Indonesia remembers bloody Dutch massacre

15th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Relatives of Indonesian men and boys murdered by Dutch troops more than 60 years ago flocked back to the scene of the massacre Thursday -- this time to celebrate.

A Dutch court ruled on Wednesday that the Netherlands was responsible for executions in the town of Rawagede, east of Jakarta, and that their families should be compensated.

Cawi, now in her 90s, is one of the eight widows who, along with one survivor, took the Dutch state to court in 2008 to claim compensation for the killings on December 9, 1947, by colonial troops during Indonesia's war of independence.

"I feel very happy. I'm living with my grandchild at the moment. With the compensation, I can finally build my own house," she told AFP standing by her husband's tomb.

"Now I can also give some money to my grandchildren and great grandchildren."

A three-judge bench of The Hague civil court ruled that seven of the eight widows and the family of the survivor should be compensated by the Dutch state, although it is not known how much they will be paid.

The survivor, Saih Bin Sakam, died at age 88 in May. An eighth widow died before the court papers were lodged.

Dutch authorities say 150 people died, while a victims' association claims 431 lost their lives during an operation to root out a suspected independence fighter hiding in Rawagede.

Behind homes at the scene of the massacre, nestled between rice fields, there are more than 180 victims' graves, locals say. A five-metre (5.5-yard) marble monument houses a diorama that recounts the bloody day.

Anti Rukiyah, another of the eight widows who filed the case, also returned to Rawagede on Thursday.

"I keep on remembering and thinking of my late husband," she said.

The Indonesian government and rights activists welcomed the Dutch court's decision.

"It is an important and significant decision which in effect acknowledges and upholds the rights of those civilian victims of the Dutch military's violent acts," said foreign ministry spokesman Michael Tene.

The Netherlands has in the past admitted that the execution did indeed take place, but argued that no claim could be lodged because of a statute of limitations in Dutch law of five years, the court heard.

The state in 2009 decided to donate 850,000 euros ($1.15 million) to the area but has avoided using the term "compensation", according to the Dutch daily newspaper De Volkskrant.

The court rejected the statute-of-limitations argument, saying it was "unacceptable".

The same argument has been used by the Indonesian government to avoid trial over the the torture and killings of an estimated 500,000 suspected communists and sympathisers in 1965-66 during the emergence of the Suharto dictatorship.

A string of other massacres in Indonesia's history have also evaded trial. The Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (Kontras), the human rights group that led investigations into the killings, said the Dutch court's decision should push Indonesia to address past human rights abuses.

"This (massacre in Rawagede) happened more than 60 years ago. It will send a message to our government that they should take responsibility for their own abuses in Indonesia," Kontras deputy coordinator Haris Azhar said.

"Indonesian authorities always use this excuse, that too much time has passed to bring people to justice, but even recent abuse cases are not taken to court," he said.

Prominent Indonesian rights activist Andreas Harsono said the government had done nothing to address past abuses, and torture continues today, especially in Indonesia's restive Papua region and prisons.

"There have been so many massacres across our country, and in fact there have been more killings by authorities in Indonesia's 60 years of independence than there was in the 200 years that the Dutch ruled the country," Harsono said.

He said the court's ruling would set a precedent for accountability of gross human rights abuses, an issue that he said has fallen off the agenda in recent years.

"Since 9/11 and the United States' was on terror, human rights have lost momentum. This decision by The Hague is a huge step forward for human rights around the world," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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