The Netherlands has expressed its “deepest apologies” to the people of Srebrenica, the first time the country has done so in the years since Dutch forces failed to prevent a genocide in the Bosnian town during the Balkan war.
“The international community failed to offer adequate protection to the people of Srebrenica. The Dutch government shares responsibility for the situation in which that failure occurred. And for this, we offer our deepest apologies,” Dutch Defence Minister Kasja Ollongren said during a ceremony in Potocari on Monday.
The Balkan wars broke out in the 1990s as Yugoslavia disintegrated, eventually breaking up into several new countries. Some of the worst fighting was in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as ethnic Serb forces fought with Muslim and ethnic Croat forces for control of territory.
In the summer of 1995, Dutch forces under UN command were supposed to defend the population of the largely Muslim town of Srebrenica. But they put up no resistance on July 11 of that year when ethnic Serb forces under the command of Ratko Mladic stormed the city.
The ethnic Serb forces went on to kill about 8000 Muslim men and boys, in what is widely considered the worst genocidal incident in Europe since the end of World War II.
“We cannot relieve you of this suffering. But what we can do is look history straight in the eye,” Ollongren said during the ceremonies 27 years later.
The Netherlands has spoken of political failings in the past, but has stopped short of offering a clear apology. Ollongren also made clear that the bulk of the blame continues to lie on the forces that committed the killing.