Dutch government apologizes for past extreme and systemic violence in Indonesia

The government of the Netherlands formally apologized to the people of Indonesia for the “systematic and widespread use of extreme violence”, distancing itself from the previous official version of sporadic violent acts between 1945 and 1949.


The Netherlands “used extreme violence on a frequent and structural basis” between 1945 and 1949 during the War of Independence in the Dutch East Indies, former Indonesia, findings of a research project show on February 17. The military top ranks and the government knew but ignored the excesses.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Thursday deeply apologized to the people of Indonesia: “This research has prompted me to reiterate those apologies here and now: for the systematic and widespread use of extreme violence on the part of the Dutch side in those years and the consistent look away by previous cabinets, I would like to make a deep apology on behalf of the Dutch government to the people of Indonesia today.”

The prime minister rejects the individual responsibility of “ill-prepared” soldiers and acknowledges the systemic nature of violence, which he describes as a “collective failure”. The “responsibility lies first and foremost with those in authority at the time: the Dutch government, parliament, the armed forces as an institution and the judicial authorities.”

Three historical research institutes investigated on the issue of Dutch armed force violence in Indonesia for four and a half years. The research project ‘Independence, Decolonization, Violence and War in Indonesia, 1945-1950′ was partially funded by the Dutch government. Initial results leaked on Wednesday.

In a statement, researchers said that the information they found “shows that the use of extreme violence by the Dutch armed forces was not only widespread, but often deliberate, too. It was condoned at every level: political, military and legal.

Indonesia’s fight for independence

Ruled as a Dutch colony, Indonesia declared its independence in 1945 and fought against the Dutch troops until the Netherlands officially recognized Indonesia at the end of 1949.

According to the research, army leadership kept a superior colonial attitude and considered nationalists would never be able to run a country. The desire for independence from Indonesians was also underestimated.

The military is critical of the report. “The results of the investigation evoke a feeling of discomfort and concern in me because veterans who served in the former Dutch East Indies are collectively placed in the suspect’s dock thanks to unsubstantiated conclusions,” the institute’s director of the Netherlands Veterans Institute, Paul Hoefsloot, said in a written statement.

Hans van Griensven, chairman of another Dutch veterans’ organization, told national broadcaster NOS that the violence was “not as pervasive as is now being suggested”.

Of course, things went wrong, as they do in every war,” Van Griensven added. “But, in general, there was also humanitarian help, food was distributed, infrastructure was built up. That is not discussed” in the findings.

Indonesia declared its independence right after WWII. Incapable of defending the colony, the Dutch quickly lost Java and Sumatra to Japan during the war, growing nationalist aspirations among locals.

Violence materialized “in the form of extrajudicial executions, ill-treatment and torture, detention under inhumane conditions, the torching of houses and villages, the theft and destruction of property and food supplies, disproportionate air raids and artillery shelling, and what were often random mass arrests and mass internment”, the research project said in a statement. Crimes that remained unpunished in most cases.

Official version defended isolated misbehavior from Dutch armed forces

Mark Rutte on Thursday considered that “this study once again outlines the tragedy of this period in full […]. The report’s main conclusions are tough but inevitable. The government endorses those conclusions. We have to face the shameful facts.”

The Dutch government apologized in 2013 for some atrocities committed by its forces. Mark Rutte officially visited Indonesia in 2020 and formally apologized for his country’s past aggression.

But the Dutch government today takes distances from the official version defended so far. It argued that troops engaged in extreme violence only sporadically.

Conclusions were based on a report from 1969 that acknowledged “violent excesses” in Indonesia. It however argued that Dutch troops were conducting a “police action” often incited by guerrilla warfare and terror attacks targeting perceived opponents of independence. Rutte considers “police action” should not be used anymore and the period should instead be referred to as a “colonial war“.

An earlier report had been produced in 1949 but never publicly shared. The document will appear in print for the first time with the official publication of the study today.

It is however impossible to exactly quantify the number of crimes and victims according to researchers. The report yet roughly estimates striking casualty: 5,000 Dutch soldiers were killed while 100,000 indigenous Indonesians died during the war.

Read more about the Netherlands

Government of the Netherlands, February 2022, Free access

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