Dutch Ambassador to Indonesia Tjeerd de Zwaan spoke at the Dutch embassy compound in South Jakarta on Thursday morning, addressing an assembled crowd of reporters and relatives of those killed in the aftermath of Indonesia’s declaration of independence on Aug. 17, 1945.
“The… violence claimed many innocent victims on both sides and resulted in suffering that is still felt today in both Indonesia and the Netherlands,” he said.
Present at the ceremony were five relatives of South Sulawesi women whose husbands were executed — the women themselves did not attend.
Their lawyer, Liesbeth Zegveld, earlier said in a press statement that the women, aged 90-100, had asked Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans to make the apology in South Sulawesi, as they were “too old” to travel to Jakarta, 1,400 kilometers away.
“Making an apology implies that you go and meet somebody, not ask the person to come to you,” Zegveld said. The ambassador said on Thursday that he would shortly travel to Makassar in the hope of meeting with the widows.
The Dutch state reached a legal settlement this year with 10 women from South Sulawesi after a similar case in 2011 was won by victims of the 1947 Rawagede massacre. An official apology and 20,000 euros ($26,000) in compensation were part of the settlements in both cases.
In his statement on Thursday, De Zwaan said that the Dutch government was “aware that it bears a special responsibility in respect of Indonesian widows of victims of summary executions comparable to those carried out by Dutch troops in what was then South Celebes [Sulawesi] and Rawagede [now Balongsari, West Java].”
“On behalf of the Dutch government, I apologize for these excesses,” the ambassador said in English before repeating his words in Indonesian.
Asked whether the planned visit to Indonesia by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in November would also address the colonial past, the Dutch ambassador told the Jakarta Globe that although it is sometimes important to look back, Rutte’s visit would primarily be focusing on the future.
“This is an important visit and a big delegation will accompany the prime minister,” De Zwaan said, adding that both countries have a lot to offer each other and are eager to look forward.
Rutte is scheduled to visit Indonesia on Nov. 20-22 to further boost political and economic ties between the two nations. He will meet with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and will be accompanied by representatives of the Dutch business community.
The massacres in Sulawesi were part of a 1946-47 campaign in which the controversial Dutch Capt. Raymond Westerling played an important role. As the commander of the Special Forces unit Depot Speciale Troepen, Westerling was called upon to “pacify” South Sulawesi.
The so-called “Westerling Method” entailed summary executions of people suspected to be involved in any anti-Dutch activity and other harsh counter-insurgency tactics.
Estimates vary widely, but historian Jaap de Moor, a Dutch expert on Westerling, has put the death toll as a direct result of the actions by the Special Forces in South Sulawesi at around 1,500, with regular units being responsible for many other killings in the region. The Indonesian government at the time put the number of victims in Sulawesi at 40,000.
An announcement in the Dutch government gazette Staatscourant on Tuesday outlines requirements that other victims of atrocities committed by Dutch soldiers during Indonesia’s war of independence must meet to file a successful claim for monetary compensation. Involvement of the courts is not necessary, the government says.
The requirements include: the claimant must have been married to a person summarily executed by Dutch soldiers, the execution in question must have been of a similar nature as those in Rawagede and South Sulawesi, and the execution must have already been mentioned in a publication. Statements of witnesses will be accepted as proof of the fact that the deceased husband was indeed summarily executed. Claims will be accepted until Sept. 11, 2015, the announcement reads.
Embassy spokesman Nico Schermers told the Globe that the Dutch government has no estimates of how many people are likely to seek compensation through the scheme. Jakarta Globe