As It Happens

Dutch compensate Mosul man for 2015 coalition airstrike that killed his family

Amsterdam lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld says her client, Basim Razzo, had tears in his eyes after she told him about the offer from the Dutch government.

Airstrike hit Basim Razzo's home killing his wife, daughter, brother and nephew

Basim Razzo lost his family when his home was mistakenly targetted in an airstrike meant for an ISIS facility. He is believed to be the first civilian compensated by coalition forces. (Basim Razzo/Facebook)

Transcript

In 2015, Basim Razzo, 61, lost four family members in an airstrike after his home in Mosul, Iraq was misidentified as an Islamic State bomb-making facility. Now, the Dutch government has made a first-of-its-kind "voluntary offer" of a reported €1 million ($1.5 million Cdn) to compensate Razzo.

Based on intelligence provided by the United States, Dutch F16 coalition jets hit two targets — Razzo's house and his brother's home next door — killing Razzo's wife, Mayada, his daughter Tuqa, 21, his brother Mohannad and his nephew, Najib, 18. Razzo can no longer walk because of his own injuries.

Last year, one of the pilots involved in the airstrike gave an anonymous interview with Dutch media, resulting in the compensation offer.

Liesbeth Zegveld, Razzo's lawyer in the Netherlands, spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the Dutch government's payout. Here is part of their conversation.

How did your client, Basim Razzo, react when he learned that the Dutch government was offering this compensation?

He was very surprised. I opened the letter from the minister of defense and saw the amount … and I immediately called him. He was driving and he had to stop his car. I could hear he had tears in his eyes.

Were you surprised?

I was, very much. I've been in this job assisting war victims as a lawyer for two decades now. And we just never achieved this before. It sounds a bit weird — "achieve" — but it is, of course. It's not full compensation, but [the offer] approached it.

Liesbeth Zegveld is a Dutch lawyer based in Amsterdam. (Koen van Weel/ANP)

Does this indicate that the Dutch government, which was the coalition force that struck the houses, is admitting guilt here?

Formally, they are not. Informally, I would say, of course. They would never come to this agreement if they didn't know off the record or informally that they bear responsibility. But for the record, they say they did this from a humanitarian point of view, a kind of condolence payment, because of the great losses.

But they have admitted factual responsibility — that they were Dutch F-16 fighter fliers — that struck the home based on U.S. intelligence. So their factual role is clear and not disputed. But then they say, because it was not our intelligence, we're not liable for damages, but nevertheless, we pay well …. if this case would have gone to court … the judge would definitely have awarded him the damages that have currently been awarded.

The strike was based on intelligence provided by the United States, the leading force in this coalition. The United States rarely, if ever, admits that it's hit the wrong place and killed innocent civilians. A very thorough New York Times investigation a couple of years ago indicated that there were maybe one in five coalition strikes that actually hit civilians that were not responsible for anything. Has the Dutch government ever admitted guilt in these instances? 

Well, no. I think this is the first case where, at least they admitted their role, if not guilt. The problem with the coalition is that so many countries are involved. They are not transparent about which country is doing what. So it's kind of a big blur for victims, not knowing where to go.

My client first went to the U.S. and was able to obtain access to newspapers and journalists who revealed his story, followed up with better research into his story. It created a very exceptional case — he got to know what truly happened.

He's been extremely fortunate to receive something while so many victims are left with empty hands. But in his case, we should not forget that it's now 2020. Since 2015, he was left in the dark about what exactly happened, who threw this bomb.

Yes, the U.S. admitted this was wrong intelligence.

But the Netherlands never said, "this was our role as well." And since the U.S. awarded a very low amount for damages, which he rejected, he was still left with empty hands. By coincidence, he found out, these were Dutch airplanes and has now been compensated. But it's a sequence of luck.

What can you tell us about how he's coping?

He needs new operations to fully recover.

He's living in a rental apartment — nothing close to the life that he was used to.

It's a sad story, but as he explained to me, in a way, this money creates an opening to rebuild in the memory of those who he lost and his own life. It's always weird, but money does help. And the magnitude of the amount only reflects the magnitude of his losses.

How many more people like Mr. Razzo do you think are out there?

I can't tell you — I'm not a researcher, but I do represent many people.

We learned last October that another Dutch bomb killed at least 70 civilians [in Hawija]. But much more likely, it's a number of 200. That's what [one] survey tells us ... The government denied liability there. We have to go to court for that case. I can only hope that the case of Mr. Razzo has helped these people a bit, since the coalition's responsibility has now been [revealed] a little. It has shown us that individual countries can be held responsible for their individual strikes. 

Mr. Razzo has said elsewhere that he doesn't hate the Americans for what happened to him. He also said that he would like to meet the pilot responsible for the bombing that night. Why does he want to meet the pilot?

[The pilot] is a Dutch man. He's been interviewed on television. He was identified through the good work of a Dutch journalist who he told his story to. There was a match between Mr. Razzo's case and his story. This pilot had sleepless nights over what happened. He knew weeks after the bombardment, while Mr. Razzo learned only recently that it was a Dutch pilot. I think he wishes to make peace, to come to some form of closure … He feels it's something that would be healing and helpful to him and also to the pilot.


Written by Tahiat Mahboob. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now