Dutch apologise 66 years after atrocities

Relatives of victims of mass colonial era executions still carry the scars of Indonesia’s independence struggle.

“She is more than 100 years old.” Relatives point at the frail old lady staring blankly from a flowery sofa in her house in Bulukumba in South Sulawesi. When she sees me 93-year-old Nani (I find out her real age later) starts hugging me. A weird feeling for a journalist from the Netherlands to be comforted by the widow who has suffered all her life for what Dutch troops have done to her husband.

Nani is one of ten widows who have received financial compensation from the Dutch government 66 years after their husbands were executed. The Dutch have apologised for all the summary executions done in Indonesia between 1945 and 1949 in their efforts to stop an uprising against their colonial rule.

Under the command of notorious captain Raymond Westerling thousands of people were executed in South Sulawesi between December 1946 and March 1947. Indonesia has claimed as much as 40,000 were killed. Nobody knows the real figure.

Easing the pain

The widows have been waiting too long to be excited about the compensation or the apology. The Dutch atrocities have tainted their lives and only one of them has remarried.

“I think about what the Dutch have done all the time,” says 85 year old Cheddung who starts crying when I ask her what happened. “That I have received this money is a sign that my husband has thought about me. I don’t consider this to be coming from the Dutch.” But Nani says that the Dutch recognition of her suffering has eased her pain.

The Dutch government has given ten widows nearly $27,000 after their lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld had managed to make a deal. Also the government has adopted a measure paving the way to compensate all widows with similar cases. It’s due to Zegveld’s endless efforts that victims of Dutch atrocities in Indonesia finally receive some kind of justice, something that was impossible for more than 65 years.

In 2011 widows in West Java who lost their husbands due to summary executions were also compensated. A breakthrough after the Dutch government under pressure from veterans who fought in Indonesia always refused to admit any wrongdoing.

But even until now the Dutch government has not recognised the Indonesian Independence Day on August 17, 1945, something the government in Jakarta would highly appreciate. That and the fact that the Dutch ambassador has apologised to the widows in their absence shows that even after 66 years the Dutch gesture is not wholeheartedly.

The widows were invited to attend the ceremony in Jakarta but due to their high age and the long journey none of them is physically able to attend. “We hope the Dutch government will come to me and shake my hand,” says 93 year old Nani. “That would mean a lot to me.”

The ambassador has announced that he will soon travel to South Sulawesi to apologise to the widows directly.