Thom Karremans

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Thom Karremans in 1995 Thom Karremans in 1995.jpg
Thom Karremans in 1995

Thomas Jakob Peter Karremans (born 29 December 1948) is the former commander of Dutchbat troops in Srebrenica at the time of the Srebrenica genocide during Bosnian War. Dutchbat had been assigned to defend the Bosniak enclave made the U.N. "safe area", but it failed to prevent the Serbs from taking the city.


Military career

Karremans followed his military training at the Royal Military Academy in the Netherlands, and he was part of the 1979-1980 UNIFIL peacekeepers in Lebanon. In the 1980s, he was stationed at the NATO Headquarters SHAPE in Mons (Belgium), where he was involved in the subject of arms control. In 1991, Karremans had his first experience in Bosnia as liaison officer to the EC observation committee. He then became commander of an infantry battalion in Assen. [1]

Presence in the staging area of the Srebrenica massacre

In 1994 Karremans was appointed as commander of Dutchbat III battalion that was deployed to the Srebrenica enclave as a part of the peacekeeping mission, under command of the United Nations in operation United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR).

On 11, 12 and 13 July 1995, the enclave was captured by Serb soldiers, while the Dutch battalion was stationed there. Karremans requested NATO air support to defend the enclave, as the Dutch were more and more driven into the narrow enclave. (Karremans requested air strikes several times, in particular of the French – which was witnessed from neutral Switzerland, but they were first denied, then delayed, and later granted by UN General Bernard Janvier). [2] However the NATO air support arrived was too little and too late to stop the Serbian advance.

After Serbian forces entered Srebrenica, Karremans was interrogated by Serb General Ratko Mladić. During the interrogation, Karremans was confined against a wall and surrounded by Serb soldiers, defensive and submissive, but forced to drink alcohol (a white wine spritzer) by Mladić and, in particular, later had to excuse himself from ever requesting air strikes against Bosnian Serb forces, claiming the decision was made by higher authorities based on information he provided.

Under pretext of evacuating the Bosniak population to a sheltered city, Serbs transferred most of the women and children by bus to a zone under Bosnian-Serb control, claiming that the men would be transferred later.

Karremans has said a Serb blockade had left his soldiers desperately short of food and fuel. He told the Hague ICTY tribunal in 1996 that when his requests for NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serb troops were finally granted, they were "too late and too little." [3]

Reactions regarding the Dutchbat presence during the attack and occupation of Srebrenica

In 1999, the United Nations admitted its error in expecting a small number of troops to protect the Srebrenica Safe Area.

Karremans has always denied that he was aware of the fact that thousands of Muslim men and boys he saw being taken away by Bosnian Serbs were going to be murdered. At least one Dutchbat member, former Dutch army surgeon Ger Kremers, has stated that he and Karremans watched the men being taken away by Serb forces. Karremans is alleged to have said "It will not end well with them," Kremer also has accused Karremans of lying under oath to the UN Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal and a Dutch parliamentary inquiry. Also the Dutch military historian Christ Klep has disputed the commander's account. Klep interviewed dozens of former Dutchbat troops who said they were aware "about the impending genocide". [4]

At a press conference in Zagreb, Karremans stated that there were no "good guys and bad guys" in this conflict. He also praised the strategic qualities of Mladic. His statements got Dutch secretary of Defence Joris Voorhoeve into political trouble. [5]

Promotion after returning to the Netherlands

Shortly after his return to The Netherlands Karremans was promoted to full colonel, which caused controversy. [5]

Complaints through the justice system against Karremans

In 2010, Hasan Nuhanović, a survivor of the Srebrenica genocide, and the relatives of the murdered Muslim electrician Rizo Mustafić (who was employed by Dutchbat during the genocide until he was turned over to the Serbs and killed) made a legal complaint of genocide and war crimes against Karremans, his former deputy Major Rob Franken, and human resources manager Berend Oosterveen for their transfer of the Muslim families to the Serbs. [6] The Public Prosecution Service first concluded in a Nolle prosequi decision that Karremans and the other persons were not culpable. Through a special procedure (Dutch art. 12 Wet strafvordering), this decision was brought to court. On 29 April 2015, the court in Arnhem confirmed that Karremans and his secondants should not be prosecuted. [7] Directly after the ruling, the lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld announced an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). [7] The ECHR declared the case inadmissable, on 30 August 2016, arguing that it "cannot find that there was any misrepresentation of facts or arguments by the Military Chamber of the Court of Appeal" in Arnhem. [8]

After army career

After retiring from the army, he and his wife moved to Spain, partly because of death threats in his native Netherlands. [9] He wrote of his experiences at Srebrenica in Een puzzel van de werkelijkheid. He describes problems and dilemmas for him and his men during six months in Bosnia and six days of war. In the book, Karremans gives his view on the lack of support from the Dutch politicians at the time. He felt that he was forced by the Dutch politicians to fight with his hands behind his back. [10]

See also

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  1. "Karremans met de rug tegen de muur". Trouw (in Dutch). 15 July 1995. Retrieved 31 October 2021.
  2. Robert Dulmers; Casper Thomas (13 May 2015). "Wie gaf het bevel?". De Groene Amsterdammer (in Dutch). No. 20. Retrieved 31 October 2021.
  3. "Transcript from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia". 13 June 2013.
  4. "Commander of UN forces 'aware Srebrenica massacre was about to happen'".
  5. 1 2 "Voorhoeve wist niet van promotie overste Karremans". Trouw (in Dutch). 3 February 1996. Retrieved 31 October 2021.
  6. legal complaint against Dutchbat-commanders due to Genocide - NRC Handelsblad, 6 July 2010 (Dutch)
  7. 1 2 "Karremans not prosecuted for role in Srebrenica" (in Dutch). 29 April 2015. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  8. "Decision – Application no. 49037/15, Mehida Mustafić-Mujić and others against the Netherlands". European Court of Human Rights. 30 August 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2021.
  9. Taylor, Rachel S. (2004). "Karremans Recalls Srebrenica Fall". Tribunal Update. Institute for War & Peace Reporting. Retrieved 15 January 2017.
  10. "Srebrenica who cares?" (in Dutch). Literatuurplein. Retrieved 1 May 2015.[ dead link ]

Further reading