Dutch state liable for torture, execution in fmr. Dutch East Indies: court

Gavel with lady justice in the background
Gavel with lady justice in the backgroundPhoto: SergPoznanskiy/DepositPhotos

The Netherlands is liable for the execution of one man and the torture of another in the former Dutch East Indies, the Court of Appeals in The Hague ruled on Tuesday in two lawsuits filed by children of the victims against the Dutch state. These crimes are not time-barred, the court ruled, AD reports.

The lawsuit was filed by the children of an executed man, and by tortured man Javaan Yaseman, who has since died, and his children. 

In 2015 the court held the state liable for the damages claimed in these two lawsuits, caused by Dutch soldiers trying to reassert authorities after Indonesia declared its independence in 1945. But the State appealed, arguing that the cases have reached their statute of limitations. Legally, that is the case. But the Court of Appeals made use of an exception rule and ruled that the statute of limitations is not "reasonable" and "fair" in these cases.

The court also ruled against the State's objection that it was impossible to prove individual cases from nearly 70 years ago. According to the court, there is sufficient evidence to show that Yaseman was tortured. Yasaman had a dent in his skull, which forensic experts attributed to blows he received from Dutch soldiers. He also had scars from burns caused by cigarettes being extinguished on his skin.

The violence was committed when Dutch soldiers tried to restore Dutch authority in the colony after Indonesia declared its independence on 17 August 1945. Countless men were executed. A major investigation is currently being conducted into the violence during the decolonization war. 

"This is a unique ruling of principle", Liesbeth Zegveld, the lawyer representing the victims' children, said after the ruling, AD reports. 'Never before has a court of law ruled on colonial violence."

"We started this 10 years ago, won every case, but the State never really took it seriously", Zegveld said. "On the one hand, the State wants to talk about the past and let it be investigated. Then you cannot say that these cases are time-bared. That is downright rude and is miles away from what we want as a society."

In 2011 the court in The Hague ruled that the widows in Rawagede on Java must be compensated for damages suffered by executions during the decolonization war. The Netherlands apologized and introduced a compensation scheme. But this scheme did not apply to the victims' children. According to Zegveld, the road is now open for children of the victims. "The court did not distinguish between children and adults. The children were hit just as hard by the executions as the widows.