Russia buries navy officers killed in submarine fire

Buses carrying the bodies of crew members of a deep-sea research submersible drive to the Serafimovskoye memorial cemetery during a funeral ceremony in St. Petersburg, Russia. (AP)
Updated 06 July 2019
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Russia buries navy officers killed in submarine fire

  • The officers died in the Barents Sea on Monday, but the accident was only made public a day later
  • The funerals began amid heavy security, with military police standing outside the cemetery gates

SAINT PETERSBURG: The funerals of 14 Russian navy officers killed in a fire on a nuclear-powered submersible in circumstances the Kremlin has not fully revealed began Saturday in Saint Petersburg amid tight security.
The officers died in the Barents Sea on Monday, but the accident was only made public a day later. Russia has said the details of the tragedy were a “state secret.”
Moscow confirmed the vessel was nuclear-powered for the first time on Friday.
The funerals were closed to the press and took place in the former imperial capital’s historic Serafimovskoye Cemetery.
They began amid heavy security, with military police standing outside the cemetery gates.
“You have to understand that the identities of most of the people who gathered here are secret and their faces cannot be shown,” a representative of the defense ministry said.
An AFP reporter saw 14 vehicles carrying coffins drive into the cemetery.
“This is a great sorrow,” said a young woman clad in black who was attending the ceremony. She held a wreath that read “from friends and classmates.”
Some ordinary Saint Petersburg residents came to the gates of the cemetery to pay their respects to the high-ranking seamen.
“I feel so sorry for them, like they were my own (family),” said 60-year old Natalya Stepanova, who lives nearby.
“They are real heroes,” she said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin posthumously awarded state honors to all 14 of the submariners.
The tragedy has echoes of the sinking of the Kursk submarine in 2000, also in the Barents Sea, that claimed 118 lives and shook the first year of Putin’s presidency.
Russian media reported that the 14 seamen will be buried near a monument to the Kursk victims in the Serafimovskoye Cemetery.
Officials have released little information about the accident, saying the crew was studying the sea floor. But Russian media reported the ship was a top-secret nuclear-powered mini-submarine.
On Friday, the defense ministry confirmed for the first time that the vessel was in fact nuclear-powered. It said the fire started in the battery compartment and did not impact the vessel’s nuclear reactor.
Nearly all of the victims were highly decorated officers and included seven Captain First Rank officers — the most senior staff officers in the Russian navy.


Dutch court cuts state’s liability for Srebrenica deaths

In this Wednesday, March 20, 2019 file photo, a woman prays at the Potocari memorial center for victims of the Srebrenica genocide, in Potocari, Bosnia and Herzegovina. (AP)
Updated 20 July 2019
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Dutch court cuts state’s liability for Srebrenica deaths

  • The 350 were among the almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in the genocide at Srebrenica, the worst massacre in Europe since World War II

THE HAGUE: The Dutch Supreme Court on Friday slashed the state’s liability for 350 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, saying peacekeepers had only a “slim” chance of preventing their deaths.
The 350 men were among 5,000 terrified residents who had sought safety in the Dutch peacekeepers’ base when the besieged Muslim enclave was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.
The lightly armed Dutch troops eventually became overwhelmed and shut the gates to new arrivals before allowing Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Ratko Mladic to evacuate the refugees.
The men and boys were separated and taken in buses to their deaths, their bodies dumped in mass graves.
Judges, however, on Friday reduced from 30 percent to 10 percent the Dutch state’s responsibility for compensation to the families in a case brought by the Mothers of Srebrenica victims’ organization.
The 350 were among the almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in the genocide at Srebrenica, the worst massacre in Europe since World War II and the darkest episode in the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
“The Dutch State bears very limited liability in the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’ case,” the Supreme Court said. “That liability is limited to 10 percent of the damages suffered by the surviving relatives of approximately 350 victims.”

After the ruling, Mothers’ president Munira Subasic, who lost family members including her son, husband and father in the massacre, expressed disappointment.
“Today we experienced humiliation upon humiliation. We could not even hear the judgment in our own language because we were not given a translator,” she told AFP.
At Srebrenica “every life was taken away 100 percent. There is little we can do with 10 percent, but yes, the responsibility still lies where it does.”
“I only have two bones. I have found less than 10 percent of his body,” she added, referring to her teenage son.
The Dutch government accepted responsibility, saying it was relieved that “finally there was some clarity.”
A Dutch court originally held the state liable for compensation in 2014. In 2017 the appeals court upheld that decision before it was referred to the Supreme Court.
The lower court had said in 2017 that the Dutch actions meant the Muslims were “denied a 30 percent chance of avoiding abuse and execution,” and thus the Dutch state was liable for 30 percent of damages owed to families.
The Supreme Court agreed that “the state did act wrongfully in relation to the evacuation of the 5,000 refugees” in the compound, including 350 Muslim men the Bosnian Serbs were unaware of.
It said the Dutch peacekeepers “failed to offer these 350 male refugees the choice to stay where they were, even though that would have been possible.”
But explaining the decision to reduce the liability, the Supreme Court said that “the chance that the male refugees would have escaped the Bosnian Serbs had they been given the choice to stay was slim, but not negligible.”
Reacting to the ruling, Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld said in a statement the cabinet would “examine how to best implement the liability for damages suffered by the relatives in such a way it does justice to the Supreme Court ruling.”

In a swipe at the failure of other foreign powers to act during the 1995 crisis, the top court added that the “chance of Dutchbat (the Dutch UN mission) receiving effective support from the international community was slim.”
Former Dutchbat soldiers attending the case said they were disappointed on behalf of the victims’ families.
“I think the final judgment is a bit disappointing, especially when you see the court ruling of 30 percent and now it’s downgraded to 10 percent,” said Remko de Bruijne, a former Dutch blue helmet who served at Srebrenica.
“I think that’s not fair for the Mothers of Srebrenica but, on the other hand, now it’s clear,” he told AFP.
Srebrenica has cast a long shadow over The Netherlands, forcing a the government to resign in 2002 after a scathing report on the role of politicians in the episode.
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is currently serving a life sentence in jail in The Hague after being convicted of genocide over Srebrenica and war crimes throughout the 1990s.
Ex-military chief Mladic, 76, dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia,” is currently appealing a life sentence on similar charges at an international tribunal in The Hague.
Slobodan Milosevic, Karadzic’s long-time patron during the war, was on trial in The Hague at the time of his death in 2006.