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2019 | Nuhanovic Foundation - The Impact of Litigation in relation to Systematic and Large-Scale Atrocities committed by the Dutch Military Forces in the ‘Dutch East Indies’ between 1945 - 1949, by E. de Volder and A. de Brouwer

This report, commissioned by the Nuhanovic Foundation, assesses the impact of seven civil suits brought by victims and their relatives against the Dutch state for the atrocities committed by Dutch military forces in the Dutch East Indies between 1945-1949, when the Dutch tried to restore their colonial rule. The law suits relate to the summary executions of men in the villages of Rawagede and Peniwen (summary will follow soon) and in South Sulawesi (see court rulings of 2015, 2016 and 2019), a rape case and a torture case in East Java (see court rulings of 2016 and 2019), and a beheading case in South Sulawesi (summary will follow soon). These legal proceedings were the victims’ last resort for finding justice after they unsuccessfully tried to establish a dialogue with the Dutch government in the hope of reaching an out-of-court reparation settlement.

This report makes use of the framework developed by Helen Duffy to assess impact in the context of strategic human rights litigation. The seven cases are discussed on the basis of their impact on (1) the victims and survivors; (2) the law; (3) political and social change; and (4) democracy and the rule of law.

The main conclusions are that the cases have had both positive and negative effects. As regards the victims, they positively experienced a sense of acknowledgement of their injuries and suffering, they were awarded compensation and felt empowered bringing their case to court. They also received apologies from the Dutch government. Yet, the effectiveness of apologies depends on how it is delivered, the compensation provided led to disputes within local communities, and the amount of compensation continues to be a topic of debate.

The positive impact on justice and the law is that the litigation effectively provided access to justice for a group of victims that did not have it before. In that sense, it has been precedent-setting and plays an important role in the preservation and promotion of the rule of law. At the same time, evidence-related difficulties lengthened the duration of proceedings which was problematic from the perspective of access to justice, in view of the advanced age of the claimants in these cases.

Assessed from a political angle, the cases show that the Dutch colonial past continues to be an arduous subject for the Dutch government,  whose approach tends to be resistant. For it was only after the increased attention prompted by these court cases, as well as by new publications and debates, that the Dutch Government accepted that more research was needed into the period 1945-1949. The cases’ impact on social change is limited as well: most Dutch people are still not aware of the violent colonial past.

On 12 November 2019, the Nuhanovic Foundation organized a seminar on the impact of litigation in relation to the systematic and large scale atrocities by the Dutch military in the Dutch Indies/Indonesia, during which the report was presented. After the presentation, Wouter Veraart, Professor of Legal Philosophy at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, shared his observations in response to the report.