“Generous Gesture”

Update May 25, 2014

‘Sympathetic’ arrangement still leaves very old widows with nothing

The Netherlands would finally pay off its debt of honor to Indonesian widows. “Well, not at all”, says lawyer Zegveld.

NRC editor Emilie Outeren, The Hague.

Liesbeth Zegveld , lawyer for the Indonesian widows who are waiting for compensation from the Netherlands, has accused the Dutch state of “intentionally dragging” the payout. Since last summer, as the government announced that women victims of extrajudicial killings during the Indonesian war of independence would receive 20,000 euros, only one claim has been granted. “The other widows are dying while we are watching,” said Zegveld .

It seemed such a pleasant, almost noble scheme which the Dutch government announced last August . All Indonesian women who could prove their husbands between 1945 and 1949 were executed by Dutch soldiers in action “of comparable severity and nature as Rawagede and South Sulawesi”, would receive compensation . No more haggling in court. Recognition for the harm that the Indonesian population went through in those days. And finally a state that with difficulty accepts its troublesome colonial past. At least that was the impression .

However, it is not the Indonesian widows who are benefiting from this scheme financially Zegveld said, but the Dutch state. Last year she reported seventeen widows. One of them, Mrs. St. Ramisi, was given compensation. Fourteen other claims after six months deliberation were ostracized as “inadequate”. For the widows Uri and St. Jala the judgment came too late. Both deceased last year.

That’s the snag in the scheme: if a widow who has reported dies, her claim is not automatically transferred to her children . “It’s strictly a personal claim that cannot be not inherited,” said a spokesman for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs .

That is a crucial difference with a pending court procedure. If a person dies prior to a verdict, the case will continue. By removing the judge from the process, the state does not have to pay if a widow dies during the settlement. Zegveld: “Due to this fact we are forced to still sue the state, with all sorts of additional costs.”

In 2011 Zegveld and the Dutch Committee debts of honor won a case that set everything in motion. The court in The Hague ruled that the mass execution in the Javanese village Rawagedein 1947 was not subject to statue of limitations, as the Dutch state had advocated. The widows were given compensation.

Then Foreign Affairs struck a settlement out of court of $ 20,000 with ten widows from South Sulawesi. After that a general scheme was announced. Zegveld : “I sincerely believed that Secretary of State Timmermans would handle this nicely, but his officials are slowing things down. Bureaucracy at its best. From everything they do, it becomes clear that they fear that there will be thousands of widows that will have to be compensated, but until now it involves only a few dozen and most of them already deceased.”

Foreign Affairs denies that it deliberately slows down the procedure. The ministry decides based on the evidence provided by Zegveld and “concluded that those cases had not met the conditions.”

Zegveld last month provided new evidence in the fourteen dismissed cases. With pictures of tombstones she still hopes to show that the widows meet all criteria. She feels that the requested evidence is of excessive proportions. “They are all victims of known executions, no new unknown issues,” she says. “Foreign Affairs does not reject claims because they do not believe their story is true, but because after almost seventy years there is no 100 percent proof.”

Meanwhile she has started three new cases which she presented to Foreign Affairs and the courts, in order not to run that the claims will expire due to death risk. She has done this for the fourteen exiting outstanding issues too. If the claims will not be settled, then Zegveld and the state are facing each other again in August – in court.

This article was published in the NRC Handelsblad of Thursday, May 22, 2014 on page 7

Prof . Liesbeth Zegveld

end of update, below the original article

“Generous Gesture”

In September the Dutch government announced that the Sulawesi widows would be compensated promptly and without red tape for the summary executions of their husbands during the Indonesian war of independence. Lawyer of the widows, professor Zegveld, was surprised:

”Why such hurry all of a sudden? That is the big question. There have been endless negotiations about the claim and now somehow it has to be pushed through.”

She also asked herself why prime minister Rutte would not personally apologise for the war crimes committed by Dutch troops. The answer of course is that the state visit and trade delegation to Jakarta two month’s later should not in any way be clouded by historical issues between the Netherlands and Indonesia that are still unresolved.

Now that all business has been done and the widows have again disappeared in anonymity, it turns out that seventeen of them will sue the Dutch government for not having replied to their claim at all. How is this possible?

Let’s dissect some Dutch Orwellian language

Actually, the ‘generous gesture’ is not intended for family members of people who were bombed to death by Dutch artillery or Air Force, nor for people who have been tortured to death by Dutch intelligence services. People who are maimed for life due to attacks of the Dutch military are excluded as well. You were a child and saw with your own eyes how your father was slaughtered by Dutch troops? Sorry….the gesture is not for you. The gesture is not even applicable to victims of many summary executions about which nothing has yet been published

Dutch terror in the East goes back a long time.

“Strangely enough, no attempt has been made to calculate the loss of Indonesian lives over the long course of Dutch intrusion in the archipelago. The list of Dutch colonial atrocities and excessive violence is long. From the first conquests of the Dutch East India Company to the violent endgame in Indonesia, Dutch armies and their auxiliaries have perpetrated acts of extreme violence by murder, terror, raiding, displacement and starvation of indigenous peoples. The death toll of these acts of violence, extermination and willful neglect must be calculated into numbers between 600,000 and one million. This is an outrageously imprecise approximation, handicapped as the effort is by the lack of adequate data, and the complexities of the causes of deaths.”  (Genocide Journal by Remco Raben)

Complicated the issues are indeed. Nevertheless the complexity was no obstacle for Dutch media to headline  ‘genocide’ on Dutch citizens by ‘Indonesians’  while Rutte and Yudhoyono met in Jakarta.

Party politics dominate Dutch foreign policy

Prime minister Rutte is member of the VVD, the Peoples Party for Freedom and Democracy. For one and a half century this liberal party has been a prime architect of all repressive colonial policies. That is why Rutte (Masters degree in History since 1992!) claims that ‘History goes the way it goes’ and that there is no need for an apology for all crimes the Dutch committed in their former colonies. Fellow party member Han ten Broeke explained that it is wiser to keep ‘Pandora’s box closed’.

Christian Parties now united in CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal, are another major architect of repression that goes back up to the nineteenth century. How many Dutch know that one of Rutte’s predecessors Colijn was a lieutenant in the colonial army and wrote to his wife:

I have seen a mother carrying a child of about 6 months old on her left arm, with a long lance in her right hand, who was running in our direction. One of our bullets killed the mother as well as the child. From now on we couldn’t give any mercy, it was over. I did give orders to gather a group of 9 women and 3 children who asked for mercy and they were shot all together. It was not a pleasant job, but something else was impossible. Our soldiers tacked them with pleasure with their bayonets. It was horrible. I will stop reporting now.

In 2005 CDA politician Bernard Rudolf Bot explained the world that the Netherlands, finally after sixty years, was ready to fully accept that Indonesia became an independent country on August 17th, 1945 as Sukarno read the proklamasi. Bot used the following words:

“Through my presence the Dutch government expresses its political and moral acceptance of the Proklamasi, the date the Republic of Indonesia declared independence”

The Indonesian government decorated Bernard Rudolf Bot with the Bintang Mahaputra Utama, the highest non-military medal of Indonesia. Almost nobody in Indonesia noticed the fallacies in Bot’s words: acceptance is not recognition and de facto is not de jure. The Dutch Christian Democrat politician was decorated by Indonesia for not recognising its independence on August 17, 1945.

PvdA, the Jekyll and Hyde of Dutch politics

Dutch Christians and liberals have always been consistent in their policies about exploiting the colonies. For the Partij van de Arbeid, the Dutch Labor Party, the story is somewhat different. During periods of opposition its party members criticise ‘the right’ for immoral policies, only to duplicate these exact policies once the party is member of the governing coalition again. Therefore it is perfectly understandable that incumbent Secretary of State Timmermans for years has pleaded for a ‘thorough investigation of Dutch war crimes’ as an opposition member and few weeks later regrets that  ‘Indonesia thinks it is not a good idea’. The crocodile tears of the social democrats spoiled on many dossiers can easily fill a salt water basin.

Why Indonesia thinks it is not a good idea?

Dutch politicians are often quoted in the media when it comes to explaining official positions of the Indonesian government. Rarely the information comes directly from Indonesian politicians themselves. Isn’t that strange?
After sending an open letter to Indonesian historian Anhar Gonggong, he invited me to his home for a cup of tea and a good talk about common Indonesian-Dutch history and I asked him:

“Not a single Indonesian politician was present during the Dutch apologies made in Rawagede on December 9th 2011. Why none of them was there to at least morally support the widows?”

Anhar Gonggong:
“Because it is humiliating for Indonesia that a foreign power, our former colonial master, is handing out money to Indonesian citizens. This should be a task for the Indonesian government. Second. The Dutch court verdict states that the widows were Dutch citizens the moment the war crimes in Rawagede were committed. This means that the Dutch court does not recognise August 17th 1945 as our independence day. It is an insult.”

Not entirely convinced I ‘fired’ the next question after showing this video:

“Well, if not the Dutch but the Indonesian government should compensate war victims, why Mr Ahmad Suwito never even got the small pension from the Indonesian government which he is entitled to as a civilian victim of the Indonesian war of independence?”

Anhar Gonggong:
“I have been arrested seven times by the Suharto regime and I can assure you that one thing is a constant factor in Indonesian politics: the elite doesn’t care at all for Indonesia’s less fortunate citizens.”

Time for him to ask me a question:
“Why you Dutch have such difficulty to recognise our independence day August 17th, 1945?”

“Oh, that’s simple,” I replied. “We Dutch reduce any issue to its financial component. It would cost four billion guilders plus sixty five years legal interest* if we recognise instead of accept.”


Double Dutch Lexicon, far from complete:

Generous gesture = hollow words
Hiding Dutch war crimes = ‘not opening Pandora’s box’
‘Morally and de facto accepting’ = not recognising
Police Action = Dutch colonial war
Third degree interrogation = torture
Excesses = Dutch war crimes


*) During the Dutch–Indonesian Round Table Conference the debt of Indonesia to the Netherlands was agreed to be 6.5 billion guilders. Two billion guilders of that sum was intended as compensation for the ‘policing actions’. PvdA prime minister Drees was outraged when he heard this sum was scrapped and just 4.5 billion guilders remained. Until 1956 Indonesia has paid installments totalling 4.0 billion guilders. This amount is comparable with the Marshall-plan help the Dutch received from the United States (1.13 billion dollar – rate 3.80)