The State Subpoenaed

11 December 2009

The State Subpoenaed

Eight widows and one survivor of the 1947 Dutch massacre of innocent civilians from the Indonesian village of Rawagede have issued a court summons against the Dutch state. In a subpoena of forty-five pages, the nine demand recognition and compensation. For years the SP has argued for complete openness in relation to the colonial war and compensation for its civilian victims. In Parliament we have never won a majority for this view and that is why I am glad that this complaint has been brought against the state.

by Harry van Bommel

Harry van BommelThere is still not complete openness over the course of the policing actions which took place in 1947. In 1969, the 'Note on excesses' was drawn up, but since then new facts and new documents have come to light. From these it turned out that already, at an early stage, it had been decided that no prosecutions would be conducted of Dutch soldiers who were guilty of war crimes. In the summons this is referred to as an 'unjust deed'. New historical research is needed to complete and correct the Note on Excesses. This court case should be the starting signal for such research. It is in the interests of the relatives, of the veterans and of the historiography that all of the facts are brought to light. Facts about Rawagede, but also concerning other villages where similar scenarios played themselves out.

The Netherlands' processing of the colonial past is slow work. In 2005, Ben Bot, at the time Foreign Minister, caused a sensation with his remark that the Netherlands, through its policing actions, had found itself on the wrong side of history. Only in 2008, and then after urging by Parliament, did the Dutch ambassador for the first time attend the annual commemoration in Rawagede. Requests that he offer apologies and compensation were, however, resolutely rejected. Bot's successor, current Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen has on a number of occasions stated that "We have expressed our regrets but offered no apologies. Regret and apologies are two different things.” Verhagen is right. Regrets are one-sided, whereas in apologies two parties are involved. If the relatives accept the apologies, it is to be expected that they will do so on condition that they receive compensation. And that is precisely what the government is so afraid of.

It would be unreasonable if the Dutch state were to base its case on the idea that the crimes involved are beyond any statute of limitations. In the past the state has regularly refused any such appeal in relation to events which occurred during the Second World War. Demands from victims have repeatedly been taken into consideration on the grounds of reasonableness. It would be unjust if this were to be handled differently. The plaintiffs' counsel also make this comparison in their subpoena and, in my view, they have a strong point.

When last year I spoke in Jakarta with several of the widows and with the only man to have survived the bloodbath, I was impressed by their composure. They have had to wait so long to see these important developments. I hope with all my heart that this does not become a case that drags on and that a good outcome is yet possible.

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