Today, the Dutch ambassador to Indonesia, Tjeerd de Zwaan, will offer an official apology for the massacre, in which Dutch forces rounded up and shot up to 430 unarmed men in Rawagede, now called Balongsari. The massacre was part of what the Dutch considered an antiguerrilla operation, prompted by their failure to secure locals’ assistance in tracking down an independence fighter they believed was hiding in the area.
The apology marks a breakthrough in the Dutch taking responsibility for the harm caused by their colonial policies, according to Zegveld. “This is a historic case because the facts in question date back 64 years,” Zegveld said at the offices of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) in Jakarta.
Zegveld said that under the continental legal system that applies in the Netherlands, there is a time limit on the evidence acceptable in court.
“This is only the second case in the last 100 years in which a Dutch court has made an exception to the rule on time limits for admissible evidence,” she said.
The case was not run as a criminal prosecution, but instead was lodged as a civil case for damages and for an apology by the Dutch state. Zegveld said that while her government freely admitted the facts of the case, it was very reluctant to agree to deliver the apology, despite long-standing requests by Balongsari residents.
She said that while the case was underway, the Dutch government offered aid money to Balongsari residents to build a hospital for the area. “But it was not ready to admit it had done wrong and take responsibility for the incident,” Zegveld said.
Human rights activist Usman Hamid hailed the court decision and the Dutch government’s preparedness to provide an apology. “The people of Rawagede have set an example by never giving up over the many years they have campaigned for their case,” he said at Komnas HAM.
Zegveld said that the case set a useful legal precedent as it was the first dealing with the impacts of Dutch colonial policies.