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Articles on the Kosovo Conflict


Secret - the true story behind the Srebrenica report
By Alain van der Horst
HP/De Tijd
December 12, 2003

Unable, unprepared and unwilling.

The survivors of 'Srebrenica' are suing the government of the Netherlands. In contrast to the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation [NIOD] statement in its report about the drama, they believe that the Dutch 'blue-helmets' could have acted to prevent the murder of thousands of Muslim men.

How did the NIOD arrive at the conclusion that the Netherlands should not be blamed? And why has the production of the report not been examined thus far, nor the friction in the investigation team brought out into the open?

1 - Wherein all the Dutch participants feel rehabilitated

Angry and bitter, the 'Women of Srebrenica' walked out of the Hague [parliament building's] Rol Chamber while NIOD director Hans Blom was presenting 'his' report to the nation about the fall of the enclave on the tenth of April, 2002 [1]. "A done deal," he was to say later. "The (TV) director had already switched to the nearest camera before they stood up." Blom showed his hand with that remark. At the least you could say that he had very little respect for the viewpoint of the Bosnian survivors of the tragedy which he and his team had analyzed. This stood in sharp contrast to his circumspect approach to those Dutch political and military participants.

Last year November the 'Women of Srebrenica' and Dutchbat interpreter Hasan Nuhanovic [2] [3] [4] initiated legal proceedings against the country of the Netherlands because it had done nothing to protect the Muslim refugees after the fall of Srebrenica. And last month it became public that the 'Mothers of Srebrenica' also consider the Dutch government co-responsible for the death of thousands of Muslim men. Their suit is for 875 million euros. The families and survivors, who are represented by an international legal team, say that they have an abundance of evidence and they will not shun the courtroom. They deny the conclusion by the Netherland's Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) [5] of Hans Blom, which states that the Netherlands had done what it could do.

The promised and long-anticipated translation into Bosnian of the report Srebrenica. A 'safe' area [6] won't take much longer. It will undoubtedly inflame the indignation in Bosnia-Herzegovina about the way in which the Netherlands waved away its own involvement. The catastrophe is anything but forgotten in Bosnia, while it's been declared history in Holland. The fall of Srebrenica may be a "black page" in the country's history, to use a much-loved metaphor from ex-premier Wim Kok, but that's all it is considered. Only when the government decides that the Netherlands must show its heroic and/or humanitarian face by sending a military contingent to some flashpoint on the globe, does somebody or other toss in the S-word: "Remember Srebrenica". That stands for naïveté, defeat, awkwardness, political failure, soldiers who cannot fight, inability, shame and also for some seven and a half thousand deported and murdered men, a beer-swigging minister and a dancing crown prince. In the first few years after the fall Srebrenica was called our national trauma. But a trauma should be followed by a diagnosis, and that came in a more than six thousand-page report, counting the appendices, Srebrenica. A 'safe' area.

The Netherland's Institute for War Documentation, formerly called 'Rijksinstituut' (RIOD), took nearly six years of research to analyze the most gripping occurence for the Netherlands since the Second World War. On the eleventh of July, 1995 the Muslim enclave protected by the Dutch UN 'blue-helmets' fell into Bosnian Serb hands; on the tenth of April, 2002 NIOD director Blom presented his version of the events.

And then silence descended. Did ex-Minister of Defence Joris Voorhoeve's wish come true -- after the evacutation of the enclave he commented hopefully that the "book of Srebrenica" would someday be "closed"? It became so quiet that it might be called remarkable. Was the oeuvre that the NIOD had delivered simply so excellent that there was nothing more to say? That doesn't seem to be the case - after all, the survivors themselves say that the Dutch could certainly have intervened. But the question of how good the report actually is has never been asked. There have been various stories dribbling out concerning the manner of working inside the research team, about the quality of the investigation and its goals. But it has never come to a serious debate. That might have to do with the fact that the world of Dutch historians is so small; everyone knows everybody; everybody meets everyone else continually. This fact makes it difficult for the colleagues of the Srebrenica research team to express their opinions. Off the record some historians have even spoken of fear of the 'academic mafia' that cannot be crossed.


Whatever the facts may be, the stories about the development of the NIOD investigation into the fall of Srebrenica were so worrying that they justify the question - retrospectively - whether the NIOD report actually has the value that has been ascribed to it.

After its publication a high-ranking military officer was dismissed (Lieutenant-General Van Baal), but his reputation has since been restored. A Cabinet fell, too, the second Kok Cabinet, but the careers of its members have continued quite well since. The ex-Prime Minister turned in his resignation to the Queen at the time, but immediately made it clear that no one should even think of considering it as an admission of guilt. His wishes were catered to, even though it was a strange thing to demand. If Kok had truly wanted to accept his responsibility, as he proclaimed, then he could have done so just as well in 1995, for even some seven years after the fall of Srebrenica the NIOD did not present any new facts concerning his behaviour nor that of his ministerial team.

Dutchbat III, the Dutch batalion that could not prevent "the largest mass murder on European soil since the Second World War", felt rehabilitated by the NIOD report. Yes, what had happened was terrible, and their actions had certainly not always been appropriate, but in the long run the military (and political) Netherlands could not have done anything. After all it was the cruel Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic who had made the decision to slaughter as many Muslim men as possible from what had become the open-air prison of Srebrenica. Among the all's-well-that-ends-well sounds that quickly followed the charged final chords of the years of NIOD investigation in the Netherlands, there were only two dissonant notes. Of the Cabinet members, the morally superior Jan Pronk had enraged Kok by declaring that "the politicians" and indeed he himself had failed. And the then well-admired Mient Jan Faber, secretary of the IKV (the Dutch Inter-Church Council) had prepared his own counter-investigation [7 http://www.domovina.net/srebrenica/page_006/broch-nl.pdf, no longer on line] in which a certain amount of Dutch guilt was ascertained. However, after a few strong bursts of interest from the media, both were quickly forgotten. More to the point, the resignation of the Cabinet (albeit just before its term in office was due to end anyway) drew all the attention. In the aftermath the Netherlands was drawn more and more to the politics of Pim Fortuyn.

2 - Wherein the question arises how independent the NIOD actually was

That doubts have arisen concerning the value of the NIOD report is not primarily a result of its content. Logically there is not much to be said about that. The subject is simply too immense and too complex. No one other than the authors of the report could possibly have enough time, money or resources even to start a critical analysis of the utilized information it contains. Even the important article on the report in the Journal of History (Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis), no. 2, 2003 'The Srebrenica Drama' offers no direct opinion on its validity. And this journal is full of contributions from competent historians. In the latest edition of Contributions and Annoucements concerning the History of the Netherlands (BMGN), the in-house publication of the Royal Dutch Historical Society, attention is paid to the NIOD report. Two of the reviewers (J.W.L. Brouwer and Jan Willem Honig [8] ) are very critical: the investigation took too long, the report appeared too late, is sloppy and has no clear structure of inquiry. But the 'discussion file' is closed with a rationalization from Hans Blom. He can do that with impunity because it is not possible to hold him to account concerning the content. His report cannot be read due to its size; therefore, it is practically impossible to check it, and in fact it is unreviewable - a complaint that actually has been made against other historical oeuvres such as Het Koningrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog (The Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Second World War) and the historical volumes concerning the Dutch cabinets since 1945.

The reasons to entertain serious doubts about the NIOD report come from a different field. In the first place it seems that the investigation primarily served a political goal instead of being aimed at discovering the truth. In the second place, the situation in which the investigation took place was from a scholarly viewpoint so bizarre and unfavorable that it had to affect the result. No one paid any attention to that. Only the sociologist and columnist J.A.A. van Doorn reacted quickly in Trouw when the report was published and he was irritated by the flow of maddening details without any possibility of distinguishing between main themes, auxiliary subjects or trivia. There was no general index. The index of personal names was messy. Names were switched or badly spelled. The page numbers given were not correct.

Why did no one ask themselves how the NIOD report had actually been produced? Why has no honest answer been given to the question of what the real reason was that the publication of the report was postponed three times? Why has not one government representative ever even suggested that it would be smart to examine the NIOD's methodology? Why did the Cabinet act so surprised, on the day the report was presented, when officials from various ministries had already been given the agreed preview (which had been arranged between the NIOD and the ministries at the time of the acceptance of the assignment) of the text that the investigators produced? How independent actually was the NIOD? Should the reconstruction of the fall of Srebrenica have been handled in this manner? These matters have never been approached. Not in the first days after the presentation when everyone made things easier for themselves by relying on the conclusions and press releases [9]. Nor later, when a different political constellation had arisen to power and there had been time enough to peruse the NIOD's thick volumes.

It may at the very least be called remarkable. The whole investigation was surrounded with a rabid secrecy and until this day the people involved remain stubbornly silent about what they went through in those six years of toil. Those who approached them were stone-walled ("I don't feel like discussing it." "There is nothing to tell." "The result is all that counts."). During the past year several of these people have been contacted by HP/De Tijd. They refuse to cooperate. Evidently the investigators do not feel required or empowered to say anything about their manner of working, although it is normally not usual for people in the academic world to do their work with their lips shut tight. Only when the text of this article was presented to them, did some of them decide to react. NIOD director Hans Blom declared that he found this article "poor", "full of elementary [factual] mistakes, full of unjustified suspicions and suggestions," but he "refrains from giving any commentary."

In relation to the matter of Srebrenica itself, so terribly much has been said and written and shown and suggested and proven, that the truly interested person has either lost the scent completely or become exhausted. Cynically enough, that seems to have been the point when the bright idea first saw the light of day in the Trêveszaal [a room in the Hague parliament buildings - FT] in 1996 - according to the account of Hans van Mierlo who, cost what it may, wished 'his' purple Cabinet [Holland's first-ever coalition government of social-democrats, liberal-democrats and conservatives - FT] to be a success. - to order "an independent and historically scientific investigation" into the overrunning of what had been advertised by the United Nations as a 'safe area' in war-torn, disintegrating Bosnia and Hercegovina.

Although it has never been officially admitted, few of those involved doubt anymore that the political move to place the NIOD at the head of the Srebrenica investigation, was at least partly engendered by the necessity of diverting attention. Starting up an independent investigation which would 'get to the bottom of things', has helped the sitting government of this country out of a tight place more than once -- what comes to mind are the Menten affair and the Lockheed scandal.

Even more to the point, although retrospectively difficult to imagine, the fact that the political situation in the Netherlands in 1995 was crumbling had an influence as well. The first purple Cabinet was nothing short of revolutionary; [conservative] VVD and [social-democrat] PvdA governed together, without the [christian-democrat] CDA. Both PvdA leader Wim Kok and VVD leader Frits Bolkestein had stuck out their necks to make this most unusual collaboration possible. The 'purple experiment' (that's what it was really called) simply had to succeed, but the continual commotion about Srebrenica threatened to eclipse everything. In other words, the government desperarely needed a lightning rod with an aura of independence. There is no proof for it, but the actual conclusion ('The government is not to blame') comes very close to the envisioned outcome ('This government is not to blame'). "No good guys, no bad guys," as Commander Karremans said by accident -- it had all been bad luck.

3 - Where it becomes apparent that nobody at the NIOD understood the matters to be investigated

Could it have really been the intention of the Cabinet to keep the outcome of this investigation into Srebrenica under control without that becoming apparent to unsuspecting outsiders? It clarifies matters to look back at a number of clues in that direction.

At any rate it is evident that those who commisioned the Srebrenica investigation (the first Kok Cabinet) and those who accepted the assignment (called RIOD at the time) in the summer of 1996, one year after the withdrawal of Commander Karremans and his blue-helmeted troops, needed one another. It did seem that the Cabinet was quite interested in smothering the constantly recurring discussion about the Dutch failure and in avoiding a politically dangerous parliamentary inquiry. Since 1995 War Documentation [the RIOD, later NIOD] was seeking a broader field to investigate in order to silence the ever louder call to disband them. (Wasn't just about everything there was to document about WW II already documented?) New fields to plow were welcome.

War Documentation is de facto a governmental service. It works under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and is financed by them. Especially for this very reason it is strange that the Cabinet, which had proposed an independent investigation to the community, eventually chose this dependent organization. Indeed there was brief mention of other possible solutions in the orientation phase (including the name of the Clingendael Institute for International Relations). According to NIOD director Hans Blom the Cabinet made 'honest attempts' to launch an international investigation into Srebrenica. But for reasons known only to that Cabinet, the NIOD was selected.

It is very odd then that the NIOD investigation was officially paid for by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (the Minister of Education was the commissioner and the contact person between the NIOD and the government) while in reality the - unlimited - budget for the investigation was drawn from the Defence Ministry. Via the budget line 'Miscellaneaous Defence-wide expenditures' a total of two million euros was allocated in both 2002 and 2003 for the NIOD investigation. Defence transferred that amount to Education, Culture and Science and they then transferred it to the NIOD.

Thus Defence was paying for a study about the functioning of (among others) Defence, but it probably was considered smart to camouflage the relationship.

It must be said that the Cabinet did its best to present the impression that the investigation was independent. Take the way in which the Cabinet reacted to the eventual publication: the members of the Cabinet were surprised and shocked. Well, they acted surprised and shocked; they were not. The NIOD had been visited in the last stages of their investigation by 'readers' from at least four ministries: Education, Culture and Science, State, Defence and the Cabinet Office (Algemene Zaken). Formally they only came to ascertain whether the investigators were handling sensitive archives with care, but they also reported back to their respective bosses. Added to that, the draft of the report was to have been made known to the Cabinet some weeks before its publication. Hans Blom did himself announce to one and all that he and some of his colleagues had divulged the contents of the report to Prime Minister Kok and the ministers of Defence and State. The huge surprise in The Hague concerning the conclusions of the investigating team was, in short, an act, evidently only meant as theatre.

If the government really intended to commission an independent study, why did they eventually choose the NIOD? Why wasn't a team chosen from among independent and even foreign historians? But the curious were purposefully kept away. Blom didn't even want to allow a readers' group, as was customary for historical studies at War Documentation. It is also apparent that the two independent Srebrenica experts at the time, Frank Westerman and Bart Rijs, authors of the book Srebrenica, het zwartste scenario [10] (Srebrenica, the darkest scenario), provided material to be used; nevertheless, they were never asked a single question by the NIOD investigators.

For other reasons, too, the choice of the NIOD was not as obvious as it might have seemed at the time. No one who worked there had any knowledge of the problems to be addressed. In short, the Cabinet chose an organization to do the loaded Srebrenica job in which no person had any applicable expertise. If Kok and his colleagues did not realize this, then they were quite unworldly.

As of January 1, 1999, the Ministry of Education 's direct control of the NIOD was changed to an indirect control. To mark that event the name was changed from RIOD to NIOD. After that War Documentation fell under the cloak of the KNAW, the Dutch Academy of Sciences. The minister responsible at the time, Jo Ritzen, wished to emphasize the independence of the Institute, but in fact it made little difference, since the KNAW was also paid for by the government. The suggestion arises that this cosmetic operation (which was done in the middle of the Srebrenica investigation) was also an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of possible critics.

Altogether the only buffer between the investigators and the politicians was the man Hans Blom, director of the NIOD. Who is Professor Doctor J.C.H. Blom? A hardened, aggresive rock of immutability? A pure scholar who would never allow himself to be swayed by the leaders of this country? No, not in the least. The utterly amenable establishment-creature Blom is up to his eyebrows in boardroom positions; practically every organization of any importance in the historical field had or has him in its midst (including the Royal Dutch Historical Association and the biographical commission of the Prince Bernhard Culture Fund). He also seems to enjoy being seen in the political world. Those who know him describe him as someone who likes to be liked and who avidly avoids conflicts. Blom had only been the director of the NIOD for three days when he heard that the Cabinet had especially chosen him to do the investigation into Srebrenica. What a miraculous coincidence!

Coincidence? Perhaps. But the fact is that there were two people in the commission that nominated Blom for the position who had already been involved in a very special manner with post-Srebrenica happenings. They were G.L.H. Huyser and Professor Master J. de Ruiter. Govert Huyser, retired general and ex-member of the Ministry of Defence staff and Job de Ruiter, ex-minister of Defence and of Justice. 

Later on it became known that the same Huyser and De Ruiter were responsible for keeping unpleasant details about occurences in Srebrenica under their hats.

One of the most questionable elements of the Srebrenica affair is the so-called debriefing of Dutchbat in the autumn of 1995, organized by the Armed Forces' top brass. Before an operation soldiers are briefed about what they can expect and what is expected of them; after such an operation there is an evaluation to determine whether the directives have been fulfilled in the proper manner. It was crucial in this case, because the military personnel present at the fall of Srebrenica in the summer of 1995 would have the opportunity to tell exactly what they had seen, heard and experienced. Govert Huyser and Job de Ruiter were there at the debriefing. They were there as independent advisors who were to make sure that the information was collected and handled correctly.

Only last year did the NIOD report confirm what had been suspected all along: the military top brass had withheld from the debriefing report certain evidence from Dutchbatters, which it thought was harmful to the reputation of the Armed Forces. Huyser and De Ruiter had not resisted this. They obviously found the reasoning of the Army's leaders more persuasive.

When Frank de Grave became Minister of Defence in 1998, he was confronted with new Srebrenica facts and suspicions from the period of his predecessor Voorhoeve. He decided on a separate investigation. Noord-Holland Province Governor Jos van Kemmenade was put in charge of the investigating committee and he concluded that nothing had been swept under the carpet. That conclusion was absolutely rebutted last year when the NIOD report was published: the Army's top brass had twisted and omitted certain facts in the debriefing report. NIOD's press release says: "Minister Voorhoeve (-) counted on the loyalty, support and proper political sense from the Army. The top brass of the Royal Armed Forces in fact had other priorities such as protecting the image of Dutchbat and of the army, whereby the Minister received late, often insufficient and sometimes even no information. The debriefing report was inadequate. The Royal Armed Forces clearly was able to mould it."

In addition the Netwerk (Network) television program revealed that the Van Kemenade committee must have found out about this, but refrained from letting it be known. The committee stubbornly ignored a number of clues including eleven incriminating declarations from Dutchbatters. In his interview with Committee chairman Van Kemenade the chief bureaucrat of Defence De Winter seems to have said, "Some passages were not completely correct; here and there matters had been obscured. I take it that the debriefing team thought it better to keep it (-) quiet." And: "I have the impression that that was left out on purpose."

Concerning the running of the NIOD investigation there remains a complete and unbelievable 'omerta'. There has never been anything made public about it. Odd, because it was not some secret activity, but an historical - scientific study. Or is there something to hide?

4 - Wherein the NIOD methodology reveals inexplicable amateurism

The story of the newly appointed, ambitious director, his temporary employees and the relationships between them begins on August 28, 1996. Blom has already started at War Documentation, but still needs to tie up a few loose ends at his old employer's, the University of Amsterdam. He finds a note in his room; during the last staff meeting the Minister of Education Jo Ritzen had tried to reach him by phone. Would he please return the call ASAP. Blom does. "Don't be startled, " Jo says to Hans (They know one another) and he proceeds to explain that the council of ministers is considering designating him to do a large and extensive investigation into the fall of Srebrenica. Just so that he would know about it.

Blom was startled, he later remarked (in Vrij Nederland); but he also couldn't be anything other than elated. Such an important task is a fantastic entrance. Although afterwards he never returned to the subject, he once openly let it be known why (in an interview in Trouw). He could see the future mapped out before him; under his tutelage the backwater Institute for War Documentation would expand into an organization where the whole of recent history would be studied, one comparative to the prestigious Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Munich.

At any rate, the manner in which media professor Henri Beunders spoke about Blom in a portrait brought by NRC Handelsblad on April 8, 2002 says much about his elation in the early days of his directorship, when he began to realize that Srebrenica could well become his magnum opus. Beunders relates how Blom gathered an informal coterie of historians, who did 'nice things' together with their partners. "When he became director of the NIOD, he issued an invitation to all of us. He proudly showed us the wonderful new building, and said, 'I have a coffee lady now, even catering. Would you like a drink? A beer? Wine? Maybe a sandwich? That's all possible here.' He was as happy as a child."

So Blom said "Yes." to the Cabinet's assignment, but the NIOD was not, as stated, equiped to handle such a complex job. There were 25 employees, of whom six had attained the status of investigator. But there was nobody who knew anything substantial about the current Dutch political scene, about Defence or about Yugoslavia. Nobody.

What happened next shows an inexplicable amateurism. Blom accepted an assignment which he could not fulfill with the exisiting team. He needed to bring in new people. He brought in only three. That was very sparse in view of the work to be done. Blom evidently decided to have the immense investigation handled by only three people; the discrepancy between the size of the matter to be studied and the number of team members was absurdly large.

There was also inadequate thought given to the investigation's directives. The official text states that there will be an "inventory" and "organization" of "relevant factual material" so as to "allow insight". Vague enough to be susceptible to various interpretations. And yet there had been a lengthy conference beforehand and it was Blom himself who eventually choose the way it was formulated. Much of what was agreed between him and the government is unknown to us. Only that the Cabinet had promised access to secret information and that the investigators could use the notes (made anonymous) from the ministerial councils.

The government wanted quiet in the country, so it was no problem at all if Blom's investigation took a long time. In answer to difficult questions from the press, reference could be made to the deep-digging and therefore time-consuming investigation that was being done. No deadline had been set, but expectations were around three years; about just after the elections for the Second Chamber of Parliament (the "Commons" or "House of Representatives") in 1998. With the support of the PvdA, VVD and D'66 [the parties making up the coalition government] a motion was put down that called for publication before the end of the first purple Cabinet. But even members of the government parties such as D'66 House member Hoekema, did not imagine that the investigation would take the whole of the new government's stay. The decision was made not to make interim reports, because that would only lead to bother.

The Cabinet could not have foretold that things would become chaotic in Blom's team of investigators. The Cabinet could also not have foreseen that the length of time the investigation would require was beyond reason. That was against the wishes of the Cabinet and explains the anger that Premier Kok displayed when Blom requested another postponement in the latter phases of the Srebrenica study.

After accepting the task Blom had taken little time for a serious selection procedure. Not only was the size of the team a matter for conjecture, its make-up was curious, too. Albert Kersten (expert in the area of international relations), Paul Koedijk (researcher and author of books about the history of the Dutch press) and Dick Schoonoord (ex-Navy man, Colonel on the Defence staff and author of books about Dutch battles) were added to the Investigation section of War Documentation on a temporary basis.

How really independent were these three fresh investigators? Albert Kersten, who took responsibility for that part of the NIOD study that concerned the relation between the Netherlands and foreign countries, was closely linked to the Department of State. His thesis concerned it and he often contributed to Department of State publications. On top of that Kersten is is the biographer of Joseph Luns [(in)famous Dutch Foreign Minister of the cold war era] and his future is entwined with that of the Department of State. Not only did he seem part of that establishment; he also liked to have it said and preened about it.

Dick Schoonoord was a Navy man in heart and soul, so certainly both Kersten and Schoonoord had ties to the field of investigation. What could Blom have been thinking? That he was engaging expertise? Certainly. But the down side (the taint of partiality) is something he missed.

Paul Koedijk to complete the whole, once a journalist at Vrij Nederland, was the only one without prior connections. Blom knew him from the period when Koedijk completed his studies with him. That goes for his other ex-student Titia Frankfort, who became assistent investigator and later in 1999 full investigator.

5 - Wherein the chaos at the NIOD runs completely rampant

What was this odd team planning to do? Considering the limited size of the company and their nominal expertise in this field of research, it could not have had too many pretentions. The number of subjects to be handled (Dutch internal politics, Dutch international politics, Yugoslavia, the United Nations, military matters, intelligence services, communications) was huge. Because the researchers themselves realized that their expertise had its limits they decided to confine themselves to "the Dutch side" of the Srebrenica case. This has been stated in writing by Floribert Baudet (political history, University of Utrecht) in the previously cited Journal for History (Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis, TvG) who recalls a "discussion with one of the investigators". The plan for the study remained as vague as the directive for the study. As the same Baudet describes in the TvG, a serious historically scientific examination ought to be built upon a clear questionnaire. This should lead to a transparent analysis and then result in a coherent account. "Should it be the case that the sources used by the NIOD were not available to other researchers," he writes, "then it shall not be possible to check the correct reproduction of certain discussions, which naturally would have consequences for the value of the NIOD's analysis." Srebrenica. A 'safe' area is shaky in that aspect: much of the collected information has been used in the report without providing any critical sources to evaluate.

Based on various quotes from those involved and Hans Blom himself one can conclude with hindsight that there was no delegation of the many tasks nor any hierarchy. The original group of researchers was immediately at odds over the methods to be applied. This disagreement became a clearcut struggle for power because Blom did little about it.

Kersten had previously been at the Historical Institute in The Hague and was of the opinion that he certainy knew how to undertake an historical investigation.

Koedijk, the archives rat, believed that he knew exactly how to do it. After all he had a lot of experience in journalism and as a political editor at Vrij Nederland he had been completely immersed in the Peter Stuyvesant-world of the intelligence services. He considered himself the natural leader of the investigation. Only Schoonoord had no intention of demanding to be the leader.

It wasn't only internal strife that caused the NIOD study's slow start; there were external problems plagueing the three investigators, too. Although the Dutch government had promised to give the NIOD team access to any archives that it considered necessary, this was not kept to in practice. The Military History Department of the Royal Armed Forces co-operated when put under intense pressure, but also kept some information concealed.

The French (crucial because of General Janvier, who at the time in question had been the commander of the UN forces in Bosnia) had no desire at all to be of assistance. The United Nations first wanted to devise new rules concerning the revelation of UN information and in anticipation they stalled. The Americans were "not at home". NATO would also not give sensitive information up for nothing. A variety of archives stayed behind closed doors and a selection of those responsible were not available [for interviews]. After a year and a half Blom still had no hint of success for his mission. Astoundingly an efficiency expert was taken on board in 1997, and that for such a tiny group of people.

What that expert advised is not known to us. It's redundant anyway, since nothing changed. In some aspects the situation even got worse. Paul Koedijk got the idea that his vision was the guiding light and he promptly took steps. That just led to even more friction.

In the Spring of 1997 the three researchers traveled with the then assistent-investigator and historian Titia Frankfort and an anthropologist who had been working in Great Britain Ger Duijzings (who would become a full member of the team in 2000) to "The Area" as they called Srebrenica and its surroundings for the first time, escorted by the American Army.

Meanwhile there had been elections in the Netherlands, a new Cabinet had been sworn in and there was also a new Defence Minister. After a trying formation Frank de Grave had taken a week off to spend time at the seaside in Bergen aan Zee with his family. His vacation came to an abrupt end. The press disclosed one Srebrenica exposé after the other. Among them the allegation that an armored vehicle used during the retreat of Dutchbat troops had been driven over some refugees with fatal consequences.

Until then it had been comparatively quiet in the Netherlands with relation to Srebrenica, but in the run-up to the elections the opposition began to taunt. Especially the CDA, that had been shunted off so deliberately during the first purple Cabinet, did its utmost to bring discredit to the parties in power. Embarassing disclosures about the Srebrenica question were ideal to this end. But the emotional wave created by this only reached its highest peak after the second 'Purple Cabinet' had been sworn in. This was even more touchy because the Defence- and State Departments both had new ministers, Frank de Grave and Jozias van Aertsen of the VVD, neither of whom had had anything to do with Srebrenica.

At this time there was a growing conspiracy theory about the Srebrenica cover-up. PvdA, CDA and D'66 all decided that a parliamentary inquiry was necessary.

With his feet in the surf and his mobile phone to his ear De Grave tried to quiet things down, but he sidn't manage to do so. Eventually, as stated, he appointed Jos van Kemenade, the Province Governor in North Holland, to investigate whether or not the Armed Forces were withholding information concerning Srebrenica. "NO," was his conclusion after six (!) weeks.

Prime Minister Kok promoted Van Kemenade to Minister of State just before the presentation of the NIOD report. Felicitious, since he came into the line of fire after the publication and it would have been much more difficult then. The NIOD had not been able to avoid negating Van Kemenade's investigation from 1998 ("No cover-up"). But he got away with the absurd annoucement that he had destroyed all the information used during his investigation. ("Van Kemenade cleaned it all up." Het Parool, April 18, 2002). Destroyed! How could that be? The personal archive of ex-Army commander Hans Couzy could not be used by the NIOD because it, too, had already been destroyed. And wasn't there something that had gone awry with some rolls of film filled with evidence? Indeed... Destroyed.

After the second Kok Cabinet took over, the parliamentary inquiry was once again postponed. NIOD director Hans Blom contributed to that. In an avid and pouting opinion piece in the Volkskrant of August 18, 1998 he claimed that the prestige of his institution would be undermined internationally through all these proposed extraneous investigations (Ministry of Public Affairs, Defence, 2nd Chamber of Parliament) into Srebrenica. Kok still had confidence in him and now he managed to convince Defence Minister De Grave and Interior Minister Van Aertsen (neither tainted with a Srebrenica past) that the NIOD wasn't twiddling its thumbs.

Blom was in a jam: a parliamentary inquiry would make him redundant, but he couldn't make public how things really were going: the investigation was barely started and there was hardly a line written of the report.

Paul Koedijk recognized this and offered himself, an ex-journalist, as Blom's PR-man. That Koedijk then abandoned his real work did not improve his relationship with the rest of the team.

Blom gathered his wits and promised that he would speed up the process of investigation. To that end he was allowed to hire more personnel in 1999. The Serbo-Croatian teacher Nevana (Nena) Bajalica (originally from Serbia and already living in the Netherlands for a number of years) was added and Cees Wiebes and Bob de Graaff (the authors of Villa Maarheeze, a notorious book about the Dutch CIA, disbanded in 1992) were also pulled in. Titia Frankfort was promoted from assistant to senior investigator. Later on Rolf van Uye, ex-employee of the OCSE (Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe) joined the group and in 2000 the aforementioned anthropologist Ger Duijzings completed the team.

This did not make the team more connected nor matters more transparent. More and more differences of opinion arose, with the consequence that each researcher retreated into his or her own field of specialization. There were sources that some investigators evaluated in completely different ways, resulting in varied interpretations. What one considered speculative was taken at face value by another. Or as investigator Ger Duijzings stated in the NRC Handelsblad on November 9, 2002, "Information from sources that I would question, are used in section 1 by Bob de Graaff when they suit his purpose."

6 - Wherein investigators and their sources become entangled

Another phenomenon popped up among some members of the NIOD team who gradually adopted a pro-Serbian attitude from Dutchbat. Whereas the military men related that one could make solid agreements with the Serbs, while that was hardly possible with the Muslims, the [NIOD] investigators noted that the Serbs arranged good hotels and that one did not have to sit on the ground during meetings.

Investigator Titia Frankfort heard heroic stories about Dutchbat doctor Gerry Kremer on one of her visits to "The Area". He had helped the Muslim refugees when he had been forbidden to do so. According to Kremer his superior officers had purposefully withheld medical aid from the local population. Kremer determinedly ignored an order and went out alone to treat the wounded. On top of that he also accused his medical colleagues (from the Navy) present in the enclave, because they had not offered any medical assistance to the Muslims. The matter of this "medical question" is not unknown, since Kremer went public with it both before and after the publication of what in his opinion is the faulty NIOD report. This to the irritation of both Navy and Army top, of course.

Early in July of 1995 Doctors Without Borders requested assistance from the Dutch military stationed in Srebrenica. This was refused because the Dutchbat commanders did not wish to use any of the so-called "brass-tacks supplies" (a minimum medical inventory that was to be kept for the treatment of their own troops). Kremer signed, after in his experience most heavy pressure from General Vader the commander of the Medical Commando of the Armed Forces, a rather mild statement about this matter when there was an internal military investigation.

When Titia Frankfort visited this Gerry Kremer together with Paul Koedijk during the Srebrenica investigation, she said to him that the "Bosnian Gates of Heaven" were opened wide for him. She had heard nothing but good about him from the survivors; he was the only hero in a sea of Dutchbat "cowards", as the Bosnian Muslims saw it. Kremer was responsive to that kind of compliment. It reinforced his opnion that he had acted honorably according to his own conscience when he publicized these happenings, even if his ex-colleagues now considered him a "buddy-fucker". He gave her a detailed history of events and felt that the NIOD was doing a good job. Finally he was being taken seriously.

When he contacted Frankfort later on to express his surprise that there had been no follow-up to the first interview, he was informed that Dick Schoonoord had evidently taken over the investigation into this subject. But nothing was heard from him either. Frankfort indicated that she would like to meet Kremer again. A more-than-friendly relationship flamed up between these two, although both of them were married. Frankfort, who had become very empathetic with the Srebrenica victims,was quite impressed with the Dutchbat surgeon. Differentiating between the 'good' and the 'bad' persons always had a big place in her life. She recognized a 'good' person in Kremer. Whether Frankfort's scientific professionalism was influenced by this is not exactly the crux of the matter. What is, is that some of her co-workers considered that it was influenced. It certainly did not contribute to the unity of the team.

The relationship that developped between the NIOD investigator and the Dutchbat doctor, created an added problem for Hans Blom. Various newspapers (including Trouw and the PZC, November 24, 2001) were going to flaunt it, which could bring the objectivity of the investigation into question.

Happily Blom could make use of another team member, Dick Schoonoord. This ex-Navy man would eventually take responsibility for a large portion of the NIOD report. Blom and Schoonoord saw things the same way and they had reservations about their colleagues Titia Frankfort, Nevana Bajalica and Paul Koedijk, who accepted information they gathered from survivors and eye-witnesses. That could lead to a version of events that would not harmonize with the version of the Defence top brass. They were identifying more with the common Dutchbatters (who had experienced the drama in situ) than with the military commanders (who made decisions from a safe distance). In Blom's eyes this "emotional empathy" of theirs and their determined search for "the truth" made them troublesome dissidents. At the end he allowed Schoonoord to write the 'medical' section concerning Dutchbat in the report, and that caused quite some frustration among the 'dissidents'.

This decision must have affected the content of the report in Gerry Kremer's opinion. Schoonoord was still a Colonel on active duty and he had served in the Navy his whole life. Kremer was not in the Navy, but in the Air Force. In his investigation Schoonoord relied on information from his Navy friends, was Kremer's complaint. He had spoken only to the Navy medical specialists (the other three in the enclave). Point in case: Schoonoord phoned Kremer only at "one minute to midnight" immediately before the deadline for his part of the NIOD report. As reaction Schoonoord offers that "This is just a descriptive phrase.", but Kremer doesn't think he was taken seriously. When Schoonoord had phoned him, he had not been at home, but the next day (January 18, 2001) he noticed that he had been called on his phone's screen. Kremer dialed back to this unknown telephone number and reached Schoonoord. He was startled that Kremer called him "out of the blue" and wanted to know "in God's name" how Kremer had obtained his telephone number. In answer to Kremer's question why he was only contacted at this stage, Schoonoord answered that he wanted to dot the i's and that his director had not considered it necessary to interview Kremer. The conversation lasted exactly 27 minutes and 31 seconds (according to the phone company's bill) and that was all. But in the NIOD report this conversaton is alluded to many times; as interview, as discussion, as source. It also gives a date of January 17th instead of the 18th. Perhaps this is a mistake, but maybe it is Schoonoord's attempt to disguise his only contacting an important source at the very last minute. At any rate Kremer accuses Schoonoord of doing his writing on the basis of talks with of a limited number of Navy spokespersons, and specifically relying upon a colleague-surgeon who in contrast to Kremer had only been in the enclave for two weeks and therefore had much less knowledge about what was going on.

Schoonoord had been using the archive system at Defence and allowed Defence itself to make copies of the pieces he used. The ministry therefore could know exactly which documents the NIOD had and which it did not.

When closely inspected this NIOD investigation does not seem to measure up qua "independence" and "objectivity". On November 1, 2002 the VPRO radio program Argos devoted a broadcast to the contribution of Cees Wiebes [in the NIOD report] on intelligence- and security services. With various spokespersons the program's producers were able to to make a convincing point, that both the American and German intelligence services knew that an attack on Srebrenica was imminent. Wiebes states in the NIOD report that nobody knew anything. According to Argos he had brushed aside all the witness statements that said otherwise. Last September [2003] The Bosnian Serb prosecution witness Momir Nikolic, a former army officer, admitted at the ICTY that the mass murder had been planned in detail and had not been "improvised" on the spot, as Wiebes claims in the NIOD report. According to Wiebes (who does not agree with the Argos assertions) this supports his position, because Nikolic stated that the plans for the massacre were made on July 12th [1995], after the fall of the enclave.

7 - Where the debacle within the NIOD team threatens to be exposed to the outside world

The criss-crossed relationships that risked the objectivity of the investigation were kept out of the public eye. But the chaos within the NIOD team was revealed a little when in 2000 the 2nd Chamber of Parliament itself got in harness. The Temporary Commission for Foreign Deployment, with chairman Bert Bakker (D'66) studied all military missions, but obviously concentrated on the most sensitive of them, Srebrenica. The members of the commission tried to work together with the NIOD investigators. They not only found that difficult, it shocked them terribly to see the systems that had used and to hear about the deep conflicts. "Total desolation" one even called it in HP/De Tijd of August 31, 2001. They then requested that the Cabinet provide a public answer to the question of why the report still was not finished. But Prime Minister Kok did not budge and the 2nd Chamber dropped the matter.

In November of 2001 the relationship between Titia Frankfort and Gerry Kremer, between the 'NIOD investigator' and the 'Dutchbat surgeon' leaked out. Several newspapers published the story. NIOD spokesman David Barnouw had to admit that the relationship existed, but declared that it had taken place "in the Summer", was "short-lived"and now was "over".

Kremer himself now knows (from one of the journalists who published the story but whose name he doesn't wish to disclose) that it was not a jealous partner who spilled the beans, but a member of NIOD's investigation team.

The whole NIOD study was under the auspices of the BVD (later AIVD, the national security service), mainly because they were working with classified documents and state security was involved. Each investigator had undergone a screening process before they could become a member of the team. In the rather isolated whirlpool of the investigation some researchers were gripped by a fear of spies and bugs. For instance Titia Frankfort had an extra dedicated email address for her 'sensitive' contacts.

The tension mounted because a realistic publication date seemed further and further away. When Wim Kok (with whom NIOD director Hans Blom had had a good understanding) displayed public anger at the latest delay in publication, panic really took hold. So much so that the board of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, to which the NIOD belonged since its name change in 1999, evidently demanded Blom have all the members of the team visit the company doctor. According to a spokesperson from the Royal Academy (KNAW) the members of the Srebrenica team had not had any "medical support". The social Annual Report of 2001 from KNAW reads under the heading NIOD that, "In the foregoing year much attention has been paid to the team that is conducting the Srebrenica investigation." Mention is also made literally of "great pressure" and of "direct support from the HR advisor and the company doctor." In addition to this the HSK Groep, an organisation that specializes in diagnosis and treatment of work-related psychiatric problems, interventions and training programs in businesses and institutions, was called in. When information about this was requested, an employee said apologetically: "The HSK Groep does not issue any statements about this matter. That is all I am allowed to say to you."

The fear was great that public failure of the Srebrenica investigation would not only damage the NIOD, but would affect the KNAW in its totality. Blom was considered at such risk that Peter Romijn (the director of Research at the NIOD) was added at the eleventh hour to be co-responsible for the Srebrenica team: to cover Blom and to keep him out of harm's way. Not that Romijn had any special expertise pertaining to the subject matter, but more so that he could help the exhausted research team achieve a publishable report.

The reason for the last postponement (September, 2001) of the publication date from November 2001 to April 2002 was officially that the NIOD would be allowed access to the Serbian archives after the fall of Milosevic. The real reason was that there was not yet any light at the end of the investigation's tunnel. There were still many interviews to be done and neither Paul Koedijk nor Albert Kersten had much written down. That irritated the others and drove Blom perpetually to despair. Eventually he reprimanded Koedijk. And Kersten was seconded at the last minute with the experienced Amsterdam historian Piet de Rooy as a kind of 'ghostwriter'.

It was war with Blom and Schoonoord on the one front and Koedijk, Frankfort and Bajalica on the other. There was no longer any conversation possible across no-man's land; they didn't even greet one another. However avidly Blom and Schoonoord would have liked to be rid of that trio, Koedijk and Frankfort had control of an important part of the report. Blom could not send them packing because then the devastation in the team would be evident to the outside world.

To request yet another postponement was just not possible. Blom and Kok had a gentlemen's agreement (according to Blom in an interview with Vrij Nederland, November 2, 2002) that the report would not be brought out in the middle of an electorial campaign, but well before time. In February of 2002 close to the due date the 2nd Chamber suddenly woke up and smelled the coffee. A majority of the CDA, VVD and D'66 parties felt themselves tricked and wanted immediately, "now" and at this very moment to have the contents of the NIOD report made public. That definitely had something to do with the approaching election. It wouldn't a bad thing for these parties if the position of the PvdA party leader Kok should become somewhat instable. But the most important reason for their outcry was an issue of the Twee Vandaag TV show which revealed that the reason stated for the latest delay of the NIOD report - the opening of the archives in Belgrade - was a lie. The archives were not opened at all. Bert Bakker (D'66) said at the time in HP/De Tijd: "We agreed twice to a delay last year. It seems only proper to me, that if the rationalisation behind requesting a postponement dissolves, the Chamber and the Cabinet should be informed." Geert Wilders (VVD) said at the time: "It is very odd and strange that we should be hearing this via the media. Totally so, if they knew early on that the archives would not be opened up. Why did they keep silent about it?" And Agnes van Ardenne (CDA) said then: "Why does the Cabinet accept all this? Why weren't we informed?"

The NIOD had of necessity communicated less than the truth, but during his weekly press conference Prime Minister Kok reacted with a stolid, "The NIOD does what the NIOD wishes." and "It is not my responsibility." No, of course not, was the immediate angry backwash. Kok isn't responsible for anything anymore. He had already announced that he was going to quit and the elections were soon to be held.

8 - Wherein the members of the research team fare as badly as the Dutchbatters

During the trying close to the investigation (Blom had to keep to his promise, even though many sections of the report had no conceptual form.) the pizza delivery man beat a path to the house on the Herengracht and the researchers who did not live in Amsterdam, were of necessity lodging in hotels nearby.

Using the unbearable pressure of the deadline as an argument, Blom invented a creative solution; he suggested that the aftermath of the fall of Srebrenica, so anything that had happened after July 11, 1995, would not be taken into consideration. The whole storm around the roll of film, the cover-up at Defence, the infamous debriefing would thus be excluded from the report.

But most of the team considered this 'solution' worse than the problem. They asserted to Blom that a six-year study to produce a report could not ignore the aftermath, if it didn't want to be completely discounted. Blom gave in and paradoxically scored the most points at the presentation of the report with exactly the sections that he had wanted to leave out. Perhaps that explains why the 'dissidents' within the team kept silent about the bizarre manner of its creation.

When all the work was done, most of the Srebrenica team members were close to the last straw. A big black hole loomed. Exit-discussions were organized to prepare them for their return to society. Everyone was also firmly instructed not to speak to anyone about the internal problems and to immediately warn one another if an outsider should ask questions about that. (NRC Handelsblad, September 9, 2002).

Months after presenting his report Blom admitted (in the aforementioned article in Vrij Nederland) that he had underestimated the difficulty factor and the management of the investigation and overrated himself. He also recognized that there had been problems, but he did not wish to make any statements about personal matters. No, of course not.

The fact that in the end all the contributors' names had been placed on the title page of Srebrenica. A 'safe' area was called on camera by Blom "The Miracle of the Herengracht". For in the last phase the researchers would not even read one another's drafts and there was no one to point out the contradictions between the various chapters. Thus Titia Frankfort offers a sharp criticism concerning Dutchbat's preparation, where Albert Kersten is much more mild. "We waited for somebody to point the finger at such inconsistency." Frankfort and Ger Duijzings would later say (NRC Handelsblad, November 9, 2002).

The haste with which the report was pieced together in the last few months, becomes clear in the reading of it. Since the NIOD team realized that journalists would want to quickly present the hottest news, there was much care taken writing the synopsis. Still it reported wrongly that "the largest proportion" of the Muslim refugees fleeing Srebrenica were armed fighters - both a hurtful and a symptomatic mistake. The text had been checked officially by nine investigators, including Hans Blom.

For Joris Voorhoeve (who never has given a public reaction to the report) this is a pity; for the surviving relatives it is a true scandal: the 'book of Srebrenica' should not have been closed by the NIOD ritual. The unanswered questions remain. There have even been new questions added. After some six years of study - that cost almost five million euros - the NIOD could only confirm the vision that had existed since 1995. To be sure the investigation did extend Kok's purple reign.

Now and then there are short pieces in the newspaper about how the former Dutchbatters are doing. Not too well, it seems. Some have sought refuge in criminality, many have physical or psychological problems and a few attempts at suicide are known, marriages have failed, relationships have broken up, and unemployment - whether or not due to disability - is unusually high.

And how are the nine investigators on NIOD director Hans Blom's Srebrenica team faring these days?

Blom himself travels every day to his stately business address on Amsterdam's Herengracht, and is occasionally in the public eye due to new NIOD publications; he was proclaimed "historian of the year 2002" by the Dutch Historical Newsletter (Historisch Nieuwsblad). Through this his status as National Historian is definite. For three of the investigators the end of the NIOD study coincided with the end of their marriages. Some of the investigators developed problems with their health. In specific cases this meant lengthy sick leaves. It is no secret that the long years of work for the NIOD has had a huge impact on the lives of those involved. "Some of them threatened to collapse." was Blom's comment.

Ger Duijzing is working again at the School of Slavonic Studies at the University of London. Bob de Graaff is back at the University of Utrecht. Albert Kersten is devoting himself to his Luns biography in this slack period and Dick Schoonoord is a pensioned mariner. Titia Frankfort is investigator at the Integrity Office of the county of Amsterdam and Paul Koedijk (who for a short while was the dedicated commentator concerning Srebrenica on the Netwerk TV program) is also working, by his own description, "in the sphere of integrity supervision". Cees Wiebes was employed by the University of Amsterdam in 1983, and is still there.

Army commander Hans Couzy acquired his pension already in 1996. Commander Ton Karremans was promoted after the drama in Srebrenica to Colonel, although behind the back of the then-serving Minister of Defence Joris Voorhoeve. He works at the NATO headquarters Afsouth in Naples. Voorhoeve himself is a member of the Raad van State, (Council of State), the most important body to advise the government. Like Jos van Kemenade, both Hans van Mierlo and Wim Kok were appointed Minister of State, an honorary, lifelong title that is granted by the Queen in extraordinary situations. With his untarnished image as a sucessful statesman Kok sits on the Board of Supervisors of one company after the other and has been awarded many honorary doctorates.

The parliamentary inquiry into the fall of Srebrenica, that followed the report like the horse after the cart, started in June of 2002 and based itself without question on the conclusions of the NIOD publication according to its final report in January of 2003. These were obviously presumed to be above any suspicion. Nobody had an inclination anymore to focus a magnifying glass on "The Miracle of the Herengracht". It was time to call it quits about the whole matter.

For those concerned in the Netherlands the publication of the NIOD report did mean the end of the Srebrenica question. For those Bosnian survivors, anything but. It is clear that they are not convinced that the Dutch government could not have done anything other than what was done. If so, there would not be this gigantic claim for damages. And if they should know how this report which was created by order of that very government about the fall of their Srebrenica had come into being, they certainly would not gain any more trust in the country that is host to the Yugoslavia tribunal.


[1] Radio Slobodna Evropa/Domovina Net Radio Report, April 10th, 2002
4 mins RealAudio stream (Bosanski)

[2] Hasan Nuhanović in De Wereld volgens Dummer, VPRO TV, January 19, 1997
39 mins RealAudio stream (Nederlands/English/Bosanski)
39 mins RealVideo stream (Nederlands/English/Bosanski - NL ondertiteld)

[3] Hasan Nuhanović in 7 Dagen, VPRO TV, April 7, 2002
32 mins - RealVideo (Nederlands/English NL ondertiteld)

[4] The NIOD report has not determined the level of responsibility and guilt of the Duchtbat troops and officials for genocide in Srebrenica
Hasan Nuhanović's reaction to the NIOD report, April 21, 2002 (English)

[5] Nederlands Instituut voor Oorlogsdocumenatie (NIOD)
Website, Nederlands, some English

[6] Srebrenica, a 'safe' area
NIOD's April 10, 2002, Srebrenica report on the Internet (English)

[7] Srebrenica, De genocide die niet werd voorkomen
IKV rapport (Nederlands, PDF document)

[8] J.W. Honig, N.Both Srebrenica, reconstructie van een oorlogsmisdaad
Original title: Srebrenica, Record of a War Crime (Nederlands, Bosanski)

[9] NIOD Srebrenica, a 'safe' area
Dutchbat je morao održavati mir gdje mira nije bilo (Bosanski)
Summary for the Press (English)
Geautoriseerde perssamenvatting (Nederlands)

[10] Frank Westerman, Bart Rijs: Srebrenica, het zwartste scenario (Nederlands)

Domovina's webpage also contains information in English and scans of classified documents which Rijs and Westerman made available to NIOD and the ICTY. [Domovina.net is no longer available and was not archived.]

Formerly published at http://www.domovina.net/archive/2003/20031212_hptijd.php


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