Expression of regret over Rawagede isn't enough

12 December 2008

Expression of regret over Rawagede isn't enough

The Dutch ambassador has visited Rawagede to express his regrets over the massacre of innocent civilians in the Indonesian village by Dutch soldiers, an incident which occurred almost sixty years ago. According to Harry van Bommel and Adriaan de Winter, this is insufficient.

By Harry van Bommel, Member of Parliament for the SP and Adriaan de Winter, veteran of the Dutch 'police actions' in Indonesia.

This year the Dutch ambassador was for the first time present at the commemoration of the fact that in 1947 Dutch soldiers killed hundreds of civilians from the Javanese village of Rawagede, a reprisal for a failed hunt for an Indonesian leader. Over the decades there has been only a very gradual increase of attention paid to this act of mass murder. It was for the most part Dutch veterans of the Indonesian campaign who uncovered these crimes.

In 1969 such revelations led to the hastily adopted "Note on Excesses". In August 2005 Ben Bot, at the time Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated that the Netherlands had, with its 'police actions', found itself on the wrong side of history. This statement cleared the way for new attention to be demanded for the mistakes that were made at that time.

Step by step the right direction has been taken. But the speed of this must, sixty-one years after the event, greatly increase. Otherwise, no-one involved will be left alive.

Last winter the SP's parliamentary group took the matter up again by demanding compensation for the surviving relatives of those who lost their lives in the tragedy. In addition, recognition was demanded for the political position of thousands of men who refused to serve in Indonesia, refused to place themselves on the wrong side of history.

In October some members of a parliamentary delegation to Indonesia met with some of the eleven remaining surviving relatives and with the only survivor of the scandalous action of 1947. The relatives' claim, lodged with the help of Dutch lawyers, led to more attention being paid to the matter.

In a letter to relatives' lawyers, the Dutch government argued that the Note on Excesses meant that the matter was closed, but that they would be pleased to discuss this with the relatives. The door was left very slightly ajar, but it must be opened wide. We are therefore calling for the following:

Firstly, openness regarding the facts. This would mean a new historical enquiry would be conducted as a complement to and possible correction of the 1969 Note on Excesses. Doubts over the result of the enquiry which produced that note already exist. Openness, moreover, not only over events in Rawagede, but also over those in other places and the whole course of the police actions. It is especially also in the interests of veterans that optimum openness regarding these events be displayed.


Secondly, recognition that the treaty of 1966 between the Netherlands and Indonesia designed to clear up in a definitive manner all financial matters was not aimed at compensating the victims of the police actions, but above all as compensation for Dutch businesses. This agreement cannot possibly deprive the victims of war crimes of a legal basis for their claims.

This year's commemoration has seen money collected for the victims of Rawagede by the Dutch foundation Eerlijk Delen (Fair Shares). A good initiative, but at the same time it is shameful that the Dutch government is simply leaving these people to suffer. The survivors want atonement and recognition of injustice. Dutch veterans too are asking for improvements in care.

On the basis of these points a discussion of the events of sixty-one years ago could be held, links with Indonesia strengthened, reconciliation with the population of Indonesia achieved, and the trauma of the police actions expurgated within the Netherlands itself.

This article was originally published in Dutch in the daily newspaper Reformatisch Dagblad of 12th December 2008

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