for the release of UN hostages in Bosnia.40 In fact, the contents of Akashi’s confidential cable were already widely known by early 1997.41

During the French parliamentary inquiry, The Observer wrote: “There is good reason to suspect that the French and Dutch governments, who were supposedly protecting the ‘safe haven’ in Eastern Bosnia, are actively concealing their part in the largest massacre to take place in Europe since World War II.”42

Were the Dutch Impartial?

A third key question is whether the Dutch peacekeepers were impartial. The Bakker Report places much blame on the Bosnian Serbs, but where did the Dutch soldiers stand? On July 23, after their flight to Zagreb, the Dutch authorities organized a press conference at which their speakers contradicted one another. The Dutch historian Ed Ribbink considers Karremans pro-Serbian. He writes that he “had been sent to protect the Moslems. However, he showed there that he was an admirer of the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, General Mladic, whom he called ‘a brilliant strategist’.”43

Ribbink added that Karremans had said that the Moslems themselves were largely responsible for the fall of the enclave: they had provoked the Serbs with nightly raids from Srebrenica and had been too cowardly to defend themselves. “Karremans’ text had previously been approved by the public relations executives of the Dutch Ministry of Defense.”44

Ribbink writes: “The journalists could hardly believe the message: according to Karremans, Mladic was the good guy, the Moslems were the bad guys.” The Dutch historian Thomas von der Dunk wrote a few days later: “The Dutch commanding officers considered the Serbs as ‘correctly operating’ colleagues; they looked down on the Moslems: they were just unorganized rabble….The Dutch mentality in Srebrenica fits into a tradition: what you fight for is not so important, so long as you fight. A straight line runs from the lifted glass [of champagne] in Srebrenica to the handshake Hermann Goering got from an American officer in 1945.”45

As for the commander of the Dutch ground forces, at the same press conference, General Couzy maintained “that no genocide had been found [to have taken place] while at the time members of the Dutch battalion had already declared in Zagreb to Couzy that they had been personal witnesses of its consequences.”46 At that press conference, however, Minister Joris Voorhoeve admitted the genocide and condemned it. He considered Karremans the only one with wrong opinions about the Serbians.

Ribbink’s conclusion is different: “Karremans was the commander of Dutchbat. He passed on his attitude and opinions to the whole battalion, a battalion without fuel and on emergency rations, waiting for replacements who didn’t come. They were furious with the Moslems because of the death of the battalion member van Rensen. They only wanted one thing: to go home. Why would individual battalion members be heroes if their commander so obviously chose the other side?”47

Exemplary Representatives of Morality

A fourth question: Did the Dutch behave as one would expect from a peace-keeping force under the supposedly humanitarian banner of the United Nations? Five years after the events, the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad reported that Lt.-General A. van Baal, who was to become commander of the Dutch ground forces, had inadequately investigated Dutch soldiers’ misbehavior in Srebrenica before the massacre.48

As deputy-commander of the Dutch ground forces, he had been asked in May 1995 to investigate complaints about the Dutch battalion. One of the accusations was that the Dutch troops had paid local women for sex. Van Baal’s report said that this was untrue: his investigation was based solely on a fax from Karremans denying the accusations. The NRC Handelsblad now quoted an anonymous high-placed officer, who said that the Dutch military had not made an honest effort to bring the truth to light.49

In March 2001, three soldiers of the Dutchbat battalion were allowed to pay a fine of approximately $200 to avoid prosecution for extreme rightist behavior against Moslems in Srebrenica. The soldiers had made the Hitler salute, and walked around in t-shirts with a picture of a United Nations soldier grabbing a Moslem child by the throat. Five similar cases were not prosecuted.50

The Dutch judicial investigation of extreme rightist excesses only began in 1999, after the new Minister of Defense, Frank de Grave, had sent reports to the legal authorities which military intelligence had possessed since 1996 but which they had withheld from his predecessor Voorhoeve.

De Grave also published a report in December 1999 of the debriefing of the Dutchbat unit by a special team from the Ministry of Defense in autumn 1995. The report made clear, inter alia, that several Dutch soldiers exchanged weapons and parts of their uniforms with both Serbs and Moslems. Some sold combat boots for $150-$250.51

In 2001, it was announced that Dutch prosecutors had dismissed the case of a Dutch UN soldier who in 1994 had been forced by Bosnian Serb policemen to execute a local criminal.52

Another recent revelation recounted the story of a roll of film on which a Dutch soldier had photographed five murdered Moslems in Srebrenica. The film had been given to a Dutch officer in 1994 and had “disappeared.” A few months ago, the officer was offered a chance to pay about $200 to the Dutch legal authorities, to avoid prosecution for destroying evidence.53

This film should not be confused with another better known one. A Dutchbat soldier by the name of Rutten claims that on July 13, 1995, he photographed a Dutch soldier who was helping to separate Bosnian women and children from the men (who were then taken away by the Serbs and either “disappeared” or were murdered). When the film was sent to the laboratory of the Ministry of Defense, its development failed.54

In 1998, the NRC Handelsblad published the information that Voorhoeve had received data in 1995 from a Dutch military investigation unit about the assistance that Dutch soldiers had given the Serbs in separating the Moslem prisoners. Voorhoeve did not make this information public.55 However, on October 20, 1995, the same daily quoted then-Chief of Staff of the UN in Bosnia, Dutch General C. Nicolai, “who said that Dutchbat had received the instruction ‘to assist’ in the deportation, because ‘to participate in ethnic separation is better than watching ethnic murder.’ On July 27, 1995, Minister Voorhoeve wrote to parliament that he had ordered Dutchbat commander Karremans ‘not to assist in any way with the ethnic purification’.”56

The Investigations

Did the Dutch political leadership behave as it should have when more details of the massacre and the failure of the Dutch gradually came to light? There is no doubt that when the crown prince, the prime minister, and others attended the Zagreb feast in July 1995, they knew about the executions of Bosnian Moslems, even if the full extent of the murders was not yet known.

The United Nations report, based on the Dutch debriefing report, notes, for instance, “that during the early evening of July 12 a Dutchbat soldier saw about 10 people led by two armed BSA soldiers in a westerly direction from the Dutchbat compound towards a dirt track. Several soldiers from Dutchbat went to the area on July 13 and found the corpses of nine men near a stream. All of the dead had gunshot wounds in their backs at heart level.”57

The Dutch parliament only discussed the events in Srebrenica in September 1995, when information about the genocide had already been known for weeks. D66 parliamentarian Hoekema admitted this before the Bakker Commission, and said that, in retrospect, “we waited too formalistically for the right moment for consultation.”58 The overall Dutch investigation process was and remains slow. The Bakker Commission was set up only five years after the event. The role of the media is one of many aspects of the Dutch involvement which has not been properly analyzed. The NIOD report is taking a long time. Furthermore, as noted, the findings of the investigations into the Dutch soldiers’ misbehavior before the fall of the enclave were kept from the public until 1999.

Where were the Intellectuals?

A further question: Did the Dutch population and its intellectual leadership react vigorously in demanding an investigation? It took five years for some 40 Dutch writers and media people to write an open letter, in which they accused: “The safe departure of the Dutch soldiers was more important than the execution of their primary task: the protection of the population and refugees.” They added that many fundamental, painful questions remain unanswered: “The Dutch politicians close their eyes and windows in the hope that the storm will blow over. Are we so afraid of the truth that we dare not see it?”59

A Case Study in European Hypocrisy

European countries are seldom challenged in the way that Israel is. They are not under great stress, and the illusion is propagated that, when they are, they consider carefully before making decisions. By all accounts, Srebrenica is a far more severe case than Sabra and Shatilla, both with respect to the magnitude of the crime and the responsibility of the commanders on the ground. Nevertheless, the similarities between the two cases demonstrate that double standards are being methodically applied by many abroad and also by several Israeli journalists and opposition figures.

The Dutch had much longer to assess what might happen in Srebrenica than the Israeli command had with respect to Sabra and Shatilla. Despite the fact that the number of victims in Srebrenica was much larger, the Dutch political system reacted slowly and complacently. Dutch intellectuals and the general public were greatly indifferent compared with the massive demonstrations and debate that took place in Israeli society. Israel’s Kahan Commission investigations went deeper and were conducted soon after the events, as compared to the case in The Netherlands six years after the fact.

In Sabra and Shatilla, Lebanese Christians murdered hundreds of Moslems; in Srebrenica, Serbian Christians killed many thousands of Bosnian Moslems. Efforts to link Israel with the massacres in Sabra and Shatilla have been proven to be baseless, even in a U.S. court (where Ariel Sharon won a libel case against Time magazine). Nonetheless, the image of Sharon is associated worldwide with Sabra and Shatilla, an event that developed suddenly over a period of less than 36 hours. One may wonder why Prime Minister Kok is not associated at all with the much more predictable disaster of Srebrenica. His ministerial responsibility seems substantially greater than Sharon’s, especially in view of his lack of action over a substantial period of time while the Srebrenica drama was unfolding.

In this context, it is important to recall that there had been previous Serb attacks in the past on UN “safe areas.” The Srebrenica atrocities could have been anticipated. The Kahan Commission established in the Israeli case “that no clear warning was provided by military intelligence or the Mossad about what might happen if the Phalangist forces entered the (Palestinian refugee) camps.”60Moreover, the Dutch and the UN had several days to intervene to stop the killings; the Kahan Commission established that, by the time Israel’s Minister of Defense learned of the Christian atrocities, they had already been halted.61

Exposing the double standards of the Dutch has become specifically relevant as a result of the recent Middle East visit of Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen. Despite the major structural failure of his country to deal with the Srebrenica situation that it entered into voluntarily, he came to stress that Israel must take confidence-building measures, such as stopping the expansion of settlements and transferring to the Palestinians tax monies that have been withheld. After his visit, he made positive remarks, inter alia, about Arafat and negative ones about the Israeli leadership. Karremans’ admiration for criminals seems to have found a successor higher up in the Dutch hierarchy.

Another example of van Aartsen’s judgement were his remarks after the first round of the Yugoslav elections in autumn last year. Kostunica had been elected, but Milosevic was not conceding and called for a second round. Unasked, van Aartsen publicly advised Kostunica to accept a second round. He was strongly criticized for this in the Dutch parliament, but refused to change his opinion.62

First to Criticize Others

“We [the Dutch] are always in the front line to show up somebody else’s failures, but we always stand at the back if we have to recognize our own mistakes,” writes Dutch historian Thomas von der Dunk.63 Rob de Wijk, a Dutch defense expert, adds another perspective: “The Dutch politicians do not know what they can do against the senseless violence in [Dutch] streets, but they immediately have solutions for problems at world level.”64

There are further reasons why Dutch political advice to Israel is hypocritical. The last time the Netherlands had to defend its independence was against the Germans in 1940: it capitulated in five days. Soldiers of other countries had to risk their lives to free The Netherlands in 1945, as the Dutch were unable to do so themselves. One can only wonder how fast The Netherlands would have collapsed if it had to confront the adversities Israel has faced in the last decades.

Von der Dunk voiced his opinion in 1998: “Since Srebrenica we know by how many deaths The Netherlands most probably capitulates…one [i.e., the Dutchbat soldier killed there]. I can also understand that very well. Of course the government didn’t have a simple choice; the life of their own citizens were concerned, but understanding everything is not forgiving everything.”65

A few decades earlier there had been a precedent. After the independence of Indonesia in 1949, the Dutch had hung on to Western New Guinea. After a few Dutch soldiers were killed in the 1960s in battles against the Indonesians, they gave up the territory.

The Dutch double standard may also be viewed from a different angle. Nothing sticks to The Netherlands: their colonial misbehavior; the Dutch authorities’ widespread assistance to the German occupiers in arresting and deporting over 100,000 Jews to their deaths during World War II; the government-in-exile’s minimal efforts on behalf of Jews; the intentional discrimination against the Jews in the post-war restitution process; the fallacies in last year’s government report to parliament on this process. The myth of the benign Dutch is false, but their public relations are excellent. For Israelis who are the victims of double standards, this is something that can be learned from the Dutch.

In the coming years, Israel and the Jewish people will have to systematically document and expose the double standard applied against them. Fighting this is becoming a key challenge for Israel. Hopefully, this analysis of the Srebrenica case is a small step forward on this road.

Future Developments

In the future there may be important evidence on Srebrenica and the overall UN involvement in Yugoslavia forthcoming from new sources. The “women of Srebrenica” want several Western figures who played a role in the conflict to be prosecuted before the Yugoslavia tribunal. Of the Serb leaders, Milosevic is already under arrest in the Hague. Mladic, as well as former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, may be brought there one day as well.

If they wish to, they might have interesting information to tell about their contacts with counterparts from the United Nations and its member states. If that happens, the tribunal may deliver even more good than expected. In addition to sitting in judgment on suspected war criminals, it can help expose a number of Western liars and hypocrites.

In the meantime, no Israeli diplomat should be sent abroad without a good knowledge of the literature on the Yugoslav war, which contains a practically unlimited amount of useful information for presenting Israel’s case.

*     *     * 


1. De Volkskrant, November 7, 2000. [Dutch]
2. United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General Pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 53/35 (1998).
3. Bakker Commission Report, 2000, p. 200. [Dutch]
4. NRC Handelsblad, July 13, 1996. [Dutch]
5. When looking back five years later, Dutch Prime Minister Kok tried to mitigate the impression of the Zagreb party. He said that, via his secretary-general, he had asked the minister of defense to make it a sober meeting. He admitted that there had been loud music “on part of the terrain and that the commander of the ground forces, General Couzy, had organized it in his own way.” Bakker Report, op. cit.
6. United Nations, Press Release SG/SM/7489, July 10, 2000.
7. United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General, op. cit.
8. De Volkskrant, June 27, 2001. [Dutch]
9. United Nations, Press Release SC/6843, April 14, 2000.
10. United Nations, Press Release SG/SM/7489, op. cit.
11. United Nations, Press Release SC/6843, April 14, 2000.
12. David Lamb, The Africans, rev. ed. London: Methuen, 1985, p. 104.
13. The other coalition partners are the Socialist Party van de Arbeid and the Liberal VVD.
14. Tijdelijke (Kamer) Commissie Besluitvorming Uitzendingen.
15. The Bakker Commission read “400 meters of archives.” NRC Handelsblad, May 20, 2001. [Dutch]
16. United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General, op. cit.
17. Durham: Duke University Press, 1999.
18. Ibid., p. 30.
19. Ibid.
20. Brendan O’Shea, Crisis at Bihac, Phoenix Mill: Sutton, 1998, Foreword, p. xii.
21. Ibid., p 162ff.
22. NRC Handelsblad, September 4, 2000. [Dutch]
23. Bakker Report, op. cit., p. 146.
24. NRC Handelsblad, May 23, 2000. [Dutch]
25. United Nations, Report of Security General Pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 43/55 (1998).
26. NRC Handelsblad, May 31, 2000. [Dutch]
27. This story of guarantees bears many similarities to the last major conflict The Netherlands faced when, in the early 1960s, they ceded Dutch New Guinea to Indonesia. Joseph Luns, then the Dutch Foreign Minister, maintained for a long time that he had received guarantees of American military support for The Netherlands in this conflict. This did not materialize, and strong doubts arose as to whether such guarantees had ever been given. Chris van Eesterik, Nederlands Laatste Bastion in de Oost, Baarn: Anthos-boek, 1982, p. 166ff.
28. NRC Handelsblad, May 30, 2000. [Dutch]
29. NRC Handelsblad, May 31, 2000. [Dutch]
30. NRC Handelsblad, June 9, 2000. [Dutch]
31. NRC Handelsblad, August 31, 2000. [Dutch]
32. Richard Holbrooke, To End a War, New York: Random House, 1998, p. 70.
33. De Volkskrant, op. cit. 
34. NRC Handelsblad, November 16, 1999. [Dutch]
35. Ibid.
36. NRC Handelsblad, January 11, 2001. [Dutch]
37. Corwin, op. cit., p. 212.
38. NRC Handelsblad, January 25, 2001. [Dutch]
39. Jacques Julliard, “Should Janvier Be Held Accountable for the Events at Srebrenica?” Le Nouvel Observateur, 3-9 October 1996. [French]
40. Liberation, December 22, 2000. [French]
41. Quoted verbatim in Basic Reports, British American Security Information Council, February 11, 1997, No. 56, p. 2.

TO: Annan, UNations, New York
INFO: Gharekhan, UNations, New York
Stoltenberg, ICFY, Geneva
FROM: Akashi, UNPF-HQ, Zagreb
DATE: 19 June 1995
NUMBER: Z-1020
SUBJECT: Discussions with President Milosevic – 17 June 1995

In the course of our discussions on air power, Milosevic stated that he had been advised by President Chirac of President Clinton’s agreement that air strikes should not occur if unacceptable to Chirac. Milosevic added that Chirac has also stated that he did not expect the rapid reaction force to be employed at all, but that its creation could help get negotiations back on track. Despite these assurances, Milosevic was most concerned that the rapid reaction force would be exploited by the Bosnian government to provoke international intervention. I stated that Minister Muratovic had been quite cool to the arrival of the force, insisting that a separate contract was required with the government. I also emphasized that the reserve would be an integral part of the United Nations forces, and that it would follow peacekeeping principles and remain impartial as set out in resolution 998 (1995).

42. The Observer, April 22, 2001.
43. NRC Handelsblad, August 17, 1998. [Dutch]
44. Ibid.
45. NRC Handelsblad, August 22, 1998. [Dutch]
46. Ibid.
47. Ibid.
48. NRC Handelsblad, March 26, 2001. [Dutch]
49. Ibid.
50. NRC Handelsblad, March 20, 2001. [Dutch]
51. NRC Handelsblad, December 22, 1999. [Dutch]
52. NRC Handelsblad, March 21, 2001. [Dutch]
53. De Telegraaf, June 20, 2001. [Dutch]
54. Ibid.
55. NRC Handelsblad, August 13, 1998. [Dutch]
56. NRC Handelsblad, October 21, 1995. [Dutch]
57. UN, Report of the Secretary-General, op. cit., section 342.
58. NRC Handelsblad, June 5, 2000. [Dutch]
59. NRC Handelsblad, July 11, 2000. [Dutch]
60. Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Events at the Refugee Camps in Beirut (The Kahan Commission), February 8, 1983.
61. Ibid. 
62. De Telegraaf, October 5, 2000. [Dutch]
63. NRC Handelsblad, August 22, 1998. [Dutch]
64. Quoted in NRC Handelsblad, May 20, 2000. [Dutch]
65. NRC Handelsblad, May 20, 2000. [Dutch]

*     *     *


Manfred Gerstenfeld is Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and is an international consultant specializing in business and environmental strategy to the senior ranks of multinational corporations. His books include the bestseller Revaluing Italy (with Lorenzo Necci, Sperling and Kupfer, 1992; Italian), The State as a Business (Rizzoli, 1994; Italian), and Israel’s New Future: Interviews (JCPA and Rubin Mass, 1994). His newest book, The Jewish Environmental Tradition: A Sustainable World, will be published later this year. He was, inter alia, a board member of the Israel Corporation, and is both co-chair of the Judaism Task Force and one of the associate editors of the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Nature.