Saturday, September 14, 2013

Dutch apologise 66 years after committing colonial atrocities in Indonesia

Al Jazeera
Step Vaessen
September 13, 2013.

Relatives of victims of mass colonial era executions still carry the scars of Indonesia's independence struggle.

About 40 000 Indonesians were killed fighting for independence from the Dutch.

"She is more than 100 years old." Relatives point at the frail old lady staring blankly from a flowery sofa in her house in Bulukumba in South Sulawesi. When she sees me 93-year-old Nani (I find out her real age later) starts hugging me. A weird feeling for a journalist from the Netherlands to be comforted by the widow who has suffered all her life for what Dutch troops have done to her husband.

Nani is one of ten widows who have received financial compensation from the Dutch government 66 years after their husbands were executed. The Dutch have apologised for all the summary executions done in Indonesia between 1945 and 1949 in their efforts to stop an uprising against their colonial rule.

Under the command of notorious captain Raymond Westerling thousands of people were executed in South Sulawesi between December 1946 and March 1947. Indonesia has claimed as much as 40,000 were killed. Nobody knows the real figure.

Easing the pain

The widows have been waiting too long to be excited about the compensation or the apology. The Dutch atrocities have tainted their lives and only one of them has remarried.

"I think about what the Dutch have done all the time," says 85 year old Cheddung who starts crying when I ask her what happened. "That I have received this money is a sign that my husband has thought about me. I don't consider this to be coming from the Dutch." But Nani says that the Dutch recognition of her suffering has eased her pain.

The Dutch government has given ten widows nearly $27,000 after their lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld had managed to make a deal. Also the government has adopted a measure paving the way to compensate all widows with similar cases. It's due to Zegveld's endless efforts that victims of Dutch atrocities in Indonesia finally receive some kind of justice, something that was impossible for more than 65 years.

In 2011 widows in West Java who lost their husbands due to summary executions were also compensated. A breakthrough after the Dutch government under pressure from veterans who fought in Indonesia always refused to admit any wrongdoing.

But even until now the Dutch government has not recognised the Indonesian Independence Day on August 17, 1945, something the government in Jakarta would highly appreciate. That and the fact that the Dutch ambassador has apologised to the widows in their absence shows that even after 66 years the Dutch gesture is not wholeheartedly.

The widows were invited to attend the ceremony in Jakarta but due to their high age and the long journey none of them is physically able to attend. "We hope the Dutch government will come to me and shake my hand," says 93 year old Nani. "That would mean a lot to me.”

The ambassador has announced that he will soon travel to South Sulawesi to apologise to the widows directly.

Read the original article here.

Please note that the original title to the article above reads: "Dutch apologise 66 years after atrocities".
Comment: I guess one could say better late than never but geez what started to eat at their conscience after almost 7 decades?

And what a paltry sum offered as recompense/reparation.

$27 000 divided by 66 years equates to a whopping $409 and some change for pain and suffering per year - or less than $1.12 a day for 66 years!

What a hollow apology in these terms.  Gives new meaning to the term "going Dutch".

See a post on the Dutch captain and butcher, Raymond Westerling, who murdered thousands of Indonesians in South Sulawesi from The Jakarta Post (May 19, 2010) here.



Kimberly said...

It seems that the majority of countries who commit atrocities are unable to apologize while they accuse others of similar acts.

It is a least something that these women have received the acknowledgment, even if the money is little.

I wonder what they should feel thou, in the sense their husbands were murdered and representatives of those responsible have acknowledged responsibility. They will never hear anything from those truly responsible – if they could I think it would count more.

Peace and love to these women.


Ridwan said...

You raise excellent points Kim.

The problem of who is responsible is a thorny issue since so much time has passed.

In my thinking these kind of atrocities are the responsibility of both the nation and the state - collectively.

The Dutch have a lot to account for in Indonesia. Some other critics might say this apology is merely window dressing so to speak.

But time is not the final arbiter - there is also the matter of their role in slavery that goes back even before the colonial period in Indonesia.

My ancestors from my mom's side were brought to what is now Cape Town from Java/Indonesia/Malaysia as slaves by the Dutch.

Still waiting for that apology and there is hardly any movement to hold the Dutch responsible.

The controversy over apologies and reparations for slavery in the US is a longstanding issue.

Even though the US Senate and Congress formally apologized they did so exempting the US from being held liable for damages.

I think therein lies the larger issue - the Dutch in this case just decided $27k was the sum they would pay.

Peace to you,