Defence Minister Ollongren will attend the 27th commemoration of the genocide in Srebrenica tomorrow. She will give a speech at the cemetery in Potocari. The ministers visit is sensitive in Bosnia. Last month, Prime Minister Rutte made excuses to Dutchbat veterans, and that shot many bereaved in the wrong throathole.
“I have no words for it. Bravo Netherlands, for this misstep.” Hava Avdic couldnt believe it when she learned that excuses and a military award were being handed out to Dutchbat veterans.
The ceremony on June 18 in Schaarsbergen led to emotional reactions, among Avdic and other relatives. They believe that the Dutch government should have first come to the address of survivors with apologies, something they have been waiting for years.
For Avdic, it was painful to see the images showing Dutchbat soldiers being pinned the Badge of Honor for Merit by Minister Ollongren. “Badge of Honor?” she asks with raised eyebrows. “They are distinguished for work that they have not done properly. Theres nothing honorable about that, is it?”
Skeleton not complete
Hava Avdics family lost all men between the ages of 18 and 60 in the Srebrenica genocide. Her brother was nineteen, worked for the Red Cross and cared for wounded in the Dutchbat compound. Exactly how and where he was killed is unknown.
only years later that the first remains of him were identified, in 2013 the first burial was. Still, his skeleton is not complete. Different body parts were found in different mass graves because the Bosnian Serb army moved mass graves with bulldozers after the genocide.
Dutchbat should have protected her brother, she is firm about that. “Im not accusing individual soldiers. They couldnt start anything against the Serbs. But they were there on the spot. And they were tasked with protecting innocent civilians.”
Relatives like Hava Avdic not only want excuses from the Dutch government, they also want an in-depth international investigation into exactly what happened in those days in July 1995. “The Netherlands was there on behalf of the United Nations. Lets explore it step by step. With the military, with the Dutch government and with the United Nations.”
Survivors continue to ask questions about international decision-making about, for example, the failure to provide air support to UN soldiers in Srebrenica. “If help was asked, why didnt it come? That has never been clarified for us.”
Dutchbat was overrun and could not prevent a mass murder of the male population from taking place. Under the watchful eye of Dutch soldiers, thousands of men from women and children were separated by troops of Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic on 12 and 13 July 1995. Most of those men were killed not much later. The Srebrenica genocide is the largest war crime in Europe since World War II.
In 2002, researchers from the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies concluded that Dutchbat was ill-prepared, overly armed and sent on mission with an unclear mandate, and that it did not receive sufficient support from UN allies. The government of then Prime Minister Kok resigned as a result of that report.
According to Avdic, the time is right for a new study, an international investigation. “Lets do that now, 27 years later. We deserve that. The Dutch soldiers deserve that too. That we finally have the real truth black and white without guesswork. Why, how and who was responsible.”
After the anger over the apology to Dutchbat, relatives also expect Minister Ollongren to make a gesture in Potocari on Monday. “All mothers, children, all people of Srebrenica expect excuses. Because we are human beings. And it has to happen after so many years. It is necessary. For us and for the Netherlands.”
Watch the extensive interview with surviving Hava Avdic here.