Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dutch Atrocities in former Indonesia Colony - Rawagede Widows Win Damages

In a landmark legal victory for those who suffered from Dutch military operations in the fledgling Indonesian republic, the government of the Netherlands has been ordered to pay damages to relatives of victims of the 1947 Rawagede massacre.

A court in The Hague on Wednesday said the Dutch state could be held accountable for damage suffered by victims of the war crime in its former colony, local media reported.

The judge said the statute of limitations, which the state had earlier invoked, did not apply in this extraordinary case.

The amount of compensation that would be paid to seven widows of Rawagede victims was not immediately known.

Asvi Marwan Adam, a historian from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), told the Jakarta Globe that a favorable ruling for the Rawagede survivors could be interpreted by Indonesia as an admission of past Dutch mistakes.

“If they admit the Rawagede incident was a massacre, we could ask them to admit [Raymond] Westerling’s incident should be treated the same way,” he said, referring to a bloody campaign by Dutch soldiers in South Sulawesi.

Under the leadership of Westerling, thousands were executed in 1946-47 as part of a counter-insurgency operation.

Asvi said the Dutch government had no reason to deny the compensation request.

“When it comes to genocide, there is no statute of limitations. Hundreds of people were murdered in Rawagede,” he said,

A lawyer for the state told local newspaper De Volkskrant he was surprised by the ruling. He said the state would carefully study the document before deciding whether or not to appeal.

The case reportedly marked the first time victims of the Dutch military effort to reoccupy Indonesia after the end of World War II sued the state.

Dutch troops arrived in Rawagede, located between Karawang and Bekasi, on Dec. 9, 1947. Soldiers tried to force locals to give up the location of Lukas Kustaryo, an Indonesian soldier. Locals insisted they didn’t know his whereabouts, prompting brutal retaliation. Male villagers were lined up and Dutch soldiers opened fire. Only a few survived.

The Netherlands has acknowledged the summary executions in the West Java village amounted to war crimes. However, the state also said it would not pay damages because the killings happened too long ago.

Soldiers involved in the massacre were never prosecuted.

“It was said that 431 men died, but then the Netherlands government tried to play down the incident,” Asvi said, adding that it was difficult to establish the actual death toll because some bodies were tossed into a river.

Haris Azhar, the coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said the court’s decision might change the way Dutch people saw Indonesians.

“Usually an admission of past mistakes leads to deeper understanding about the country and its people. Culturally, Dutch people would be more aware of Indonesia, because of the sense of responsibility,” he said. By Dessy Sagita & Bastiaan Scherpen for Jakarta Globe

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