New Report on Dutch Colonial Violence in Indonesia Sparks Mixed Responses

By Leon Woudstra and Anna Zwettler

February 17th 2022. A new report states that the Dutch government and military authorities tolerated widespread violent acts during the Indonesian War of Independence from 1945-1949. These findings have sparked varying reactions from Indonesians and individuals of Dutch-Indonesian descent living in the Netherlands.

The investigation that led to the report was led by the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies, the Netherlands Institute for Military History, and the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies.

“To me, it is quite inverted,” says Jeffry Pondaag. Pondaag chairs the Foundation Committee for Dutch Honorary Debts (Stichting Comité Nederlandse Ereschulden). “As long as the Netherlands is not labeled as the perpetrator, it will continue to smoothen out what happened. The report, for example, does not speak of war crimes. That term is not used.”

The parties involved in the report investigated the role of Dutch army personnel and Indonesian guerillas in Indonesia and the extent to which the Dutch government was aware of the violent actions committed in its name.  

It is not the first time that an investigation was started into the actions of the Dutch military in Indonesia after the Second World War. In 1969, an investigative report by the Dutch government concluded that the Netherlands had used “excessive violence” during the War of Independence in Indonesia, but maintained that these were exceptions.

Timeline detailing The Netherlands’ acknowledgement of war violence in Indonesia
  • 1969: Johan Hueting speaks about violence on TV

    The psychologist and former soldier drew the public’s eye to the Dutch army’s violent acts by admitting that he, himself, had participated in them.

  • 1969: Cees Fasseur is the first to research Dutch violence

    Within his published report, the historian detailed the violence as ‘war crimes.’

  • 1969: Piet de Jong writes letter to Parliament

    Removing Fasseur’s label of ‘war crimes’, former Prime Minister sent the report to Parliament, maintaining that the Dutch army acted ‘correctly’.

  • 2011: Dutch ambassador to Indonesia apologizes

    The Dutch ambassador expressed his apologies for the mass murder that occurred at the hands of the Dutch military in Rawagede.

  • 2020: Dutch King Willem Alexander apologizes to Indonesia

    He visited Indonesia and apologized for the Dutch military’s violent acts during the war.

  • Feb. 17, 2022: Mark Rutte apologies to Indonesia

    Dutch Prime Minister apologizes for the ‘structural violence’ of the Dutch military in a press conference, mentioning both Indonesians and everyone else living in the Netherlands who suffered. He also acknowledged that many in power, such as military or political authorities, condoned these atrocities.

The report now concludes that the use of excessive violence by the Dutch military was structural and that more members of the Dutch government, at the time, were aware of this than was initially presumed. It poses that Dutch political decisions at the time were primarily to blame for the violence.  

In 2020, Dutch King Willem-Alexander during a state visit to Indonesia apologized for the use of excessive violence by the Dutch military during the years 1945-1949.

For some that apology suffices. “The king of the Netherlands has apologized to the Indonesian people. And I think that is enough for us,” says I Made Jody Dwitama Putra Sunia. He is the president of PPI Den Haag – the Indonesian student association in The Hague.

The damage caused by the Netherlands should be reimbursed monetarily.

Jeffry Pondaag

For him, today’s report will change little about the relationship between the Netherlands and Indonesia. “I don’t think anything will change because I think all the problems that happened a long time ago have been resolved and that we now have a better relationship with each other. Anything that happens after will not really matter to the Indonesian people and to the government.”

Pondaag disagrees. He is critical of the apology made by the Dutch king last year. According to him, a formal apology from the Netherlands should be multifaceted. “The Netherlands should openly offer an apology to the Indonesian people. The damage caused by the Netherlands should be reimbursed monetarily,” he says.

But that is not the only payment that should be made to Indonesia. In 1949, the Netherlands instructed Indonesia to pay it a sum of 4,5 billion Guilder as part of ending Dutch colonialist rule in the country. (More information about this and further Dutch demands upon the end of its colonialist rule can be found here.) That sum of 4,5 billion Guilder should also be paid back to Indonesia, according to Pondaag.

Besides that, Pondaag says, “The Netherlands should pay compensation to its Indonesian victims. And recognize that Indonesia gained independence on August 17th, 1945.” The Netherlands recognizes December 27, 1949, as Indonesia’s day of independence; the day Dutch colonialist rule over Indonesia ended.

After today’s presentation of the report, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte in a press conference offered his apologies to the Indonesian people. In his speech, he acknowledged that the conclusion of former reports in which the excessive violence was called exceptional can no longer be upheld. He stated that Dutch state institutions, including the government, were to be held responsible for the use of structural excessive violence between 1945-49.

One group that feels somewhat ignored in the debate around Dutch-Indonesian history is that of people of Dutch-Indonesian descent. “The story of the Dutch-Indonesians is not clear to the greater public,” says Melissa Trouerbach. In his speech, however, Rutte directed his apology also to “everyone in our country who has had to live with the consequences of the colonial war in Indonesia.”

Rutte made no comments about new monetary reparation schemes for victims and their survivors.

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