IBRAHIM ISA'S – FOCUS :
THE “RAWAGEDE” MASSACRE
Amsterdam, September 17, 2011
In my regular “Kolom IBRAHIM ISA”, of September 15, 2011, I a.o. wrote:
“The decision of the The Hague Court on the “RAWAGEDE CASE”, September 14, 2011, marks the beginning of a new page in the relation between Holland and Indonesia.
Yesterday, September 14, 2011, suggest a most important and significant historical development in the Netherlands – Indonesia relation, since the overthrow of Suharto and the presidency of Habibie (May 1998). It is not exaggerated to record this fact as the opening of a new page in the Dutch-Indonesian relation. For a long time this relation has been through an atmosphere of 'love and hate relation'.
It is not the (Dutch-Indonesian) “Linggardjati Agreement” (1946), not the “Renville Agreement (1947), nor is it the “Round Table Conference (RTC) Agreement, that build 'a bridge' between Indonesia and Holland. Because, those agreements were a product of a situation in which both sides were in a position of compulsion. The Netherlands, turned out to win time for a repeated war of annihilation against the Republic of Indonesia. As for the Round Table Conference Agreement, it is clear that it was a 'one sided' compromise. Hence it was short lived and abrogated by the Republic of Indonesia.
But the decision of The District Court in The Hague on the RAWAGEDE CASE, constitutes THE REAL BRIDGE in the Dutch-Indonesian relation. A normal relation based upon equality. Because of the fact that the decision was made after a long process of deliberations.
. . . . We gratefully welcome this development and feel relieved that (at last) justice won, . . . Nevertheless, still further development of the case will have to prove that the decision of the The Hague Court (taken in the interest of the Indonesian side), is materialized. Because the Court has allowed the Dutch side to accept the decision , or to appeal to a higher court. Meaning apposing the The Hague Court decision.
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Below is a summary of news items on THE RAWAGEDE CASE by Radio Nederland Wereldomproep, RNW, Hilversum, The Netherlands:
RNW, Hilversum, Holland.
A court in The Hague has held the Netherlands accountable for damage caused by war crimes in the Java village of Rawagede in 1947. The court said on Wednesday that the case is not subject to any statute of limitations. Relatives of the victims had claimed damages for the suffering caused by the Dutch army.
The war crimes were committed by Dutch troops in a retaliatory exercise in the village. In the massacre 431 villagers were killed. The Dutch government has never acknowledged guilt or responsibility for the crimes.
At the time the Dutch army was attempting to counter revolutionary forces which were striving for Indonesian independence from the Netherlands.
© Radio Netherlands Worldwide
Recently, Dutch judges have held veterans accountable for grave misconduct during two different military operations. Former Dutch soldiers who countered Indonesian independence fighters in 1947 and those who were stationed in Bosnia around 1995 are hurt by the recent verdicts. But some say: “It should never have happened.”
“One didn’t speak about Rawagede,” says Elbert Pereboom (84), who was sent to Indonesia in a military operation to suppress the Indonesian War of Independence. On 9 September 1947, Dutch soldiers are said to have murdered hundreds of men and boys in Rawagede, a village east of the capital Jakarta.
For years, the Dutch veterans were haunted by the bloodshed in Rawagede. Mr Pereboom was often seen as a murderer. And yet he had nothing to do with the massacre.
The exact death toll has never been established. According to relatives, 431 innocent citizens were killed. But for a long time the Netherlands insisted there were no more than 150 victims.
Mr Pereboom thinks it makes sense that the Dutch court has now awarded damages to the widows in Rawagede. He regrets that the case dragged on for decades.
“The Netherlands could have paid damages as early as 30 or 40 years ago. They should have given the village compensation then. If that had happened, the case wouldn’t have dragged on so long. From a military point of view, it should never have happened. It was wrong. There’s no discussion about that.”
Like the Srebrenica massacre half a century later, the massacre in Rawagede is considered a black page in Dutch history. Mr Pereboom says it was retaliation.
“What happened in Rawagede is terrible. It should never have happened. A Dutch battalion went to the village, while not long before their comrades had been murdered. Feelings of retaliation and grief led to those excesses. The commander in charge should have kept them away from there.”
They weren't allowed to call it reparation money or a compensation payment and it had nothing to do with the 1947 massacre in Rawagede, but at the beginning of 2009, the then Development Cooperation Minister Bert Koenders earmarked €850,000 for Balongsari, a small county in Java, Indonesia. It was development aid money and ostensibly had nothing to do with the fact that the village of Rawagede is also in Balongsari County.
On 9 December 1947, Dutch troops rounded up and killed an estimated 431 men in the Javanese village of Rawagede. It was one of the worst massacres during the ‘Dutch police action’ in the Dutch East Indies just after the Second World War.
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Several attempts to get compensation for the victims’ relatives were dismissed on the grounds that the events took place so long ago that the charges had lapsed. On Wednesday, judges will issue a ruling on a case brought by four relatives of Rawagede victims; they are demanding an apology and compensation.
Their lawyer, Liesbeth Zegveld, does not believe that the case has expired, saying that the Netherlands still handles cases dating from World War Two. If the judges rule in favour of the plaintiffs, it could have huge consequences for the victims - and their relatives - of other Dutch ‘police actions’ as they could also claim compensation.
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On 17 August 1945, just as the brutal war in the Pacific was coming to an end, Sukarno, the nationalist leader of what was then the Dutch East Indies, declared his country's independence and severed the connections of four centuries of Dutch rule.
The Dutch had ruled Indonesia since the 16th century when the powerful East India Company controlled almost all trade in the region. Generations of Dutch planter and mining families lived lives of luxury and oversaw the transfer of a wealth of natural resources to the Netherlands.
Tea, coffee, spices, textiles, petroleum and minerals were just some of the bounty that the Netherlands drew off from its Asian colony. With the Japanese surrender, Sukarno seized his chance and declared the days of Dutch dominance over.
The Dutch government responded by sending troops to the Indies in what would become known as "the Police Actions". The words "colonial war" were avoided because the Dutch refused to acknowledge that it was a conflict between two states, regarding it as an internal problem. There were two major Police Actions spread over a three year period during which 120,000 young Dutch men were sent on a mission to bring "order and peace" to the Indies. What actually happened under that mandate would come out only decades later, and would haunt the conscience of the Netherlands for years to come.
Gus Blok was conscripted into the army and shipped off to a land unlike anything he'd ever seen before. He's a big man, with a handshake that can pulverise those of less hearty individuals: "We were there, admiring the beautiful nature, the beautiful women, but we were not thinking about morality ... that happened when we were back."
And then this big man dissolves in floods of tears. It soon becomes clear that any discussion of his time in Indonesia pulls him out to an emotional ledge. He sips water with trembling hands, his voice breaking often or slipping into a horrified whisper as he talks of the things he saw and did while he was there.
"I didn't shoot them, but I tortured them and I beat them up. I put them in the sun till they fell down. I was never told to do it - you just grow into it. Isn't it terrible? They didn't tell me to torture people, that was my own doing. I wanted to do my job well."
Men such as Gus Blok have lived with their deeds for more than 50 years. Initially when the Dutch soldiers returned home, they couldn't speak of their actions to anyone.
"People in Holland would have been very shocked [if we had revealed] what happened over there," says another former veteran, Maarten Schaafsma. He was 19 and idealistic when he volunteered for action in Indonesia. He went in search of adventure, but ended up doing and seeing things that have tormented him in the years since. He says that when he and his comrades came back, their priority was to work to rebuild their country and its war-shattered economy "so we put it away in our thoughts, our time in Indonesia - but you can't put it away. I do think of that time every day."
The Dutch were finally forced by the US-led international community to the negotiating table and had to concede Indonesian independence. Stef Scagliola has extensively researched the Police Actions. According to her, unlike the war against the Nazis, the conflict in Indonesia "brought no elements of heroism and pride. This was a lost war; a lot of people thought it as a senseless war, so the best way was to be silent about it."
And that silence lasted for a good two decades. Until a former conscript called Joop Hueting went on a national current affairs programme and told his story. "They beat a freedom fighter to pieces... they bound his ankles and hung him head-down and let his head beat on the tiles of the cement floor until blood came out of his mouth, his nose, his ears."
Out of the bag
It was a story that was all too familiar to the veterans of the Police Actions, but its effect on mainstream society in the Netherlands was explosive. Finally the long blackout on truth was ended. While some veterans condemned Hueting's testimony and even threatened his life for speaking out, for many others the dam had been broken.
Stories of guilt and shame began to leak into the public forum. However, while many soldiers agreed that the Police Actions had been a brutal war of colonialization, and apologised for their role in it, there were others who denied any wrongdoing. They angrily defended their actions, saying they were following orders and fighting for their country.
Even as recently as the 80s when historian Lou de Jong wrote about this period in Dutch history using the words misdaden and misdrijven - war crimes and wrong doings - there was such a public outcry that he was forced to replace them with the officially sanctioned term excessen (excesses).
According to military historian Dr Petra Groen, the term "war crime" has too many connections to the acts of the Nazis and therefore too emotionally loaded to use in the context of the Dutch in Indonesia.
"After the interview of Joop Hueting, there was a parliamentary inquiry into Dutch war crimes in Indonesia, and they concluded - and that's the official army point of view till now - that there were war crimes committed by ordinary soldiers, but they were incidents, there was no structural excessive violence."
Since then, Indonesia has continued to be the blind spot of a nation that has a reputation for being blunt and straight speaking. The Netherlands has never issued an official apology to Indonesia for the violence. However on an individual level, there has been an effort at atonement. Gus Blok has gone back to Indonesia to visit the place where he was stationed and made a public apology to the assembled villagers.
He breaks down as he talks of their applause after his speech. Maarten Schaafsma gathered the signatures of other veterans and officially offered them to the Indonesian Embassy. However, according to Joop Hueting, the government itself should have been more forthcoming about its past war guilt.
Many believe - and this is a belief shared by Mr Hueting - that an ideal opportunity would have been the official visit of Queen Beatrix to Indonesia on the 50th anniversary of the country's independence. The visit was the topic of a heated public debate for months beforehand and finally it was decided that the Queen wouldn't attend the ceremonies on the day itself, but would make an appearance a few days after the event. That gesture and her carefully worded speech made it quite clear that no official apology would be forthcoming.
Joop Hueting is still almost apoplectic when he recalls the event nine years ago: "I wrote [to the newspapers] that we should give a big present to show our sorrow and regret to the Indonesian people - give The Nightwatch, give a Rembrandt or a Van Gogh." In fact, the Queen presented the Indonesian people with a Friesian cow. "A cow," splutters Mr Hueting. "Very rude. That's part of the Dutch soul, this rudeness."
This story was taken from the latest edition of The State We're In – Spilling Secrets
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