Dutch PM apologizes for state’s role in 1940s Indonesian war abuses | Netherlands

Mark Rutte, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, has apologized after an investigation revealed that the Dutch state tolerated the systematic use of extrajudicial executions and torture during the 1945-1949 Indonesian War of Independence.

The “extreme violence” of the Dutch military and intelligence services would have been sanctioned at the highest levels of government, with all considerations subordinated to the goal of maintaining the colony.

The government’s position, held since an inquiry in 1969 concluded that there had been only isolated “excesses” and that the armed forces “as a whole” had behaved correctly, was condemned in the report as “untenable”.

After the publication of the findings of the investigation, Rutte said: “I today offer a deep apology to the people of Indonesia for the systematic and widespread extreme violence of the Dutch side during these years and the constant averting of the eyes by the previous cabinets.”

Rutte said the blame did not lie with the individual soldiers but with the system at the time. “The dominant culture was one of looking away, dodging and a misplaced colonial sense of superiority,” he said. “It’s a painful realization, even after so many years.”

Dr Remy Limpach, one of the historians involved in the research, said part of the explanation for the Dutch’s conduct, which he said sometimes amounted to a “reign of terror”, was his weakness in the face of guerrilla tactics.

“A lot of times it stems from a feeling of helplessness, frustration, feeling like you have your back against the wall,” Limpach said. “Not being able to manage the conflict with normal military means.”

The government-funded research, undertaken over four and a half years, offers thought-provoking insight into a period of history that remains raw for many in the Netherlands, where the country’s colonial record is fiercely contested.

Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president, declared independence on August 17, 1945. To his right is Mohammad Hatta. Photography: Aliyah

On August 17, 1945, two days after Japan’s surrender ended World War II, Indonesian revolutionaries Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta declared independence, breaking 350 years of Dutch exploitation.

The government in The Hague rejected this decision and between the declaration of independence and the withdrawal of Dutch forces on December 27, 1949, around 100,000 Indonesians were killed, compared to around 5,300 fighters on the Dutch side, including Indonesians on their service.

“The sources show that the use of extreme violence by the Dutch armed forces was not only widespread, but often deliberate,” the Dutch and Indonesian researchers wrote. “It was tolerated at all levels: political, military and legal. The reason for this was that the Netherlands wanted at all costs to defeat the Republic of Indonesia – which had declared its independence on August 17, 1945 – and was ready to subordinate almost everything to this objective. In doing so, ethical boundaries, including those that applied at the time, were categorically crossed.

The military was “frequently and structurally guilty” of extrajudicial executions, ill-treatment and torture, detention in inhumane conditions, arson of homes and villages, and often mass arrests and internments arbitrary,” the report’s researchers said. Rape was not normally tolerated, but it was punished lightly, if at all.

A spokesman for the Veterans’ Platform, an organization representing former Dutch servicemen, said the research downplayed the violence unleashed by those fighting for independence.

He said: “The period of decolonization has been over-emphasized from the perspective of contemporary norms, values ​​and ethical considerations. Sadly, more than 200,000 veterans are implicitly portrayed as extreme perpetrators of violence and their relatives and loved ones are insulted and stigmatized. “

An organization supposed to represent the Indo-Dutch people, Platform 2.0, had appealed to the courts to block the publication of the report.

The research, conducted by the Royal Netherlands Institute for Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies, the Netherlands Institute of Military History and the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies , would be published in 14 books, including a review volume, Beyond the Pale: Extreme Dutch Violence in the Indonesian War of Independence, 1945-1949.

The Dutch king, Willem-Alexander, apologized in 2020 for the “excessive violence” inflicted on Indonesia during colonial rule, the first admission of regret since independence.