By Dady Chery
Once upon a time, the United Nations was held up as a beacon of moral authority and hope for world peace. That was long before the UN formally became a criminal organization. The Dutch Supreme Court ruled on September 6, 2013, in the Hasan Nuhanovic case, that UN personnel called “Dutchbat”, under the authority of the Dutch State, have violated the rights of three Bosnian Muslims to life and protection from inhuman treatment and must make reparations for this crime.
The UN has fallen quite short of the original vision of Eleanor Roosevelt and others to create a forum in which disputes between countries might be peacefully resolved. Back when the UN was founded, the West was gasping from the mass slaughter of Europeans in two World Wars; furthermore, while the colonial powers were preoccupied with each other, much of the world had seized the opportunity to gain independence. This should never happen again, everyone agreed, but instead of a body that enforces international law equally for all nations, we got the Security Council: an elite group with veto power made up of those countries that had committed the most violations against the principles of the UN Charter.
One could say that the UN has succeeded in its mission, if this is defined as being a project to focus the world powers’ aggression on weaker countries, rather than directly engaging each other in costly wars. In effect, the UN functions as an alliance of criminals who have made peace with each other so as to reduce the bloodshed among themselves. The Security Council enforces the UN Charter only when an invasion is inconvenient for one or more of its members. For example, the UN has defended Kuwait from invasion by Iraq but not Panama from invasion by the US. Victims, including Somalia, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Libya, and more recently, Mali, Syria and Iran, are softened up for invasions by UN Resolutions for oil embargoes, no-fly zones, and the like. After the invasions, the victims are held subjugated by a “peacekeeping force.” This corrupt and corrupting branch of the UN, entirely at the service of imperialism, is also its fastest-growing.
Over the last 20 years or so of UN “peacekeeping,” the crimes of UN soldiers have included gunrunning, trading food for sex, cholera contamination, human trafficking, child prostitution, rape, and murders of all sorts. What makes UN “peacekeeping” so attractive to psychopaths is that it gives them complete license to commit the most egregious crimes. The worst the UN ever does is return them to their home countries, which do not prosecute them because of UN immunity. Indeed, when these soldiers are repatriated, they are usually reincorporated into their country’s armed forces..
The Nuhanovic case represents the first instance of UN personnel being found guilty of a crime in a civil court. The reason it took this case to make a chink in the armor of UN immunity is because the involvement of the Dutch State was incontrovertible, and contrary to the status of many other countries that contribute “peacekeeping forces” to the UN, in Holland there is still the rule of law. Furthermore, the criminal behavior in this instance was as blatant as it was horrific.
The heart of the Nuhanovic case was whether the Dutch State could be held responsible for the crimes of its nationals while they served as UN personnel. Indeed, on the first pass, a Hague District Court ruled on September 10, 2008 that Dutchbat’s conduct was exclusively the responsibility of the UN. Subsequently the Hague Court of Appeal reasoned, in rulings on July 5, 2011 and June 26, 2012 that responsibility of the Dutch State did not exclude responsibility of the UN. The Dutch Supreme Court upheld this ruling one year later. In all, it took 18 years for justice to be served.
The plaintiff, Hasan Nuhanovic, was an interpreter for the UN Military Observers in Srebrenica, whose father, mother, and younger brother were put out of a safe UN compound in summer 1995 to be taken away and murdered by the Bosnian-Serb army or related paramilitary groups. One day before Nuhanovic’s family was put out to slaughter, the Dutch Defense Minister directly ordered the Dutchbat commander to “save whatever can be saved.” The Dutchbat commander then made a deal with Ratko Mladic, better known as the “butcher of Bosnia,” to evacuate 29 local UN personnel together with Dutchbat; in return, 32,000 Bosnian Muslim refugees, who had sought safety inside and just outside of the UN compound, would be abandoned to the genocidal Bosnian Serb army. That fateful meeting was attended by none other than Mr. Nuhanovic’s father, Ibro. Thus Hassan Nuhanovic had every reason to fear for his family. He pleaded with the UN to include in the list of local UN personnel his family, and especially his younger brother, a minor who would certainly be killed by the Bosnian Serb army for being a Muslim male of military age.
For two days, Bosnian Muslim women and children were separated from the men, and with the acquiescence of the UN, removed around the clock by the busloads. Many of the men were tortured and divested of their personal possessions and identity papers at a place called the “White House,” less than a quarter mile from the UN compound. Most of the men of military age, estimated to have numbered about 7,000, were murdered in mass executions. Though it is not possible to check the veracity of some reports which claim that the UN actually assisted in the roundup of the men, it is clear that the torture and even some of the killing occurred within earshot of the UN. It is in this context that Dutchbat ordered Nuhanovic’s father Ibro, his mother Nasiha, and his brother Muhamed to leave the UN compound on the evening of July 13, 1995. In a final twist of pure evil, at the last minute Dutchbat offered protection to Ibro but not to his wife and teenage son. He refused and went to his death together with them. These are the circumstances that led the Supreme Court to uphold the ruling that the Dutch State was responsible for the deaths of Ibro and Muhamed Nuhanovic.
It is notable that the court did not hold the state responsible for the death of Nuhanovic’s mother Nasiha. This was presumably because the Bosnian Muslim women were not considered to be at risk of being killed — although tales of rapes by the Serb army were rampant. Therefore, even with the Nuhanovic case as a precedent, subsequent court cases against the UN will not be easy: not even those about the failure of the UN to provide safety to Bosnian Muslim refugees. The thousands of Bosnian Muslims who still await justice, for example, will have to prove that their loved ones were not the first to be killed, but among those who were slaughtered after the UN became aware of the genocide. All other cases, at the least, will require proof that a state also had effective control of the UN troops during a crime.
Regrettably, the UN is still not directly liable for its many crimes. Still, the ruling in the Nuhanovic case, that a state is responsible for its participation in UN crimes, offers the promise of at least some deterrence to criminals who seek to practice their atrocities under UN protection. Promising targets for such deterrence include the Brazilian and Argentinian “peacekeepers” who massacred Aristide supporters in Haiti, with the full knowledge of their governments.
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