Dutch state found liable for 1947 massacre of 431 men and boys in Java


SIXTY-FOUR years after it happened, the Dutch state has been found liable for the deaths of 431 men and boys in a massacre in the Javanese village of Rawagede in 1947 – during a notorious “police action” by colonial troops following Indonesia’s declaration of independence two years earlier.

The long-awaited and deeply embarrassing ruling by a court in The Hague comes just months after the Netherlands was also found liable to pay compensation to relatives of some victims of the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 because Dutch UN peacekeepers failed to protect them.

The Rawagede decision opens the way for similar claims in relation to hundreds of other “actions” by the Dutch before they recognised Indonesian independence in 1949 – particularly thousands of executions ordered by Special Forces captain Raymond Westerling, known as The Turk, during a counter-insurgency campaign in 1946 and 1947.

The Rawagede case was taken by the widows of seven of those who died in the massacre and the daughter of an eighth – as well as by the sole survivor, Saih Bin Sakam, who died last May, aged 88.

The three-judge decision rejected the contention by the attorney general that although the killings of the male population were not just unlawful but war crimes which were “deeply regretted”, the statute of limitations had run out.

That was a strategy that caused a storm of controversy when the state first rejected this claim in 2008, prompting an outraged editorial in the respected daily newspaper, NRC Handlesblad, which famously declared: “There is no statute of limitations on history.”

In that context, the Jakarta-based Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence declared last night that the latest ruling had established a new principle in international law – that there was, indeed, no statute of limitations in human rights cases.

The case was taken on behalf of the Rawagede widows by campaigning lawyer Dr Liesbeth Zegveld (41), professor of international humanitarian law at Leiden University law school – who also won the case on behalf of the Srebrenica relatives.

“The Netherlands does not reject claims brought by World War II victims because the time period has elapsed,” she said. “It is right that the same policy should apply to the Rawagede widows.”

The Rawagede massacre happened on December 9th, 1947, when Dutch troops entered the village in pursuit of an independence fighter and demanded to know where he was hiding.

In January 1948, a UN report described the killings as “deliberate and merciless”.

In 2009, the Dutch government pledged €850,000 in development aid for a school, a market and a hospital extension in the village, now called Balongsari.

Thirty months on, almost nothing has been accomplished.