Harry van Bommel: Extend regulation on compensation for surviving relations of victims of ‘Policing Actions’

3 July 2015

Harry van Bommel: Extend regulation on compensation for surviving relations of victims of ‘Policing Actions’

This coming September 10th is the closing date for possible claims for damages from surviving relations of the Indonesians summarily executed by Dutch soldiers during so-called Policing Actions between 1946 and 1949. The Netherlands introduced this rule on 10th  September 2013 after the Committee on Dutch Debts of Honour, aided by Liesbeth Zegveld, lawyer for the widows of South Sulawesi, had succeeded in forcing the payment of compensation.

Dutch policy with regard to the abuses committed during these Policing Actions has always been based on the assertion that our country accepts no responsibility. The investigation into the events did not take place until twenty years had passed and its results, entitled the Excessennota, were quickly swept under the carpet. The soldiers responsible would not be prosecuted because the term specified under the statute of limitations had ‘expired’. (There had never been any talk of a similar ‘expiry’ when it came to Dutch war crimes during the German occupation.)

If we keep in the back of our minds the fact that our country took, therefore, more than twenty years to investigate its own war crimes, and that after that it took until 2013 before a Dutch court ordered the acknowledgement of guilt in relation to Rawagede, and in the meantime the recognition of a debt to the widows and children of those who died in South Sulawesi, then it will be clear that we still cannot speak of a generous or warm-hearted Dutch response. By keeping the period in which claims can be lodged so short, by demanding extensive paperwork, and by not extending the ruling to cover the children of those executed, the Netherlands is making it more difficult than necessary for the surviving relatives.

Furthermore, the foundation which oversees the Committee on Dutch Debts of Honour has documents in its possession which show that following the court’s verdict in 2013, the Dutch embassy in Jakarta ordered an investigation to be carried out amongst Indonesia-friendly travel agencies and taxi drivers.

In our view this mistrust is a slap in the face to the surviving relatives. We find it incomprehensible that the Dutch state is not following the court’s judgment and immediately paying up, with no ifs or buts. That it must be paid is clear. Given the fact that Dutch Indonesia was forced to pay 6.5 billion guilders to our country as compensation for damages, compensation for a small group of widows and children is a question of honour and ought to be seen as a gesture of warm-hearted generosity instead of being done in a spirit of meanness and lack of self-criticism.

That goes also for extending the regulation governing claims. To start with the deadline for making a claim is neither realistic, nor generous, nor desirable, with the State giving the surviving relatives an extremely limited amount of time to gather everything together before the expiry date. Given that the judge ruled on three occasions that the Dutch soldiers’ atrocities are not beyond the date limit for prosecution, the relatives have surely the right to more space and more time. In our view the state is applying a double standard. The surviving relatives have a right to respect and clemency and don’t deserve to be confronted by petty, narrow-minded limiting conditions. That is why we believe that the regulation should apply indefinitely. In addition, the state has failed to make an announcement of the impending deadline in Indonesian via a press release.

Limiting the ruling exclusively to widows is no longer tenable, considering that on 11th March the court in The Hague determined that the children of those summarily executed also have a right to redress and to compensation. Just as that court observed in its judgment, they have also gone through a great deal of suffering as a result of the deaths – of which some of them were actual witnesses – of their fathers and brothers. It’s clear that the regulation should be broadened.

Also, the administrative criteria to be eligible for compensation are particularly restrictive: widows can only lodge a claim if it refers to crimes already known about. This ruling should be amended to include all victims of war crimes, even those which have not yet come to light. And finally, the state’s requirement that the widows themselves pay the legal costs shows little clemency.   

On 17th August Indonesia celebrates its seventieth year of independence from the Dutch coloniser. It’s high time that the Netherlands came clean about its past. If the attitude and the policy of the Netherlands doesn’t change, and there’s no open-hearted acknowledgement of guilt and no redemption, if the regulation isn’t amended,  all of this would mean first of all that widows and children would never again be able to demand compensation, but also that the wound left by the ‘Policing Actions’ remained an open sore.

SP Member of Parliament Harry van Bommel was joined in authoring this opinion piece by Jeffry Pondaag, founder of the Committee on Dutch Debts of Honour, and Tineke Bennema, an activist, writer and historian. This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, on the website Joop.nl

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