Indonesian victims of the Independence War: Children whose fathers were executed by Dutch soldiers, including a doctor’s son whose father was murdered through a summary execution, refuses the Dutch offer for damages
BBC News Indonesia, 21 October 2020, By: Pijar Anugerah
Several children of war victims whose fathers were executed by Dutch soldiers during the 1945-1950 independence war refused the Dutch government’s offer for damages of €5000 (around Rp86 million). The amount is considered disproportionally low.
Sardjono Danardi only learned that he could file a lawsuit against the Dutch government when Dutch King Willem-Alexander apologised to Indonesia for [extreme] violence that occurred between 1945 and 1949 during his state visit to the Bogor Palace earlier this year.
At that time, Indonesia had just proclaimed its independence and was still struggling to defend the country against the Netherlands who wished to reconquer Indonesia after the Japanese capitulation.
Sardjono’s father, Lt. Colonel dr. Sudjono was a member of the team of doctors assigned to the IX Brigade Kuda Putih, one of the guerrilla forces during the independence war. The brigade was led by Lt. Colonel Ahmad Yani (who later became general) and operated in Magelang, Central Java.
Sardjono said that his father was arrested by KNIL soldiers in February 1949 whilst he was taking a bath in the river. He tried to escape by jumping over the fence but tripped and fell and eventually got shot by the Dutch army.
According to Sardjono, the shooting violated the principles of International Humanitarian Law that regulate actions during an armed conflict. The law, which includes the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Conventions, strictly prohibits an assault on medical personnel.
“At the time, during the bathing, my father brought his medical equipment. They must have known that he was part of a medical team, which means that they were not allowed to shoot or torture him,” he told the BBC News Indonesia.
After he read about the €20,000 damages granted to widows and children of victims of the massacres in Rawagede and South Sulawesi in 2013 and 2015, Sardjono believes it was time for him to demand damages for his father’s execution as well.
However, he decided not to apply for damages under the latest compensation scheme that was recently announced by the Dutch government because he considers the amount of damages “too low”.
“The issue of damages is not just about the damages itself,” says Sardjono. “Because there will be costs like the lawyers’ fees, both from Indonesia and abroad.”
Sardjono said he already made his own calculations on what would be an appropriate amount of damages. But he does not want to reveal it to BBC News Indonesia.
Sardjono was only six months old when the unfortunate incident occurred. He was later raised by his grandfather after his mother remarried.
The 71-year-old man learned that his biological father died when he was five years old. The reality that his father had actually been shot to death was later revealed to him after he entered high school. “I felt devastated, knowing my father not just died but was brutally shot by the enemy whilst he was carrying out an honourable humanitarian task,” he said. Sardjono’s father, Lt. Colonel dr. Sudjono was a respected figure. His name is commemorated as the name of the army hospital in Magelang.
During the inauguration of the hospital in 1973, Sardjono was told by his father’s former colleagues about the chronology of the shooting. Since then, he has been actively seeking to find out more about his father.
He collected information from eyewitnesses, including a colonel with the same name as him who wrote about the shooting incident in an internal bulletin of the TNI-AD [Indonesian Land Army]. Based on the evidence he obtained, he wrote his father’s biography.
For Sardjono, his father is irreplaceable. Although he still feels that he deserves a higher amount of damages since his father was a soldier. He admits that he was lucky to be raised by his grandfather, whom he considered his adoptive father. “If no one took care of me, I would have turned into an anak kolong ,” he says.
Abdul Halik, the son of a Bulukumba resident who was a victim of the massacre committed by the troops of Westerling, also refused the offer from the Dutch government, which he called very unfair.
The man who witnessed his father, Becce Beta, being taken by Dutch soldiers for execution, emphasised that the amount of damages provided under the new compensation scheme is lower than the amount paid to widows from the victims of the Rawagede and South Sulawesi massacres in 2013 and 2015.
“We have seen how a higher amount of damages was granted to the widows, up to €20,000, now they want to reduce it to €5,000, that is so unfair,” he told BBC News Indonesia.
The 84-year-old man demands that the Dutch government gives him at least the same amount of damages that was granted to the widows.
“To be honest, €20,000 is not worth the sacrifice of our parents who were executed. However, given the development, if the Dutch government is still willing to address this issue properly, then they should not reduce the amount of damages,” he added.
Damages without going to court
In a letter delivered to the Dutch parliament by the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok and the Minister of Defence Ank Bijleveld, dated 19 October, it was stated that the offer of damages was intended to end the ongoing lawsuits following various cases that were filed by the children of victims of Dutch atrocities.
In 2011, the regional court in The Hague ordered the Dutch government to pay damages to seven widows whose husbands were victims of the Rawagede massacre and to a man who suffered gunshot wounds in 1947. The court rejected the Dutch government’s argument that the widows of victims were not entitled to damages because their cases were already expired. The Dutch government paid damages of €20,000 each to all relatives of the victims of the massacre, an amount equivalent to Rp243 million, based on the exchange rate of that time.
In 2013, the same amount of damages was also given to ten widows of victims of the Westerling massacres in South Sulawesi. In March this year, Andi Monji, 83, received €10,000 (Rp173 million) damages for the murder of his father during “an ethnic cleansing” committed by Dutch troops between December 1946 and April 1947.
Meanwhile, eight widows and three children of the other victims that were granted damages only received between €123.48 and €3,634. On 30 September, The Hague Civil Court ordered the Dutch government to pay €874.80 (Rp15 million) damages to Malik Abubakar, the son of Andi Abubakar Lambogo, a South Sulawesi independence fighter who was beheaded by Dutch soldiers in 1947.
In most cases, the amount of damages for the children of victims was lower than that of the widows.
Through the new compensation scheme, Indonesian relatives do not need to go to court to demand damages, instead, the new regulation provides an average settlement for those families who meet the list of requirements. The requirements include that relatives have to provide documented proof that their father was killed through summary execution, they also have to prove that they are the son of the father who was executed.
The lawyer who accompanies several children of the victims of Dutch violence, Irwan Lubis, thinks that this new scheme may harm the cases of the children who deserve a higher amount.
“We are not satisfied with this development, because, for example, based on the court decision of March 2020, Andi Monji is entitled to get €10,000. So when the Dutch government implements this new scheme, those who are entitled to €10,000 damages will eventually get a lower amount of €5,000.”
“The regulation costs money for those who are entitled to €10,000, and it is profitable for those who were granted amounts between €120 and €800 as in Lambogo’s case,” he explains.
However, he views the new scheme announced by the two Dutch ministers as an improvement, because so far,according to him, the cases that were submitted via the court usually resulted in an exhausting and difficult process.
Irwan asked the Indonesian government to support its citizens who wish to take part in this new scheme by helping them in verifying the documents that are needed as evidence. He also urged them to contact the Dutch government to get clarification on these administrative constraints.
“During colonial times, birth certificates were not issued for them [the Indonesian victims]. As such, errors in population data are often inevitable during the verification process; it remains our biggest obstacle up to this day….. To ease the process of data verification, the Indonesian government has the authority to validate personal data through local neighbourhood or village associations, or if necessary, through the district office.”
Based on his observation, so far there were approximately 700 widows and children of victims of Dutch massacres who tried to file a lawsuit via the Dutch court, but many of them were rejected because they did not meet the administrative requirements.
The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah told the BBC News Indonesia in a text message that the Indonesian government is currently studying the new scheme and prefers not to comment on the matter at the moment.
According to the Chairman of the Dutch Debt of Honour Committee (K.U.K.B.), Jeffry Pondaag, not many Indonesian relatives will have access to the new scheme because of the limitation period of two years after the case was first submitted to the court. This is to prevent that the Dutch government will have to pay large sums of money to Indonesian relatives of victims.
As a result, Abdul Halik, the son of the victim of the Westerling massacre who was acknowledged by The Hague court in 2011, will not meet the requirements, whilst Sardjono Danardi has until 2022 to submit his application under the new scheme.
“So it means that people who get the chance to receive damages via this regulation are people who did not yet file a lawsuit against the Dutch government before,” says Jeffry, who calls the amount of €5000 “a cheap gesture”.
Jeffry also criticised comments from a Golkar faction member in Commission 1 of the DPR, Dave Laksono, who interpreted the Dutch government’s decision as “good-will “. Jeffry stated that there is no good-will whatsoever.
“This [happens] is because we, from the K.U.K.B. Foundation, pushed this issue relentlessly, the Dutch government also has been pressured by the court, driven by critics here (in the Netherlands) … If they [the Dutch government] really had good-will, why did they never showed it in the beginning, in 2008, when they still had the opportunity to settle the Rawagede case outside the court,” he said.
An Optimal Solution?
In line with Jeffry, a historian at Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia (Indonesian Institute of Science, LIPI), Professor Asvi Warman Adam, says that the decision of the two Dutch ministers should not be seen as compensation for the Dutch colonisation of the Indonesian land and its citizens.
Instead, he explains, this new scheme grants damages to Dutch citizens who were victims of atrocities committed by their own army, considering that the Netherlands had only officially handed over sovereignty to Indonesia on 27 December 1949.
“So the context is that they tried the Dutch soldiers who committed human rights violations against their own citizens at that time, and in this case, Dutch East Indies citizens. Now they are paying damages to the victims,” says Prof. Asvi.
In his opinion, the [previous] settlement, which the Dutch government used for cases such as Westerling and Rawagede, was at least optimal.
Although the amount of damages provided by the Dutch government is disproportionally low, the recognition that they had made mistakes in the past is actually more important, says Prof. Asvi
“This is not like a conventional civil court trial, where damages oftentimes include large sums of money, it is not something like that,” he says.”So in this case, in my opinion, what is very important is the Dutch recognition that there have been many atrocities and human rights violations in the past, and that the victims are compensated.”
However, for Sardjono Danardi, Abdul Halik, and perhaps other children whose fathers were executed by Dutch soldiers, the offer of the damages may not be proportional in regard of their suffering and the violation of human rights.
“This is a human rights issue. We, the children of the victims, have accepted that God wanted it so that our fathers are no longer amongst us. Furthermore, the Dutch government needs to acknowledge that the children of victims whose fathers were executed, have suffered for a lifetime,” says Abdul Halik.
 ‘Anak Kolong’ is a Dutch colonial term that refers to children born out of relationships between soldiers of the Dutch Colonial Army (KNIL) and local Indonesian women. They grew up at the military bases. The KNIL personnel rooms were so small it can only fit one bed inside the room. As a result, the children were forced to sleep under (= kolong) the bed.
Read here the other article by BBC Indonesia on the matter: