THE HAGUE -- They lost their sons and husbands in the brutal ethnic violence of the Bosnian war nearly a decade ago.
Now the mothers of Srebrenica are in the Netherlands seeking compensation from the Dutch government, which they blame for not stopping Serb attackers from murdering their Muslim loved ones.
Nearly 50 relatives who survived the July 1995 massacre in the eastern Bosnian enclave, a UN-declared safe area at the time, came to the Dutch seat of government yesterday to press their case.
In a letter submitted to the Dutch Foreign Ministry, their attorneys asked for $2.4 billion on behalf of up to 10,000 survivors, alleging that the Dutch failed to meet their international legal obligations to prevent genocide.
At least 7,500 Muslim men were systematically slaughtered by Bosnian Serb soldiers at the end of the 1992-95 Bosnian war, the first genocide in Europe since World War II. Several hundred Dutch peacekeepers were unable to stop a Serb invasion and the subsequent massacre that unfolded.
"No amount of money could bring back their lives, but these people are completely destroyed after the brutal deaths of their family," said Semir Guzin, a lawyer from Mostar, Bosnia, who represents the families in the lawsuit and was also in The Hague.
"The Dutch government gave the orders. Now they need to live up to the consequences. The only way is to compensate the victims."
A prior Dutch government accepted blame for the failed Bosnian peacekeeping mission, a painful and sensitive chapter of recent Dutch military history. The entire Dutch government of former Prime Minister Wim Kok resigned in April 2002, after a report by the national Institute for War Documentation placed partial blame on the administration.
An official parliamentary inquiry a year later called the Dutch peacekeeping mission an ill-considered attempt to increase Dutch stature internationally.
Guzin said that at the critical moment when Serb forces attacked the Srebrenica enclave, the Dutch state abandoned its UN mission, which was to protect some 30,000 Muslim refugees at their UN base.
Dutch peacekeepers then did little more than look on as Serb forces overran the UN base and separated men from women, hauling the males off to killing sites.
During a two-day visit to the Netherlands, the women held a silent demonstration outside Dutch parliament, many of them gripping white sheets bearing the names of their lost children or holding framed photographs and weeping.