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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Was the Dutch cabinet right to resign over Srebrenica?
The entire Dutch cabinet has resigned after being blamed for failing to prevent the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
A few days earlier, a government-commissioned report was published which said Dutch government officials and senior military figures could have done more to save the people of Srebrenica.
The report says the government sent its peacekeepers on a "mission impossible". Troops were deployed in Srebrenica, but failed to prevent a massacre which was the worst single atrocity of the Bosnia war.
The crisis ends the career of a popular cabinet credited with slashing unemployment and creating prosperity.
Do you think the Dutch Government was right to resign? Should they take responsibility in this way?
Stephen Barrett, England
The rights and wrongs of the Srebrenica vis-a-vis the Dutch role are one thing. It is sad, however, to read the comments on Nick Schutz above who seems to think that the war of Clinton's Dick actually solved anything. Many would argue that it was ill concieved and that the execution was unbelievably poor. (Personally I would have supported the brinkmanship had it been properly thought through - troops on the ground and a very clear message that troops would invade unless Milosevic backed down. As it was, the strategy used (against the advice of most military and intelligence communities) was an absolute farce.
Dr. Alfred Gerald Davison Ph.D., Denmark
Shortly after the Srebrenica catastrophe, a few lightly-armed UN soldiers refused to open the gates of a UN compound where thousands of East Timorese refugees were sheltering from a vastly superior force of anti-independence militias backed by the Indonesian army. They knew that their duty as UN soldiers was to risk their lives to protect unarmed civilians, and when they refused to open the besieged compound, the brutal Indonesian forces chose to retreat, rather than directly confront the UN as represented by a few brave soldiers with hand weapons.
The Dutch battalion at Srebrenica was much better armed, and could count on immediate air support if Mladic was crazy enough to directly attack the UN. Fortunately for Mladic, a mere threat was enough to force the surrender of thousands without a single shot being fired. There is a famous video sequence of the Dutch commander, Karremans, sharing a drink with Mladic before the surrender.
Our government resigned because they said they felt 'responsible'. Some of the ministers who resigned want to be ministers again or even Prime Minister after the elections of May 15, a couple of weeks from now! How in the world is this possible? Does 'responsibility' end after May 15?
Philip Acha, Yaounde, Cameroon
I often hear that the entire Dutch population is sorry for what happened. But why should I (and hundreds of others of my age) be sorry for it? I was only 13 at the time. War is about killing.
The resignation of the Dutch cabinet has restored my faith in humanity, one that is very hard to maintain in these troubled times. They claimed responsibility for their actions-or lack of it in this case-it was the right thing to do. One can only hope that other governments, past and present, will follow suit.
I must say that it is one of the most ethical actions that any government has done since WW2. It is obviously for the reason why The Tribunal is placed in Hague. I can only look forward for the reactions of those who carry the same responsibility for allowing of slaughters over Serbian people in Croatia and Kosovo and Metohia as well as Palestinians in Jenin as well as Tibetians in China. Somehow, I don't feel that Dutch guys are to be blamed for anything at all.
As a Dutch person I know that many Dutch people have felt guilty about Srebrenica for years. The fact that the Dutch government took the step to resign, does not mean that there is no space for other parties to admit guilt. Personnally I would welcome it if the UN changes the way it performs peace-keeping. Currently I have more faith in UK soldiers going in somewhere like Sierra Leone while they are not under the UN, because I know they will be more capable to act.
The comments I've heard here on the BBC make me realise that it may be unusual for people from other nations to see a government resign like this. At home it happens more often over internal matters and is simply a way to let the population reevaluate who they exactly want to govern them.
I think that the reasons of the Dutch government to take their responsibility were plausible and correct. It is true that they could have perhaps come to these conclusions earlier, but one should not forget that the report, made by The Netherlands Institute of War Documentation (NIOD), took long to put together. Since a government should always take their responsibility based on good arguments, even their resignation four weeks before the elections is therefore justified. Concerning the Dutch soldiers that have been stationed in Srebrenica to protect these people, one should know that they were far outnumbered, lightly armed, and not supported by the UN. Although several requests were made, air support didn't come (even while there was a complete squadron of Dutch F16s on standby). I think that when another "larger" Nato-member, like the US or UK, would have requested support they would have gotten it. I therefore hope that since then the UN and NATO-command structures have changed dramatically, so that also the opinions of "smaller" countries are taken into consideration.
It's only fair to point out that during the Bosnian crisis, the whole political scene in Europe; including UK was run by spineless indecisive politicians. Serbs did what they felt like when they felt like it. UN/European forces should not have created safe zones if they did not intended to safeguard them! The result was that the Serbs didn't even have to round up the people they wanted to slaughter.
I think its great that a government is taking responsibility for its actions. Resigning might be going to far; have they issued a formal apology for their inaction? has the UN? or other parties? Has anyone suggestion a practical form of restitution? With all those people dead, do the surviving families need help? Not just monetarily, but physically. I think it is the first step in the right direction and I hope others will follow.
Definitely. I applaud their moral conviction and courage; but I am equally certain no other government will exhibit the same. We have demonized the Serbs for years, but failed to acknowledge our own guilt. Our inaction is as much to blame for the death in that country as anything else. Our cowardice and complacency cost thousands of lives. There is no more denying it.
This once again demonstrates the Dutch attitude and moral code as something to which the rest of us Europeans should aspire. The Dutch people as well as the cabinet feel deeply about this tragedy. This type of national remorse is unlikely to occur anywhere else that I have come across.
The Dutch government only shows themselves as foolish politically correct. The fact they were on the ground trying to do something good is to be applauded. The problem is the ineffective UN. Don't forget that the true fault lies with those who did the killing. What a silly premises we have arrived at! a kills b, c tries but fails to stop a, therefore c is at fault for killing b. Wake up folks!
This resignation should be seen in the light of the fact that 1) A general election is due in the Netherlands next month anyway, and that 2) Wim Kok was not planning to continue in politics after that election. No doubt members of the current cabinet will turn up in the next cabinet after the dust has settled.
Bilal Patel, London, UK
Rather than lay blame on the Dutch, or their troops, it seems to me it was the whole command structure that was at fault ... a gross failure in leadership by the UN and Europe as a whole. Thank goodness that the English speaking nations know right from wrong and have the guts to do the right thing ... a bit late, perhaps, but (as always) we come though in the end.
A very encouraging step. Yes, it is just before the elections but it is just after the publication of the report as well! Hope that this resignation will be an open invitation to all those responsible for shameful massacres across the globe and trust that this development shall contribute to the global consciousness leading to a "global civil society."
Oh for politicians of their integrity in this country. We can but dream.
I'm sorry if I'm wrong but did the Dutch not ask for an airstrike so they could get people out, but the French general refused? Anyhow, I don't believe you can blame the Dutch entirely. Maybe they did make a mistake, but that's war. It happens all the time. The difference is this time the consequences were catastrophic. What about the US in Vietnam? Or the European armies in WW1? Full marks to the Dutch executive...
Avishek Pal, Canada
I am genuinely impressed by this rare display of integrity by politicians, and I congratulate the Dutch people on their good fortune. Imagine if it had been Blair and his cabinet! The spin-doctors would have pulled out all the stops to 'prove' that it wasn't our responsibility or fault and to trash the judgement. 'Doing the honourable thing' in Britain today? Not a hope!
I think that our prime minister has taken the only step possible. In the Netherlands everybody feels ashamed for what has happened. We all realize that our heroic and naive ambitions were to big for such a small country as the Netherlands.
The resignation of the entire cabinet is a big joke. How can one small country take the blame for something most of the Nato and UN should be ashamed of so many years after it happened. Good gesture but it looks a bit too convenient so close to the next general election
The Dutch government may feel they were responsible, but those Dutch troops were under UN operational control. The UN (and the rest of the world) should take responsibility for allowing the Bosnian holocaust to occur - and we should be careful not to forget that it was not just the Serbs who committed atrocities. The Croats and the Bosnian Muslims are equally guilty.
The massacre at Srebrenica should never have occurred whilst UN peace keepers were there. The duty of the Dutch soldiers was to stand their ground and defend the vulnerable civilians. They failed terribly. The Dutch cabinet has done a very honourable thing. Hopefully the report and resignation of the Dutch Cabinet will give more attention to the current war crimes trials and increase the pressure for justice.
Ultimately the cabinet is in charge and they should take the blame for what their army failed to do. However, the Dutch Army really needs to ask itself why they didn't engage an enemy who was obviously going to murder the population. If they had engaged the Bosnian Serb Army then the UN would have been forced to support them, even it was at the cost of half the battalion. You join an Army to fight.
What the Dutch did was a tough, but wise decision, in my opinion. I wish they had done so earlier, though.
Makes one wonder why don't the US and UK governments also imitate the Dutch, for once? Oh, I suppose they flatter themselves by considering their policies, which resulted to millions of deaths in many countries, as dead...infallible!
Remco, The Netherlands
The resignation of the cabinet comes just before the official debate of the report on the massacre. The resignation of the complete cabinet is an easy way of escaping public scrutiny by the parliament. Anyway, the current cabinet had little to do with the occurrences at the time.
At long last our government had the guts to do the right thing - after years of trying to cover up the facts.
I do not understand why a whole government would resign because of the failure of the Dutch peacekeepers in Srebenica. Does this include the military commanders who were in charge there? And why did they step down only now when the massacre has been known for a long time, why waiting for the report? Have any efforts of compensation been made to the survivors? I think this is the wrong way of trying to do the right thing.
It's a novel concept, accepting responsibility for your mistakes, but it will never catch on, certainly not with the present UK government.
It was also a suicidal decision for The Dutch Troops to defend.
Nobody knew the depths the Serbians would sink to. Especially these soldiers.
What to say. Something that happened 6 years ago and now they resign. Srebrenica is an open wound to every Bosnian citizen.
First of all, I think the whole Security council should resign, not only the Dutch government. Also, I think that the Dutch government did a right thing and I am happy that they have ethics and decency. Dutch soldiers were only puppets in the show of ethnical cleansing. In general, this was an idea, don't tell me that they didn't know about the Serb war tactics of shelling, and slaughtering civilians.
This is a meaningless gesture. The Dutch government should either have resigned at the time or taken steps to prevent the fiasco in the first place.
That the government resigned opens up the way for a normal debate in parliament, They can't be sent home, no one can score political points if they would have stayed in office. Too late and not enough? So far the Dutch are the only ones to have taken political consequences from the Srebrenica massacre. Who else resigned? The French generals at the UN for withholding air support, the UN for not making sure the troops got the right intelligence and not enforcing supply convoys or relieving the troops in time?
None of the above.
Rogier, The Netherlands
I think that is a fault of UN rather than the Dutch Government. UN never uses sufficient forces and right strategy in such conflicts and therefore UN forces could only be effective against the individuals. I can't personally see what 300 Dutch troops could do against thousands of very well trained soldiers. UN doesn't have appropriate forces and strategy to fight in such conditions. Look at the Lebanon border. What UN troops are actually doing to stop Hezbollah firing thousands of grenades on Israel right now?
The conclusions NIOD drew could've been drawn 4-5 years ago. Resigning now, after years and years of delays, demanding new investigations for every new question, is a good example of how politics serves itself. Kok should've gone 5 years ago; Pronk's moralism is as hypocritical as anything, as he himself was part of Foreign Affairs at the time. Now let's get at Lubbers, the prime minister of the day, who's still basking in his international career (UNHCR of all places). None of the military brass has yet done the honourable thing: high time they go too. The one thing that was lacking, and that Srebrenica women have been asking for (I've been to meetings in the Netherlands and in Bosnia) is a heart-felt apology.
The peacekeeping forces from now on should be given clear instructions, mandate and means to prevent massacres like that of Srebrenica. The resignation of the Dutch government is justified. The Dutch government has to take its responsibility and demonstrate a democratic example to other governments the world over.
Roy Tyler Whyte, Canada
I think this move is going to cost us, the tax payers, billions. Of course, now the government has declared itself responsible for what Mladic did in Srebrenica, the Netherlands can expect to be sued for damages. The United Nations had a 'peacekeeping' mission there, which no other country would accept, because the weak mandate made it an impossible task. Dutchbat were not allowed to use force to stop Nasser Oric and his men from using Srebrenica to raid Serbian villages. Dutchbat were not allowed to use force to stop Mladic and his men from taking Srebrenica and killing all those people. The UN's main concern was to prevent more peacekeepers being taken hostage. Now that the Netherlands have publicly taken the blame for this, the UN can freely bungle up more 'peacekeeping' missions without criticism.
There should be more resignations.
Just remember it was the good old USA that saved the day and rescued Bosnia (especially the Muslims) after the UN and Europe failed miserably. Same old story.
Whine and moan about the US as much as you want but it was US action that saved the day. Yes we should have been there sooner, but who would have believed Europe could prove so spineless and ineffective in an isolated conflict in the region's backyard? And even once we were saving the day the French were selling out to Serb leaders.
Nothing new here. We're used to the criticism, used to being damned if we do and damned if we don't. It's thankless, but we're used to it. Kofi Annan gets a Nobel prize? We're used to this kind of absurd joke. You are welcome.
The Dutch government has no other choice but to resign. The ill-trained Dutch army should have never been sent there in the first place. NATO should reconsider whether the Dutch army is up to standard. History shows that it has never been.
I am not sure whether the cabinet should fall, but I do believe that Dutchbat could have done more to prevent the takeover, even when it was a 'mission impossible'. To my opinion, the Dutch Government wanted to act noble, but failed in the preparation. It was clumsily handled. Also on the part of the UN. Nevertheless, Dutchbat should have shown more character in defending their mission, even at the cost of lives. The question arises, whether the Serbs, at that time, would be willing to engage against UN troops. This is of course a poker game, and for that, one does not need to be a military expert. In short, poker game or not, Dutchbat reacted cowardly.
The Dutch where in part to blame, but it is the EU who should bow their heads as it stood by and allowed it all to happen. This was more then a disaster on its door step, it was genocide. One day it might have the guts to admit that, just like the Dutch.
What about the fact that approximately half of those killed were in some way involved in armed fighting, and were using Srebrenica as "Safe Haven" to rest and recuperate after battles and massacres of innocent Serbian civilian population? I do feel sorry for one half of those killed, but not the half involved in the fighting. The Serbs didn't kill women and children, did they?
I saw the tapes of Karremans (senior Dutch officer in command ) and Mladic, and Karremans was scared, really scared, he was threatened by Mladic. He was not the right man in the right place. If you are a UN soldier you are there with a mission to protect those people. You should not use your guns but you should stand before the people you protect and say "Over my dead body it is that you harm these people ". You have to call the bluff. Would Mladic really dare to kill the UN peacekeepers? He would risk immediate action from the whole world, ground troops and everything. The Dutch politicians should have done the best they could to keep Karremans spirited so he would stand his ground. They have made this symbolic gesture to show the world they should have done better. The report was released when it was released so any remarks that they do it at a very practical time is backstabbing in my humble opinion.
Robert A Khin, Burma/Malaysia
Congratulations to the Dutch government for resigning. It shows that some people still have standards. Of course, there may well be a political motive behind this, and of course there are other organisations possibly even more at fault, But still it is an honourable thing to do and I only wish more people and organisations would publicly admit responsibility (and liability?) when things go wrong.
This is the best discoing which the Dutch government ever took.
I really appreciate this action taken by Dutch.Shame for those rulers that are accused of many atrocities, but they do not accept their guilt.
A move for a political gain, or moral public confession? Whatever the reason, the act is acknowledged by the Bosnians, although, it can be said, with a light heart. 7000 civilians killed in Srebrenica were the victims of Serbian nationalism that had no regard for human rights, whatsoever. Inability of the UN to protect those victims has left an enormous scar on the mind of the people that we want to integrate into the family of nations that believe in equality. Unfortunately, the families of Srebrenica victims can not subdue their impression that, in the global picture of equal human rights, some seem to be more equal then the others. in the New World Order seems to be setting new ways for the democracy. Let's hope it is not a new way of manoeuvring.
Too little, too late, and too close to an
election anyway. Many in the Dutch
government and the officers of the
force in Srebrenica should take a short
journey from Amsterdam to the Hague
to face trial. If the international
community is serious about stopping
war crimes and human rights abuses,
it should prosecute those who stand
by and do nothing while they occur.
Remco, The Netherlands
The Srebrenica massacre was 95% the fault of one person: Serbian General Ratko Mladic. He and Radovan Karadzic should be arrested immediately (not tipped off this time) and brought to stand trial before The Hague. The current focus on the Dutch role has obscured this fact.
It's easy for the government to do this with the elections coming up.
The people who lost their lives are not helped by this. Maybe the ministers can give some of their money to the families of those who lost their lives !!!
I have mixed emotions with regard to the mass resignation of the Dutch cabinet. On the one hand, it demonstrates accountability (although I think the Bosnian Serbs are the ones who are truly accountable). On the other hand, it sets a terrible precedent for future peace-keeping and humanitarian efforts. What nation(s) will want to send peace keepers to Palestine/Israel knowing they will be held accountable for future suicide bombings?
Mahesh Chandra Somani, Finland
Its always the Dutch who make a stand. They tend to be the first ones in Europe to do anything. I am sad that the whole cabinet has resigned but applaud the sentiment wholeheartedly. No other government would have the guts to do so. Who is in charge now?
I think the Dutch cabinet has probably acted in unreasonable haste and petulant anger in order to make a somewhat obscure point. Whether they were guilty of negligence or not clearly remains the subject of heated debate - but until the issue is properly resolved I certainly wouldn't want to be in their clogs.
I salute the Dutch
for their action, it
shows that they've got
moral courage to
admit their fault.
To SharonB et al. Read some Dutch history before you slag off your own country. There is just as much to be ashamed of in Dutch history as in British. Second, the local command of the Dutch troops must have been extremely poor for the Serbs to have done what they did so easily. There was never a showdown, no symbolic resistance on the part of the peacekeepers. Third, the UN must continue to provide protection to those under threat, with the proviso that it uses troops and commanders who are skilled, brave and resolute.
Sharon B, UK
Let me get this straight, the Serbs massacre thousands, and it's all the fault of the Dutch government, because their soldiers couldn't stop them?
The Dutch government resigned years too late. Dutchbat just stood by when the Serbs came in to roundup the men from Srebrenica. They should at least have tried to make a stand. Compare this with the also unprepared, outnumbered and ill-equipped UN-Belgian paratroops in Rwanda. Ten of them got shot because they refused to hand over the prime-minister. They did their job.
I wonder what portion of the Dutch population believes that the cabinet (or DutchBat) made unforgivable errors. The summaries and paraphrasing that I've read from this report do not indicate that they knowingly sent these 7000 people to their deaths; if I'm missing key information, someone please tell me. I think if the majority of the Dutch people still have faith in them, they should have stayed. And yes, as someone mentioned, Nato also made mistakes in this very confusing and fluid situation. I would not have wanted Bill Clinton or Tony Blair to resign over the accidental bombing of an Albanian refugee convoy, though trying to find a way to make amends is always a good idea. Isn't there something the Dutch Government could do to help the families or communities of the victims, if only as a gesture of good will? Peacekeeping is not an easy task; less so when there is not yet peace to keep!
So the Dutch cabinet resigned over the ineptitude or cowardliness of the Dutch peacekeepers at Srebenica? Hmmm...I wonder why Israel would oppose the presence of UN peacekeepers on its soil?
An election was due in May anyway. This could very easily be viewed as a way of gaining some moral brownie points on the run up to it, but well done anyway. I wish we had governments and ministers like that.
The UN is a toothless tiger, I feel that while the Dutch may be somewhat at fault on a certain level, they were essentially hobbled by UN policy as a whole. While the UN remains a spineless and bloated money sponge, it will never fulfil its noble ideals. It's a question of it having too many masters to please!!
How did this happen? How come Nato has side-stepped any implication? Surely the Dutch took orders from someone? Of course someone has to take the flack for this, but surely the Dutch weren't acting alone.
Jeremy, you are right to a point, but I think If UK or US troops had been there under the same UN mandate then they too would have been powerless to do anything. Dutchbat could not have done anything else. None of the warring sides recognised the UN mandate, which is necessary for the peace keeping force to do their jobs. So I think the Dutch government's decision is misplaced more than anything. The responsibility lies with the UN and its member nations for trying to intervene where they could not. The resolution was doomed from the start. Just cast your minds back to Rwanda.
WGS, UK - please refrain from posting when you have no clue about the history whatsoever. If you want to name names, then: Kofi Annan was pathetic in his defence of the UN. The Dutch are right to be ashamed - no British or American troops would have let that happen whether under the auspices of the UN or not. This is a perfect example of why the UN will never be a credible military force. Remember, it wasn't until Clinton ordered the Nato airstrikes (against his public's will) on the Bosnian Serbs and the JNA that massacres like Srebrenica stopped. But of course nobody ever credits the US.
16 Apr 02 | Europe
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