2011 | The Netherlands District Court of The Hague, Wisah Binti Silan and others vs the State of the Netherlands

Until 1949 Indonesia formed part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands under the name of the Dutch East Indies. On 9 December 1947, in the context of tensions leading up to Indonesia's imminent independence, Dutch troops attacked the village of Rawagadeh on Java in Indonesia. Hundreds of male villagers were executed, along with prisoners and refugees. A UN Security Council fact-finding committee in a 1948 report condemned the actions of the Dutch Army to be “deliberate and ruthless”. Criminal proceedings against the soldiers responsible for the Rawagedeh bloodbath have never been instituted. The Netherlands has never apologized or paid compensation to the surviving family members of the murdered villagers. This is the first time that Indonesian surviving family members issue a summons against The Netherlands for crimes committed during the decolonization wars in Indonesia from 1945 until 1949.

Despite the fact that the claim expired on 31 December 1952, the State cannot invoke the statute of limitations (which prescribes the maximum amount of time that may pass between the event/s complained of and the initiation of proceedings relating to the case). The Court ruled that given the graveness of the facts, the State’s knowledge of these facts and its passive attitude over a period of sixty years, the invocation of the statute of limitations is unacceptable in view of the criteria of reasonableness and fairness. The Court also took into consideration that the case relates to a period of the Dutch history that does not belong to the past yet, and that there are people alive today that have lived throughout this difficult period and have witnessed the executions. The Court concludes that the State has acted wrongfully towards the widows and ‘is liable towards them for the damages consequently incurred and yet to be incurred, to be assessed by the Court and to be settled in accordance with the law’.

(Summary courtesy of Böhler Advokaten, Amsterdam, The Netherlands).

More Dutch colonial crimes jurisprudence can be found here under 'Cases before National Courts (Europe)'. The Nuhanovic Foundation commissioned a study on the impacts of litigation, including this case, in relation to systematic and large scale atrocities committed by the Dutch military in the Dutch Indies/Indonesia between 1945-1949. The report can be accessed here.