Monday, January 12, 2009



What about Dutch warcrimes? Mr. Kneepkens, who lectures law of war at the Erasmus University at Rotterdam, suggests a tribunal should be installed which at last will evaluate Dutch military behaviour in the Indonesian de-colonization process. This tribunal should consist of prominent scholars of international law.

Mr Kneepkens responds and refers to the installation in The Hague of the tribunal on warcrimes in former Yugoslavia this month, in an article in the daily Trouw of 11-12-93.

Even after forty years since the war between the Dutch & the Indonesian, Dutch military behaviour still gives fuel to heated political debate. Recently the author Graa Boomsma got prosecuted because he qualified certain Dutch military actions to be similar to the methods which were used by the German SS.

Furthermore this year a visa has been denied to the director of the Indonesian Institute for human rights, Dutch-born Mr. Princen, who defected to the Indonesian side, now more then 3 decades ago.

Mr. Kneepkens also sketches a likely outcome of such a tribunal. He assumes that there will be a distinction between two kinds of warcrimes: at the one hand excesses committed by individual military who ran amok in revenging atrocities done by the other side. At the other, systematically deployed warcrimes. Kneepkens concentrates on sytematically perpetrated warcrimes in the former Dutch Indies, in particular those carried out by commander Westerling.

Westerling was the commander of the Depot Speciale Troepen, an especially trained unit. At a particular kampong on Southern Celebes, Westerling ordered the killing of 364 randomly chosen civilians in revenge of the death of some of his soldiers. This was part of the methods Westerling used.

Kneepkens states the atrocities commander Westerling committed to be similar to massacres caused by the German SS in World War II; in the Czech village Lidice, the French village Oradou-sur-Glanes and the Dutch village Putten.

Near Putten an assault had been launced on SS headman Rauter. In revenge Rauter ordered the slaughter of the population of Putten. After World War II Rauter stood his trial before the Dutch court. In reply to Rauters appeal for clemency, based on special circumstances, the Dutch court stated: when an occupation can't last except by committing warcrimes, the occupier has no legal option but to retreat.

According to the principle of equality before the law, Kneepkens concludes that Westerling too had no lawful option but to retreat. Instead, Westerling maintained the occupation by terror. Nevertheless Westerling, his inferiors nor his superiors were ever brought to trial.

The tribunal Kneepkens is pleading for should not be a punative one like Neurenberg. Most of the main suspects are dead anyway. The verdict should lead to a declaratoir and establishing judgement about Dutch military behaviour. Dutch society needs this rather than the prosecution of an author writing about Dutch warcrimes.

Dutch war crimes: No statute of limitations on Dutch past in Indonesia

Published: 26 November 2008 13:03 | Changed: 3 December 2008 14:10


The Netherlands wants to be at the heart of worldwide justice. This is one of the reasons The Hague is home to the International Criminal Court. But Holland has trouble facing up to the consequences of some of its own past actions.

On Monday, the Dutch government rejected a claim for compensation filed by a survivor and relatives of a massacre by Dutch soldiers in the Indonesian village of Rawagede in 1947 during which 431 men were summarily shot dead.

The Dutch government acknowledged in 1969 that a mass execution, essentially a war crime, took place at Rawagede during Indonesia’s struggle for independence.
In admission came following revelations on a current affairs television programme by a former Dutch soldier on the scale of the atrocities perpetrated by the Dutch army in its former colony. In a subsequent report, the number of casualties was put at 150.

Deep regret
The attorney general representing the state in the compensation case does not deny that the massacred took place, quite the opposite. The state, he says in an official statement, “deeply regrets” the events at Rawagede.

The statement is in line with the government’s position in 2005 when the foreign minister of the time, Ben Bot, went to Jakarta for the celebration of Indonesia’s sixty years of independence. During his visit, the minister expressed the government’s “political and moral regret” and said that by opposing Indonesia’s battle for independence, the Netherlands had put itself “on the wrong side of history, as it were”. A brilliant analysis.

The rejection of the compensation claim then, is largely a matter of legality. A full recognition of a crime can have substantial material consequences, and the Dutch government is not exempt from this. In total, some 150,000 Indonesians and 5,000 Dutchmen were killed during the offensives carried out by the Dutch against Indonesian nationalists between 1946 and 1949.

The attorney general is said to want further negotiations which might be a sign the government wants to make a settlement. There is something to be said for this. Personal injury lawyers are not historians. In the same way, history cannot be re-written merely through legal claims.

This applies to the Rawagede case, which saw the Indonesian relatives file their claim against the state only after the Dutch media turned its attention to the case last year and questions were asked in parliament.

Moral justice

But there is something not quite right about the attorney general’s statement. There is no statute of limitations on war crimes. The international community, including the Netherlands, have made a point of abolishing it over the last decades.

It does not matter that the military campaigns in Indonesia was not officially a war, in reality this is exactly what it was. And the fact that Indonesia itself, struggling to come to terms with its own violent post-colonial history, has chosen not to make a big issue out of Rawagede, is not an argument either.

Money cannot not undo past wrongs. But paying compensation would be a just settlement that would at least deliver moral justice to both victims and perpetrators on both sides of the war. There is no statute of limitations on history.


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