Since the Netherlands started offering compensation to relatives of certain Srebrenica genocide victims because Dutch peacekeeping troops failed to protect them, millions of euros have been paid out but several thousand applications are pending.
“My daughter collected all the papers, I couldn’t,” says Hava Gluhic, whose husband Sabahudin Gluhic was killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the Srebrenica genocide in July 1995.
“I needed to visit various institutions. Because you need the marriage certificate, but to get it they ask what you need it for. Also for the birth certificate. You always have to explain everything and it becomes too much.”
For Gluhic, one of the women from the Mothers of Srebrenica association, the process of seeking compensation began 15 years ago, when the association first filed a lawsuit against the Dutch state. The lawsuit argued that a Dutch peacekeeping battalion based at a UN compound in Potocari near Srebrenica failed to protect Bosniaks from being killed.
Gluhic’s husband worked as a cameraman at the UN compound and was supposed to be evacuated together with the Dutch soldiers, but instead he was sent away. Because his name was on a list of Bosniaks in the UN compound that was compiled by the Red Cross, she didn’t have to collect additional papers.
For Gluhic, the process was fairly quick. After she signed an agreement, she received the compensation within a few days. For many of the Srebrenica victims’ relatives, it is not about the money they receive, but more about the recognition they get because of this compensation.
“Nothing in the world could make up for the father to my children. Because when my children were little and when they saw people hug each other they would ask: ‘Mum, when will our father come and hug us?’” said Gluhic.
“There is no money that someone can give you to pay for someone’s life. But the responsibility that the Dutch take means a lot. Nobody but the Dutch has admitted guilt.”
‘Ten per cent chance of survival’
The Dutch Supreme Court ruled in July 2019 that the Netherlands was partially responsible for the deaths of around 350 Bosniak men who had sought safety in the UN compound in Potocari but were then handed over to Bosnian Serb forces on July 13, 1995 and subsequently killed.
The court said that the Dutch Battalion acted illegally because it knew the men were in serious danger of being attacked or killed. Its ruling estimated that if they had been allowed to remain at the UN base, they would have had a ten per cent chance of survival.
The judgment meant that victims’ widows would be given 15,000 euros in compensation and other surviving relatives would get 10,000 euros.
In June 2021 the Netherlands Compensation Commission Potocari opened an office in Sarajevo and a website to allow the relatives to file their compensation claims.
According to the most recent figures obtained from the Ministry of Defence in the Netherlands, more than 6,000 compensation claims have been submitted. By November, 852 of them had been allocated compensation, and more than 600 had been rejected. All the other claims are still pending.
A total of 8,661,914.47 euros was paid out to victims’ relatives by November, the Ministry of Defence said.
According to the Commission, on average four to five relatives per victim have been applying for the compensation.
The importance of the ‘Franken list’
It is not entirely clear why the Dutch Supreme Court came up with the number of 350 victims. It is based on an estimation, not on complete data.
The largest group of people who are entitled to the compensation are the relatives of Bosniak men whose names were written on the so-called ‘Franken List’. This list was made either on July 12 or 13 by the Dutch Battalion by order of Major Robert Franken and includes approximately 250 names of Bosniaks who were inside the UN compound.
However, some older men were not registered and some people refused to be put on the list because they were afraid it would be given to the Bosnian Serb Army. There are also men from the ‘Franken List’ who survived.
Because the list was not complete, the Netherlands Compensation Commission Potocari commissioned a study to gain greater certainty about the number and identity of the men covered by the Supreme Court judgment.
Several other lists of Bosniaks who were inside the UN compound were also compiled – the Red Cross list, plus lists compiled by Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Missing Persons Institute and Federal Police.
After the Srebrenica genocide, Hava Avdic learned from her grandfather that her brother Mubedin, who at the time was 20 years old, was on one of those lists.
“We never found out how come that he made that list. But my brother is on it, so as far as he is concerned, we had no need to prove he was there on the 13th of July,” said Avdic.
With her mother and younger brother, she applied for the compensation for her brother Mubedin and her father Munib. However, her father was not on the same list.
The family has been given confirmation that the commission received their documents and that it would either approve or reject the compensation request within six months.
“It is also possible that someone is not on any of those lists,” said Sylvia Wortmann, the chair of the commission.
“That doesn’t automatically mean that the claim will be rejected. We research every case, especially when the last place someone was seen alive was Potocari,” she explained.
The commission then requests additional information and statements from two witnesses. “You do not have to prove that someone was at the compound, but you have to make it plausible,” said Wortmann.
The fact is that far more people than expected are applying for the compensation. According to the additional research and estimations carried out by the commission, it is estimated that a maximum of 500 men could have been at the UN compound on the afternoon of July 13 – probably fewer.
But the number of compensation claims that have been submitted to the commission would suggest there were approximately 2,100 victims. So what has gone wrong?
“Nothing,” said Wortmann. “Absolutely nothing. I can imagine that people submit the compensation claim, even if their relative was not within the fence of the Dutchbat compound. Because it’s also a form of recognition people are looking for. They have hope, but in this case we cannot give that recognition and people are generating their own disappointment.
“I remember one case of a woman who lost her husband and four sons. They all fled to the woods [outside Srebrenica] and probably were killed there. We have to reject that claim, which is really distressing. This is not something I easily forget. Because I have to sign all five rejection letters. It has a great impact on that woman and also on us. Of course it’s work, but it’s also painful for us.”
Although the commission doesn’t monitor all the exact reasons for rejection, it can confirm that the vast majority of rejections are given because the victim does not fit into the specific category established by the Supreme Court decision. Wortmann emphasised that people need to prepare and check the requirements before submitting the application.
“We could have made it easier for ourselves and only used the Franken List,” she said. “But we know these lists are not complete. It’s really important for us to give the compensation to those who should get it according to the ruling of the Supreme Court. That’s the righteous thing to do. But by having this approach, we make things complicated for ourselves and for the relatives.”
Inside or outside the fence
There has been some criticism because more than 20,000 Bosniaks from Srebrenica wanted to find sanctuary in the Dutch Battalion compound but were denied access and had to stay on the other side of the wire fence.
It is estimated that among them there were 600 to 900 men. Most of them didn’t survive the genocide, but for relatives of this group there is no compensation.
For the Dutch state, it is all about “who was in the compound and who was outside”, said Avdic.
“One of my uncles was on the other side of the fence, but he stayed in Potocari and was found [dead] there. However, the wire is relevant for the Dutch to tell who was a victim and who wasn’t,” she said.
“I agree that they [the Dutch battalion] were with so few people that they couldn’t protect us,” said Gluhic.
“But they should have admitted the 10 per cent guilt for all [Bosniaks who tried to seek refuge at the compound]. That is the hardest part, because we were all together.”
After Gluhic received her compensation, she said it was hard for her to tell her friends who didn’t get any. “I was ashamed and I apologised to them,” she said.
Dissatisfaction remains about the Supreme Court’s decision that the Dutch state was only 10 per cent liable for the Bosniaks who managed to get inside the compound.
“Nobody cares about money anymore, but everyone is offended because they have not admitted the 10 per cent guilt for every person. That is why our women are disappointed,” Gluhic continued.
Avdic called the Supreme Court ruling a “pure insult” and “a game with us who have survived and who are trying to remain dignified after so many years”.
“It’s very harrowing,” acknowledged Wortmann. “But the Dutch Battalion could not guarantee the hygiene, food and water for these people and at one point it was decided to not allow any more people in the UN compound.
“The Supreme Court decided that the Dutch state was only responsible for what happened on the premises of the Dutch Battalion. A line had to be drawn and the fence is that line. That’s harsh, but if people don’t find that right, it’s not up to us. It’s the decision of the Supreme Court. And within the limits of that decision, we as a commission try to do what is just.”
Initially, Hava Avdic didn’t want to apply for the compensation.
“Somehow I thought that I was betraying my father and brother, that I was selling them. And through that compensation, [the Dutch] are in some way paying for the last drop of hope, of energy, of pride and are finishing their obligation and debt to us,” she explained.
“However, when I thought about it more deeply, if someone admits that he owes you something, it means that they are guilty. To me, this only means that they are guilty.”
Relatives can still apply for compensation until June 15, 2023. According to the commission there is no maximum budget for the claims, and everyone who is entitled to the money will received it.
(c) 2023, Balkan Insight