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DUTCHBAT (military abbreviation of "Dutch battalion") was a nominally Dutch battalion under the command of the United Nations in operation United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR). It was hastily formed out of the emerging first ever Air Mobile Brigade of the Royal Netherlands Armed Forces between February 1994 and November 1995 to participate in peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia. To it fell the role of safekeeping the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica during the Bosnian War. In its third replacement, "Dutchbat III," commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Karremans, the enclave fell to the Bosnian Serbs under Colonel General Ratko Mladić. The forces under Mladić's command proceeded to massacre Srebrenica's male inhabitants after the town's capture.
DUTCHBAT, in spite of its name, was never really a battalion. The mission consisted of about 450 personnel involved in four rotations called Dutchbat I, II, III and IV. The UN troops were armed with personal weapons and machine guns, in accordance with the UN mandate of UNPROFOR. The headquarters were installed in an old battery factory in Potočari, 5 km from Srebrenica. DUTCHBAT used 30 observation posts (OPs) throughout the perimeter of the enclave, mostly consisting of a sandbagged armored car and associated personnel and equipment.
UNPROFOR's mission was the protection of the civilian populace of this Bosniak enclave (dubbed a "secure area" or "safe haven" by the UN) amongst many other places in Bosnia. The Rules of Engagement (ROE) stated that the peacekeepers could only use force for self-defence, counting on air support from NATO to guarantee the success of the mission. Intervening in the fighting was strictly forbidden to all NATO troops, often to their great frustration. DUTCHBAT's zone fell under siege by the VRS, when NATO air forces began bombing the Bosnian Serbs besieging Sarajevo.
Described by some analysts as "a mousehole" because of its geographic location in a valley enclosed by hills and mountains, the enclave underwent an easy blockade by the Bosnian Serb forces of Colonel General Ratko Mladić, isolating the Dutch battalion, causing serious deficiencies in provisions. One Dutch soldier was killed on 9 March by Bosnian Serb mortar fire. When VRS artillery squashed the resistance of the ARBiH 28ª Mountain Infantry Division that was defending the town, Lieutenant-Colonel Karremans made an urgent request for air support from the United Nations for two Dutch F-16s to attack the heavy armour of the VRS. The attack never took place. It had to be cancelled when Serb forces threatened to execute 50 members of Dutchbat III who had been seized as hostages. On 8 July, a Dutch YPR-765 armoured vehicle took fire from the Serbs and withdrew. A group of Bosniaks demanded that the armoured vehicle stay to defend them. As the armoured vehicle continued to withdraw, a Bosniak man threw a hand grenade onto the vehicle, killing Dutch soldier Raviv van Renssen.
Mladić's soldiers then took the town on 11 July 1995, causing the displacement of many of the city's inhabitants. About 15,000 displaced persons undertook the flight towards Tuzla on foot, but the majority looked for protection from the UN blue helmets in Potočari.
Mladić met with Lt. Col. Karremans and there it was agreed that the enclaves would be handed over to the VRS. Under the pretext of evacuating the Bosniak population to a sheltered city, most of the women and children were transferred by bus to a zone under Bosnian Serb control. The Serbs assured Karremans that the men would be transferred later. But instead, the Serbs proceeded to massacre Srebrenica's male population of approximately 8,000 Bosniak men of different ages. On the 21 July, with the entire zone already under the control of the VRS, the Dutch battalion left the enclave. Mladić was filmed smiling with Karremans and giving him gifts.
From July until November 1995 Dutchbat IV served and mainly dealt with refugees at Simin Han, near Tuzla.
This incident had great impact on public opinion in the Netherlands. An official, seven year investigation of the incident by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation resulted in the report, Srebrenica: a ‘safe’ area, published April 10, 2002, which resulted in the Prime Minister Wim Kok resignation six days later. The 3,400-page report criticized the political and military High Commands of the Netherlands as being guilty of criminal negligence, for not preventing the massacre. The conclusions were devastating:
- The mission was not suitably prepared.
- There was no coordination between the Ministry of Defence (under Joris Voorhoeve) and of Ministry of Foreign Affairs (under Hans van Mierlo).
- The contingent did not receive sufficient means to accomplish the mission. Adequate firepower and Forward Air Controllers (FACS) to direct air attacks were missing.
- The non-Dutch in charge of air support refused to give aid as requested by Karremans.
- The Netherlands and the UN did not perform their duty.
On December 4, 2006, Minister of Defence Henk Kamp gave a decoration to the soldiers of Dutchbat III, draaginsigne DBIII. This award was severely criticized by the public as well as by some survivors and relatives of Srebrenica victims. In June 2007 an association of relatives of the victims of the massacre presented a denunciation in The Hague against the Government of the Netherlands and the UN for its negligence in the massacre. In October of the same year, twelve former members of DUTCHBAT III visited the Memorial for the Srebrenica massacre, paying tribute to the victims. The same group of relatives opposed their act of atonement to open dialogue. According to testimonies of 171 of the members of the battalion, 65% left the Army, 40% of these requested psychological treatment, and 10% show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (official figure; health professionals treating these people deem the number much higher).
- "Soldaat der eerste klasse R. van Renssen 08 juli 1995" (in Dutch). Retrieved 5 October 2008.