Dutch UN peacekeepers have been ruled legally responsible for the deaths of three Bosnian Muslim men in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
Judges in the Netherlands ordered the government to compensate the men's relatives, possibly opening the way to other claims by relatives who say the victims should have been protected in the 'safe zone' Bosnia's 1992-1995 war.
It could also have wider implications for countries sending troops on UN peacekeeping missions, as it opens the possibility of national governments being taken to court for the actions of their troops even when they are under UN control.
The case was brought by Hasan Nuhanovic, an interpreter who lost his brother and father, and relatives of Rizo Mustafic, an electrician who was killed. They argued that all three men should have been protected by Dutch peacekeepers.
The victims were among thousands of Muslims who took shelter in the UN compound as Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Ratko Mladic overran Srebrenica on July 11 in what was to become the bloody climax to the 1992--95 Bosnian war that claimed 100,000 lives.
Two days later, the outnumbered Dutch peacekeepers bowed to pressure from Mladic's troops and forced thousands of Muslim families out of the compound.
Bosnian Serb forces sorted the Muslims by gender, then trucked the males away and began executing some 8,000 Muslim men and boys. Those bodies were ploughed into hastily made mass graves in what international courts have ruled was genocide.
The ruling said even though the Dutch soldiers were operating under a UN mandate, they were under the "effective control" of top Dutch military and government officials in The Hague when they ordered hundreds of Muslim men and boys out of their compound.
The ruling said the three men were among the last to be expelled and by that time the "Dutchbat" peacekeepers already had seen Bosnian Serb troops abusing Muslim men and boys and should have known they faced the real threat of being killed.
"Dutchbat should not have turned these men over to the Serbs," a summary of the judgment said.
Sabaheta Fejzic, who lost her husband and her son in the massacre said the ruling opened "a path for 6,000 more victims who are holding the Dutch government and the UN responsible for what happened."
"We really believed that they would protect us, but they did not even let us inside their base," she added.
Dutch government lawyer Karlijn Teuben said she would have to study the decision before deciding whether to appeal.
The Hague Appeals Court did not immediately set a compensation figure. Victims' lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld said the sum would "not be in the millions."