On Monday, October 19th, the Netherlands promised to compensate the children of any Indonesian citizen killed through summary execution by Dutch soldiers during the Indonesian War of Independence. Any children that can credibly prove their relation to a victim and confirm that his death was a result of execution are eligible to receive 5,000 euros or $5,890. This is not the first action that the Dutch government has taken to ease tensions with Indonesia. In March, a Hague court ruled that the widows and some family members of 11 Sulawesi men executed during the war were entitled to governmental recompense. Although some relatives were included in this case, the most recent ruling is the first to explicitly grant compensation to these victims’ children. The court initially received pushback from the Dutch government who argued that the statute of limitations had passed as the war ended 70 years ago. Due to the extreme violence that was enacted by Dutch soldiers, however, the court refused to modify its decision.
The prerequisite of death by summary execution codified in the recent court ruling highlights the injustice and violence carried out by the Netherlands which makes Indonesian reparations necessary. Summary execution refers to the corrupt practice whereby an individual is accused of a crime and immediately killed without trial or due process. This punishment was repeatedly used by Dutch soldiers as justification to execute scores of Indonesian people. More than 860 Indonesian men were murdered by firing squad between December 1946 and April 1947, according to Al Jazeera. While this spike in violence is one of the most notable, horrific brutality was present throughout the war.
The Indonesian War of Independence lasted four years. Indonesia declared itself independent in 1945 at the close of World War 2 but was not officially recognized as sovereign until 1949. After weak Dutch military offenses faced early resistance from the Indonesian Republican cause, and its Japanese allies, who had occupied Indonesia throughout World War 2, the Dutch returned in full force at the start of 1946, backed by the British. The Netherlands’ tactics involved violent attacks and the employment of terror techniques. These included the bombing of two Sumatran cities and the killing of up to 3,000 Republican soldiers as recorded by the New World Encyclopedia. Following mutual violations of the unfavorable Linggadjati Agreement—a treaty which granted the local Republican party de facto authority over parts of Indonesia—Dutch forces began a series of “Police Action” attacks intended to restore order. The implementation of these attacks heightened violence in the nation and was widely criticized by the international community, including the United Nations Security Council. By the time the Dutch finally recognized the sovereignty of the United States of Indonesia (RUSI) on December 27th, 1949, the tragic effects of the war had already destroyed life throughout Indonesia. Due to the extreme aggression in the region, death estimates approximate up to 100,000 Indonesian citizens died during the war, including over 25,000 civilians, as well as 2,300 Dutch soldiers.
Within the Netherlands, support and aid for victims of Dutch colonial violence has been steadily increasing. In 2011, Tjeerd de Zwaan, the Dutch ambassador to Indonesia, issued an official apology for the massacre that occurred in Rawagede. Rawagede is a small Indonesian village in which hundreds of men and boys were murdered by Dutch soldiers for their refusal to reveal the location of an Indonesian nationalist leader. On a broader scale, in 2013 King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands publicly apologized for the Netherlands’ “excessive violence” towards Indonesia throughout the war. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, many have criticized the King’s choice of words, namely his lack of expressed regret for colonization as a whole. Although this recent ruling is significant in addressing Dutch wrongdoings and atoning for inhumane action, more work must be done.
Fortunately, the recent Dutch court’s decision continues a growing movement focused on providing reparations to those affected by extreme violence or injustice in past conflicts. Following the Netherlands actions, there is hope that this system of compensation for victims and their families will continue around the world. In 2005, the UN General assembly passed resolution 60/147 entitled “Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law.” This precedent codified in international law creates the expectation that states will take responsibility for their violent colonial legacies, opening the door to potential relief for Aboriginal, Indigenous, or historically enslaved peoples. Despite the inability to undo past atrocities, rulings like the Dutch compensation law are beginning to recognize and atone for these mistakes and hopefully avoid committing them in the future.
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