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Dutch King apologized for “excessive violence” but not for the colonial occupation

Dutch King apologized for “excessive violence” but not for the colonial occupation

BBC News Indonesia, 9 March 2020, By: Callistasia Wijaya, Journalist

Dutch Historian Marjolein van Pagee who focuses on the study of the colonial era in Indonesia criticizes the Dutch apologies as inadequate.

“I am astonished, though not completely shocked [that the apologies] are covering only [the period] between 1945-1949, and not the whole period of colonisation. Moreover, he did not mention the legal acknowledgement of [the sovereignty of Indonesia] in 1945 at all,” said Marjolein in her written explanation to BBC Indonesia on Tuesday (10/03).

Marjolein also regretted the fact that the Dutch King did not immediately meet the victims of the Dutch military, such as Abdul Halik, who has flown all the way from Bulukumba to Jakarta and stayed there until Tuesday (10/03).

“The King, the Royal family and the Dutch government do not respect the families whose relatives were murdered between 1945-1949. At the same time that the King pretended to feel sorry for the war when he met President Joko Widodo, he totally ignored the victims,” she said.

“The families of the victims who had come to Jakarta were not welcomed by the King. Some days ago the Dutch Embassy even asked them to leave saying ‘sorry, we do not have time for you because we are very busy with preparing the State visit’,” said Marjolein.

It is the first time that a member of the Dutch Royal family apologizes to Indonesia for the violence committed during the years after the proclamation of Independence. The families of the victims of the slaughter by Westerling accepted the apologies, but declared that these injustices still have to be compensated by the Dutch government.

‘The pain that is still being felt until today’

On the first day of visit to Indonesia, the Dutch King Willem-Alexander who was accompanied by Queen Máxima conveyed his apologies to Indonesia for past atrocities during his speech at the Bogor Palace (10/03).

“At the same time, it would be a good time for us to look back at the past. The past cannot be wiped out and should be acknowledged by all future generations. In the years immediately after the Proclamation, a very painful separation has happened, which resulted in the loss of many lives,” said King Willem-Alexander.

“Following earlier statement by my government, I would like to express my regrets and apologies for the excessive violence by the Dutch in those years. I do this in full realization that the pain and sorrow for the affected families are still felt until today,” he said.

Families of victims of massacres by the Dutch military led by Raymond Westerling reject the visit of the Dutch King and Queen to Indonesia, which is scheduled from Tuesday (10/03) until Friday (13/03), because they have not yet been granted apologies and financial compensation.

They also questioned the plan of the Dutch Royals to visit the heroes Memorial cemetery Kalibata, which according to the Dutch Embassy will be done to honor the victims of the war for independence. Yet a Dutch historian considers this hypocritical and a disgrace. Below a number of hot issues behind the visit of the Dutch monarch.

‘Make your excuses and grant us our claims’

A week before the visit of the Dutch King and Queen Willem-Alexander and Máxima to Indonesia, Abdul Halik had flown from Bulukumba in South Sulawesi to Jakarta. This 83-year-old man is a son of Becce Beta, a citizen of Bulukumba who was executed by the military troops of Raymond Westerling, because he was accused of being in favor of the Independence of Indonesia in 1947.

Halik has only one purpose coming to Jakarta: he wants to meet the Ambassador of the Netherlands to express his rejection [regarding the State Visit].

Besides, the Dutch King and Queen are planning to visit the Kalibata Heroes Memorial Cemetery. “The Dutch government should be ashamed to contemplate on what they have done following the instructions of the grandmother of King Willem-Alexander. He should be aware of that”, said Halik. “In fact, we do not agree (with their visit) before the Dutch King acknowledges the Indonesian sovereignty on 17 August 1945, expresses his apologies in public and settles our claims.”

Together with Halik came other families of victims of the massacres by Westerling, namely Ismail Rahim and Andi Kafrala, who are accompanied by activists of the NGO Lidik Pro as well as their lawyer Irwan Lubis. Previously, they had sent a letter to the Dutch Ambassador to express their rejection of the King’s visit. That letter was answered by the Ambassador Lambert C. Grijns (12/02) addressed to the lawyer Irwan Lubis. He explained that their letter has already been forwarded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands and that the content will be thoroughly studied to be taken into consideration.

“The Dutch Embassy is currently exploring possibilities to meet with Mr. Irwan, however this period happens to be a very busy one, since we are in the middle of preparations for the Royal State visit to Indonesia,” was the answer in the responding letter, which has been confirmed by the Dutch Embassy to BBC News Indonesia.

Not satisfied with the answer, Halik and his company flew to Jakarta to ask straightforwardly for an audience. Alas, that hope was not fulfilled.

The Halik group which was approached by BBC Indonesia (03/03) has only been met by a staff of the Embassy who promised to deliver the letter of request for an audience to the Dutch Ambassador. On Friday (06/03) the group held a demonstration in front of the Dutch Embassy to voice their aspirations.

During the demonstration the head of the Political division of the Embassy, Roel van der Veen, declared that the audience will be granted to the families of the victims at the end of March.

What is the significance of the visit of the Dutch King-Queen?

The agenda of the visit which has been released to the public, does not schedule a session for the Indonesian government and the King and Queen to talk about the past, or about the request for apologies and the claims of damages for the victims of war.

The executive spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Teuku Faizasyah, said that the visit will focus on a cooperation which will be mutually beneficial. “This visit will together be used to intensify our future cooperation to be mutually beneficial, especially in field of economy and strengthening human resources,” he said.

The official statement of the Dutch Embassy has a similar content. “The State visit will stress the close relations between the two countries and will be focused on future cooperation.”

The trade balance of the two countries shows a surplus of US$ 2.36 billion (Rp 33.7 trillion) in 2019. Indonesia exported various commodities to the Netherlands, among others palm oil, acid fat monoxide and biodiesel. At the same time, The Netherlands exported refined oil, motorized transport vehicles and processed food to Indonesia.

Hundreds of Dutch companies are will be part of the convoy of the Dutch King and Queen.

 “We cannot yet forget the atrocities of the Dutch military”

Although the visit may be considered beneficial for both countries, for Abdul Halik and the families of the victims of slaughter by Westerling, it would have been better if the visit would not take place.

He still remembers when he was only nine years old, when the Dutch military troop commanded by Raymond Westerling, killed people who were considered pro-Indonesian Republic in his village Bialo, Bulukumba in 1947.

“I was sitting on the lowest step of the stairs for a while, when a Dutch spy called out, ‘All residents of this village, watch at the people who are going to be shot!’” said Halik remembering that specific event. Halik went to join the people at the public square where friends and relatives were going to be executed.

During the walk to the square, Halik said, he saw his father, Becce Beta, with his hands already tied, on a Dutch military vehicle.

“The people were hoarded like goats, tied on a truck, it was really awful.” “He (his father) shouted ‘Where are you heading to’? I said’ I want to watch the execution of the villagers. He said ‘Go home!’ I said ‘I don’t want to, I want to watch people being shot.”

At a public field, Halik witnessed seven people being shot, an incident that he has never been able to erase from his memory and it haunts him until now.

“Most of their heads were smashed,” he said.

His father was not among that first group that was shot. Halik said that his father was executed some nine kilometers from that place, in the Kantisang area. Halik described how his father and a number of village officials from another village were taken to a different location to be executed. “We were of course very scared, the whole village population was scared, they (the Dutch troops) didn’t make exceptions. They even burnt down my house,” he said. “It’s unbelievable, that until this day I am not able to forget how the Dutch troops have behaved. Can you imagine that my house was burnt down to the ground, the feeling of such hardship?”

That is why he regrets the visit of the Dutch King and Queen without including a time in their program to discuss crimes of the colonial repression to grant resolution for the victims.

During his speech in 1964 former president Sukarno mentioned the amount of 40.000 victims of Westerling in South Sulawesi.

Why have many victims still not received damages?

In 2011 the Dutch court in The Hague ordered the Dutch government to grant damages to seven widows of the mass slaughter in Rawagede, West Java and to a man who suffered shot wounds in 1947.

After that verdict, the Dutch government developed a Reparation schedule for other victims of the independence war between 1945-1950, as stated in the thesis of the lawyer Bunga Meisa Rouly Siagian, with the title ‘Reparation for the Victims of the Dutch Military Operation in Indonesia 1945-1949.’

That civil procedure of the Reparation schedule is meant for the widows whose husbands suffered atrocities which resulted in similar situations as happened in Rawagede and South Sulawesi.

Based on the same thesis, the schedule was applicable for two years, from 2013 to 2015.

In 2013 10 widows whose husbands were executed in South Sulawesi received damages of 20,000 Euro (Rp. 296 million).

At that time, the lawyers of the victims requested extension of the period to submit their request of damages, because processing the claims needed a lot of time.

The Dutch government granted the request and extended the period with another two years until 2017, as was mentioned in the thesis of Bunga Meisa Rouly Siagian.

However, a number of children of victims such as Abdul Halik was not allowed to submit requests for damages, based on the statute of limitation, which had expired in 2017, as well as the fact that their status being children and widows of the victims. Abdul Halik considers these reasons as injustice. “Only widows can be granted damages, and even in their case only a few have been granted. Whereas in fact children cannot be treated differently from widows, because they have the same rights,” he said.

Yolande Meisert, head of the Cultural division and Communication of the Dutch Embassy said that the Dutch government is waiting for the decision of the judge on whether the children of victims should be included in the categories of people who are entitled to receive damages.

“Thus, the Dutch government cannot comment on the process of a court that is still ongoing,” she said.

Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Teuku Faizasyah mentioned that a public claim is a case of civil litigation.

“If the case will be handled in the Netherlands, its customary that the Indonesian representation from the consulate provides assistance whenever needed, as facilitation for its own citizens. This kind of consulate facilitation has also been given in the Rawagede case,” said Faizasyah.

Why did the Dutch King and Queen go to the Heroes Cemetery in Kalibata?

Marjolein van Pagee, founder of Histori Bersama, an organization which focuses on colonial history in Indonesia, said that a good relationship between Indonesia and the Netherlands should start with apologies by the Dutch to the Indonesian people whose families have been slaughtered by the Dutch military troops.

“Until this day I don’t see them (the Royal family) taking any such action (to apologize to the families of the Indonesian victims of war),” she said. She referred to the last State visit of the Dutch Royals in 1995. Dutch Queen Beatrix then arrived four days after the celebration of Indonesia’s Independence Day on August 17th.  That was done, according to Van Pagee, to respect the Dutch war veterans.

In 2005 the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ben Bot, said that the Dutch government acknowledges the Indonesian Independence Day on 17 August 1945 in political and moral sense. However, that kind of de facto acknowledgement of Indonesian independence is not yet a judicial acknowledgement, according to the law. The Dutch acknowledge Indonesia’s independence through the transfer of sovereignty at the Palace at the Dam in Amsterdam after the completion of the Round Table Conference on 27 December 1949.

According to the historian of the Indonesia University Bondan Kanumuyoso it would be very difficult for the Netherlands to legally acknowledge Indonesian independence on 17 August 1945. “It’s difficult because if the Dutch acknowledge Indonesian independence legally on 17 August 1945, the invasion of the Dutch military troops between 1945-1949 would be classified as a crime of aggression against a sovereign state,” he said.

So, why did the Dutch King and Queen visit the Hero Cemetery Kalibata to sprinkle flower petals? “The Dutch King and Queen wanted to honor the victims of the independence war. That’s why they sprinkled flowers there,” said Yolande Meisert, head of the Cultural and Communication division of the Dutch Embassy.

However, this act is criticized by Van Pagee. “That is hypocritical and shameful. How dare they going to that place? We know that they do not honor the victims of the independence war at all,” said Van Pagee. “If they really honor them, they should meet the group of families of the victims who have submitted letters through the Dutch Embassy,” said Van Pagee.

Rudi, an activist of Lidik Pro, who assisted the families of the victims of the slaughter by Westerling in South Sulawesi said that if the Dutch government is serious in making amends, they should declare in public that the Indonesian people who were killed by the Dutch army are heroes, not rebels.

“That way the pain in the hearts of the children and grandchildren of the victims can be healed,” he said.