Book of colonialism can only be closed after a proper investigation

2 October 2013

Book of colonialism can only be closed after a proper investigation

With apologies and compensation payments, the Netherlands has taken a step in the right direction, but more is needed if we are to close the book on the painful colonial past, says SP Member of Parliament Harry van Bommel.

After a long legal struggle, at the end of August it was decided that the Netherlands would treat claims from widows whose husbands were killed in summary executions in the former Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) equally in comparable cases. As the widows of the Rawagedeh and South Sulawesi massacres were compensated, other widows will be considered for the same. In addition, it was decided that the Dutch ambassador in Indonesia would express apologies for the executions in the name of the Netherlands. .

I see these apologies and the compensation payments as a positive step which, given the age of the widows, should have been taken much sooner. If you think that these measures mean that that’s it, however, you’re way off the mark. Widows of the executed men were after all not the only victims of the many war crimes committed during the colonial war in Indonesia.

The following have already made their interest known: five children of four fathers who were executed by the Dutch military in South Sulawesi in 1947 have lodged a complaint with the Dutch state. They quite understandably find it difficult to understand why they, unlike the widows, should have no right to compensation.

Furthermore, a number of other groups who were victims during this painful chapter from our national history are waiting on redress. This concerns, amongst others, Moluccans, who believe that the government should be apologising for the frosty welcome that they received when they came to the Netherlands, forced into service, in 1950. In addition, Dutch soldiers who refused to serve in Indonesia want to be rehabilitated, to have their sentences erased. While such open wounds remain untreated, the past will continue to haunt us. A broad debate over the colonial past is unavoidable.

Dutch soldiers with Indonesian prisoners

In relation to the war crimes committed in the former colony, information continues to come to the surface on the role played by the Dutch government. Recently Trouw (the national daily) put paid to the idea that summary executions were exceptional and were committed by individual soldiers while their commanding officers turned a blind eye. Following research into the archives, Trouw determined that highly-placed Dutch politicians, including Prime Minister Louis Beel, were already aware of the summary executions in the Dutch East Indies during the time that the military operations were still running at full throttle. So these articles too should ensure that the past cannot be laid to rest. Only a broad enquiry into the Netherlands’ military violence in the Dutch East Indies in the years from 1945 to 1950 can offer a way forward. Whether such an enquiry will be conducted is extremely doubtful. Three historical research institutes made a proposal last year, but it turned out that in Parliament there was little enthusiasm for the idea. A motion to make limited financial means available for it was supported, in addition to the SP, only by the two centre-left parties the PvdA (Labour) and the Green Left.

Another option would be a parliamentary enquiry, but that would also require the backing of a majority. In a briefing sent to Parliament early in the year the government even said that part-financing of an enquiry would not be opportune as there were already many publications on the period, such as the well-known Excessennota, (“Memorandum on Excesses”) a report commissioned by the government in 1969. In addition, in Indonesia itself there would be insufficient support for such an enquiry.

Harry van Bommel is the SP’s parliamentary spokesman on foreign affairs.

You are here