Page last updated at 16:25 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 17:25 UK

Srebrenica victims cannot sue UN

Rows of caskets containing the remains of victims of the Srebrenica massacre (file image)
Some 8,000 Muslim civilians were killed in the Srebrenica massacre

A Dutch court has ruled that it is unable to hear a case brought against the UN by relatives of victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia.

The court ruled that UN immunity, enshrined in its charter, meant it could not be prosecuted by any state.

But it said a civil case against the Dutch state, over its troops' failure to protect civilians, could proceed.

A lawyer for the relatives of the victims said they intended to appeal against the court's decision.

"The court... has no jurisdiction to hear the action against the United Nations," the judgement read.

"The court concludes that, in international law practice the absolute immunity of the UN is the norm and is respected."

Safe haven

Srebrenica was a UN safe haven under the protection of Dutch peacekeepers when, in 1995, Bosnian-Serb forces overran the town, killing some 8,000 Muslim civilians.

The Mothers of Srebrenica group, which represents some 6,000 survivors of the massacre, argued that the UN was responsible for the failure of its peacekeeping force to keep the enclave safe.

The court ruled that the UN has immunity, even if a genocide has happened, and that is in our opinion exactly what you can't accept
Alix Hagedorn, lawyer for Mothers of Srebrenica

But Dutch government lawyers argued that UN immunity was vital to allow the UN to exercise its duty free from interference from member states' courts.

Any ruling lifting the UN's immunity - which forms part of the global body's founding charter - would have had serious repercussions for future peacekeeping operations, analysts said.

The plaintiffs' lawyer, Alix Hagedorn, said they intended to appeal against the decision and take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if they did not succeed at appeal.

"The court ruled that the UN has immunity, even if a genocide has happened, and that is in our opinion exactly what you can't accept," Mr Hagedorn said.

"You have to change the jurisdiction on this, because otherwise you accept genocide."

Lawyers had indicated that they were seeking a figure of some $4bn (2bn) in compensation.

The Srebrenica massacre has been established as an act of genocide, by the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

In 2002, the Dutch cabinet led by Wim Kok resigned following a report into the massacre which said that politicians had sent the Dutch peacekeepers on an impossible mission.

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