Not a cent!

3 December 2008

Not a cent!

A few days ago the government announced that relatives of victims of Dutch war crimes in Indonesia would not be receiving damages, however much they harped on about it. The mass murder in Rawagedeh of hundreds of innocent men and boys happened, after all, such a long time ago. The lawyer working for Premier Balkenende stated this quite literally when he wrote that "insofar as your clients have a claim, this claim is in any case out of date." This implies that the fact of large scale war crimes having been perpetrated remains in doubt and that there is no responsibility to be taken. This is incredible audacity.

by Harry van Bommel

Harry van BommelOn 9th December 1947 Dutch troops entered the village of Rawagedeh in search of an insurgent. They found nobody, and no weapons. Despite this, every man and boy was killed. The United Nations describes this action as "deliberate and ruthless". Former foreign minister Ben Bot has acknowledged that the Netherlands in this instance was "on the wrong side of history." Balkenende says "unfortunately you're too late."

During my trip to Indonesia at the beginning of October I spoke to the only surviving man and two widows. All three of them are now extremely old. Our conversation focused for the most part on reconciliation, not compensation. These people want reconciliation with the perpetrators, the Dutch soldiers. According to foreign minister Maxime Verhagen the Dutch veterans feel no need for this. I know that's not true because many veterans of the war in Indonesia suffer a burden of guilt. That's why I felt that the Netherlands should offer help to its veterans to attend the commemoration in Rawagadeh on 9th December. Verhagen refused to do this.

The mass murder in Rawagedeh may, from a strictly legal viewpoint, have passed its statute of limitations. The fact that the Netherlands refers to this speaks volumes. The government continues to run away from our own history. This mentality is linked to slavery. colonialism, exploitation and war crimes. We must live with the fact that we are descended from slaveholders, colonial overlords, exploiters and war criminals. It is typically Dutch that this must not be allowed to cost us a cent.

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