By Sri Kusmiati
The Associated Press
RAWAGEDEH, Indonesia (AP) — Widows of villagers executed by Dutch soldiers during Indonesia’s bloody battle for independence from colonial rule more than six decades ago quietly welcomed news that they were entitled to compensation.
In a landmark ruling last week, a Dutch court said it was “unreasonable” for its government to argue the statute of limitations had expired for the 1947 massacre that left an estimated 150 to 430 men from Rawagedeh village dead.
It said damages should be paid to the seven surviving widows.
On hearing the news, 90-year-old Cawi, worn down by life and time, simply said she felt “blessed” and “thankful.”
She was only 20 when Bitol — her husband of two years — left the house early in the morning to work in the rice paddies. Like almost all the other men in the tiny village, he never came home.
“It was hard for me to find his body,” she recalled, saying she eventually dug it from beneath a heap of other corpses.
Wives, mothers, and the handful of elderly men who remained buried them the next day, digging shallow graves with their bare hands.
Dutch troops arrived in Rawagedeh on Dec. 9, 1947 — two years before recognizing Indonesia’s independence following centuries of colonial rule — and demanded that residents tell them where they could find Lukas Kustaryo, a local soldier.
When they said they didn’t know, the men in the village were lined up and shot. Only a few managed to escape, at least one of whom was shot and wounded as he ran for his life.
Despite a 1948 United Nations report condemning the attack as “deliberate and ruthless,” the Dutch government never prosecuted any soldiers for their roles in the killings.
A 1968 Dutch report acknowledged “violent excesses” in Indonesia, but argued that Dutch troops were carrying out a “police action” often incited by guerrilla warfare and terror attacks.
After a television documentary explored the bloodbath, the government conceded in 1995 that summary executions had taken place in Rawagedeh, now known as Balongsari, but said prosecutions were no longer possible.
It was not until 2005 that the government formally faced up to the past when former Foreign Minister Ben Bot expressed deep regret for offenses by Dutch forces throughout Indonesia in 1947.
The judgment paves the way for a case to establish the level of indemnities to be paid to the relatives.
It was not immediately clear how much compensation would be paid to the seven surviving widows.
Cawi didn’t seem to care too much.
“I don’t have a house. I have to live with my grandson,” she said, adding it would be nice if she could now afford to buy her own.
Another woman, 92-year-old Wanti Binti Dodo, stooped over with age, had no idea the verdict was about to be announced.
She shuffled over to the small TV in the house she shares with her son, daughter-in-law, and several other family members.
“I can’t believe it,” she said with a toothless grin. “I am happy, maybe I will get some money.”
The plaintiff’s lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, meanwhile, said the Hague Civil Court’s narrow focus on widows of massacre victims means it is unclear whether it will expose the Dutch state to a flood of compensation claims from other relatives of people killed during the Dutch fight to retain control over the Dutch East Indies, which became Indonesia in 1949.
In its written judgment, the court said the Netherlands “acted illegally” against the plaintiffs, “through the execution of their then-husbands” and said the state was liable to compensate them for “past and future suffering.”
In an initial reaction, government lawyer Bert-Jan Houtzagers said he was surprised by the ruling and would carefully study the 17-page judgment before deciding whether to appeal.
The ruling came too late for two of the plaintiffs — one widow died earlier this year as did a man also covered by the ruling, who also was granted compensation because he was shot and wounded during the mass executions.
“Justice has been done,” said Zegveld.
“This means that the state can’t just sit in silence for 60 years waiting for the case to go away or the plaintiffs to die.”
The court’s written ruling said that the statute of limitations normally expires after just five years, but it made an exception because of the seriousness of the offenses.
Indonesia declared its independence from Dutch colonial rule when World War II ended in 1945. The Netherlands fought unsuccessfully to try to maintain control of its lucrative Asian outpost and Indonesia was finally recognized as independent in 1949. (end)
Associated Press writer Mike Corder contributed to this report from The Hague.