Dutch war crimes in Indonesia, discussion with MPs

This video is about ring-necked parakeets, at the Hofvijver pond near parliament in The Hague, the Netherlands.

9 October 2013. Plein square, near the Dutch parliament building in The Hague. Herring gulls on a roof. A great tit calls. A jackdaw flies past. Ring-necked parakeets fly overhead, calling. Maybe they have just left the big “parakeet dormitory” on the islet in the pond near parliament. These birds are originally from Africa; and Asia.

There is more about Asia today here. As this blog wrote: a delegation of pro-human rights Indonesians, arrived for the occasion from Indonesia or living in the Netherlands, went to the parliament building. There, they met two MPs: Harry van Bommel of the Socialist Party, and Angelien Eijsink of the PvdA party.

After entering the building and a walk through corridors, the two MPs and their twelve guests sat down in one of the rooms in the building. A video camera recorded the meeting for a TV station in Indonesia.

The spokesperson of the delegation, Batara Hutagalung, introduced the people present. He said about himself that he was neither a historian nor a lawyer. He was a human rights activist. For decades, he had lived in Germany, as a refugee from the Suharto military dictatorship. Many of the others here also have records as opponents of that dictatorship.

The aim of the delegation is not revenge. It is reconciliation between Indonesia and the Netherlands. However, that reconciliation should be based on dignity and truth about war crimes. Which, if covered up, would continue to damage the future.

It is important that the Dutch government should recognize the Indonesian 1945 declaration of independence de jure; not only de facto, as they had already done (eg, in the speech by Foreign Minister Bot on 16 August 2005). That would mean recognition that the Dutch government had not waged “police actions“, as they called it euphemistically; but war against a sovereign country.

Recently, the Dutch government had apologized for some war crimes on Sulawesi island. They had agreed to pay compensation to a few widows of civilians killed by Dutch forces in the 1940s. Though positive, this is only a small step when looking at the overall picture. In that part of Sulawesi alone, thousands of civilians had been killed, sometimes complete villages from babies to old age persons. The Dutch 1969 so-called Excessennota‘s figures on this were too low. That had affected not just a few widows, but thousands of people.

There should be reconciliation between Indonesia and the Netherlands. However, that reconciliation should be based on dignity.

Mr Batara Hutagalung asked the Dutch MPs if they could be present at the next commemoration in a few months’ time in Indonesia for civilians killed by Dutch troops in the late 1940s. The Dutch ambassador had been present at an earlier commemoration, but never any MPs yet.

To this Harry van Bommel replied that he was not sure whether this would be possible. Dutch MPs have to obey strict rules about traveling abroad. Also, it is a hectic time in Dutch national politics right now. The government’s position is weakening. Personally, I think the government may collapse any time now because of dissent about austerity policies. My colleague here Angelien Eijsink of the PvdA party, which is part of the government coalition, unlike me, who is an opposition Socialist Party MP, may have different views on that. So, we unfortunately cannot say Yes now to your invitation.

Mr Batara Hutagalung also explained the plan about having a seminar in the Netherlands about the history of Dutch-Indonesian relations.

These seminar plans have the support of the International Institute for Social History, the Wertheim foundation, Indonesian organisations in the Netherlands, the KITLV institute, and the NIOD institute for war documentation. Mr van Bommel and Ms Eijsink said they supported the seminar plan as well, and accepted the invitation to speak at it.

Ms Eijsink said it would be important to have many young people at that seminar. Not only university students. Also, eg, trade school pupils. Being a former teacher, she said, I know that unfortunately many young people in the Netherlands are not taught enough about Dutch colonial history. And about slavery; which existed both in Indonesia and in Suriname until 1863.

This video is called The History of the Dutch Slave Trade 1600-1863.

Angelien Eijsink also mentioned her contacts with Dutch veterans. They, she said, should be invited for the seminar too. Many of those veterans suffer from PTSD as a consequence of the war against Indonesia. Batara Hutagalung agreed. Many of these ex-soldiers still have nightmares now, decades later. The Dutch soldiers, most of them conscripts, he said, were in a sense victims of militarist governmental colonial policy too. The Dutch government should rehabilitate conscripts who refused to fight Indonesians.

Dutch troops were not the only ones to commit war crimes in Indonesia in the late 1940s. In 1945, British armed forces had bombed the big city Surabaya, killing many civilians. In eastern Indonesia, there were two Australian divisions under General Sir Leslie James Morshead; some of their soldiers had killed civilians.

I mentioned another point on veterans, based on a blog post.

This is the quote from that blog post:

Harry Nouwen: “Biff bang bow. Within two minutes they were all dead”.

The veteran, who was a telegrapher, never spoke about the incident because he had sworn an oath to keep army secrets. That he is breaking the silence now, he says, is because of the photos published last year in the Volkskrant.

I think that similar oaths or promises may have kept many more veterans, and may still keep them, from speaking out about (possible) war crimes in Indonesia.

My suggestion: the members of parliament might ask the Dutch government to declare that all “oaths to keep army secrets” are declared to be null and void now. Certainly they should be null and void if concerning (possible) war crimes in Indonesia. The government should declare that Dutch veterans are completely free, indeed, are encouraged to speak about (possible) war crimes in Indonesia on the Internet, to media, to historians, to lawyers, to parliament, etc. etc.

Ms Eijsink and Mr van Bommel thought the main reason why veterans don’t speak out about (possible) war crimes was not military oaths, but veterans’ feelings that they might betray former comrades in arms. They thought the Dutch government would not punish veterans for breaking military oaths by speaking out.

That might indeed be true. However, Mr Batara Hutagalung said, military oaths probably do play a role.

I ask myself: the Dutch government may indeed not intend to punish veterans for speaking out. But do all veterans know and feel that?

After the meeting, delegation people thought that though not everything intended had been reached, the outcome was positive. Agreement had been reached on organizing the seminar, on rehabilitating Dutch soldiers who had refused to fight Indonesians, and on the aim of reconciliation.

Dutch war crimes on Bali: here.

11 thoughts on “Dutch war crimes in Indonesia, discussion with MPs

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