Dutch government apologizes to relatives of Srebrenica victims for the first time

The Dutch government apologized for the first time Monday to relatives of victims of the 1995 genocide in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

“The international community failed to protect the people of Srebrenica,” Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren told a ceremony to mark the 27th anniversary of the massacre.

“As part of this community, the Dutch government shares political responsibility for the situation in which this failure could happen. For that we offer our deepest apologies,” she said at the event held in the village of Potocari, where many of the victims are buried.

Ollongren’s comments came a month after Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized on behalf of the government to the veterans of the Dutch military unit that was tasked with defending the town while on a U.N. peacekeeping mission. Rutte acknowledged a lack of government support left the Dutchbat III unit unable to fulfill its protection mission.

His comments generated incomprehension among relatives of Sebrenica victims, who said the Dutch should have apologized to them first.

Ollongren echoed Rutte’s words on the “great powerlessness” of the U.N. soldiers who inadequately equipped to fulfill their mandate.

Srebrenica was considered the worst war crimes on European soil since World War II.

The Dutch battalion was tasked with protecting Muslim civilians from Bosnian Serb forces during the 1992-1995 war. In July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces overran the U.N.-declared “safe haven” of Srebrenica and the Dutch force failed to stop them from massacring more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys who had sought refuge there.