Dutch gov't tolerated soldiers' systemic brutality in Indonesia independence war: report
The Dutch government and military leadership deliberately tolerated the systemic and widespread use of extreme violence by Dutch military personnel in the war against the Republic of Indonesia. That is stated in Independence, decolonization, violence, and war in Indonesia, 1945-195. The study was carried out with subsidy and research frameworks from the government by the Royal Institute for Language, Land, and Ethnology (KITLV), the Netherlands Institute for Military History (NIMH), and the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies.
The researchers concluded that the Dutch State's 1969 position that there were excesses but no structural violence is untenable. Precise figures for crimes and numbers of victims cannot be given, according to the researchers. "It does appear from the sources that extreme violence on the part of the Dutch armed forces was not only widespread but was often also deliberately used. This was tolerated on all levels - political, military, and judicial."
According to the researchers, the reason for the violence against the Indonesians during the independence struggle was that the Netherlands wanted to defeat the Republic of Indonesia - which proclaimed independence on 17 August 1945 - at all costs and was prepared to do almost anything to achieve this goal. "The vast majority of those responsible on the Dutch side - politicians, officers, civil servants, judges, and other involved parties - did or could have known about the systemic use of extreme violence, but were jointly prepared to tolerate it, justify it, disguise it, and leave it unpunished."
All this served a higher purpose to "win the war against the Republic of Indonesia and to direct the process of decolonization ourselves." The Netherlands thought it was "indispensable" in the East and that it still had a mission there. "Politicians, soldiers, and administrators were convinced of the Dutch superiority, and in their pursuit of control of Indonesia were mainly guided by economic and geopolitical motives." The decision of military reoccupation of the former Dutch East Indies was already made in the Second World War. It was only delayed because it took time in the post-war Netherlands to rebuild the armed forces.
According to the report's authors, the war was part of a colonial tradition of violent oppression, racism, and exploitation. The Netherlands' aim remained to determine the future of Indonesia. To achieve this, the power of the Republic had to be broken at all costs. The Netherlands underestimated in all respects how broad support for independence was among the Indonesian population. "The Dutch underestimation and rejection of the widely supported Indonesian independence movement were based on a deeply rooted colonial mentality," the researchers noted.
The Netherlands portrayed the Republic as a Japanese fabrication that would collapse as soon as the Dutch authority and armed forces returned. The Indonesian population was placed on the margins of the moral and social order based on a Western vision. According to that vision, the Indonesians were incapable of building a state independently. And a well-meaning majority of the population didn't dare speak out for fear of the extremists.
During the war, the Dutch armed forces "frequently and structurally used extreme violence, in the form of extrajudicial executions, assault and torture, detention under inhumane conditions, setting houses and villages on fire, theft and destruction of goods and foodstuffs, disproportionate air raids and artillery fire, and often arbitrary mass arrests and internments."
The Indonesian side also conducted a brutal guerilla war, the researchers added. "All armed parties used forms of extreme violence in this war. The intense violence in the earliest phase of the Indonesian revolution against, among others, the Dutch East Indies and Moluccans - known in the Netherlands as the Biersap period - played an important role in the dynamics of the violence but was not the reason for the military reoccupation."
As an institution, the Dutch armed forces were responsible for the violence, the scientists said, including the extreme violence. "However, it operated in close consultation with and under the responsibility of the Dutch government. Politicians in the Netherlands, supported by their supporters, paid little attention to the extreme violence and, in fact, took no responsibility for it." They could afford that attitude because there was broad social support for the warfare, the researchers concluded.
The extreme violence perpetrated by the Dutch soldiers in Indonesia remained virtually unpunished. At the time, Dutch judges showed a great deal of understanding for the military and their position, and they focused mainly on military interests. The researchers analyzed the court-martial verdicts on the behavior of soldiers in Indonesia. They found that the military courts, often under pressure from military authorities, usually left "functional violence" unpunished. This "functional violence" included killing prisoners, torture during interrogations, and burning down kampongs.
According to the authors of the report, the frequent neglect of military justice had direct consequences for the use of force on the Dutch side. The policy of tolerance led to institutionalized impunity, they said.
The perpetrators of crimes that were not deemed "functional violence" - rape and murder in public places - were punished. But there were impulses to oppose or prevent prosecution in all steps of the procedures and at all levels.
The war in Indonesia came from crucial errors of judgment, both militarily and politically. It also left the Netherlands highly isolated internationally. The eventual formal transfer of sovereignty (on 27 December 1949) resulted from "strong pressure from the international community and the realization that the war could not be won."
The Committee of Dutch Debts of Honor (KUKB) found that the report contained "little news." "As long as the Netherlands does not explicitly designate itself as the perpetrator of war crimes, there will be no news. Then it is just another attempt to smooth out what happened in Indonesia," said chairman Jeffry Pondaag.
If the Netherlands believes that the independent republic of Indonesia was only a fact in 1949, then the country attacked and murdered its own citizens from 1945 onward, said Pondaag. He also pointed out that conscripts who refused to go to Indonesia to fight were sentenced to seven years in prison. "While those so-called pathetic veterans who did go and who fought their own compatriots have always been honored."
Pondaag thinks it is time that "history is told honestly, also for the generations after us. It is painful, but it must be recorded."
The Veterans Platform is disappointed with what it considers the one-sided focus of the study. According to the Platform, the suggestion is made that the armed forces as an institution went beyond their means, while the (excessive) use of force by the opposing party is presented as reactive violence by a freedom fighter.
The Veterans Platform calls itself the mouthpiece of all Dutch veterans and their relations. The Platform was initially optimistic about the initiative to conduct an in-depth investigation into the events during the independence struggle in the former Dutch East Indies but believes the final result does not meet expectations. The Platform also finds it lacking in scientific content.
"The decolonization period has been examined too closely from contemporary standards, values, and ethical considerations. Unfortunately, more than 200,000 veterans are implicitly portrayed as extremely violent perpetrators, and they and their relatives are insulted and stigmatized," according to the Veterans Platform.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times.