Daniel Boffey, Brussels – The relatives of five men summarily executed during the final years of Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia will have their case heard in court after a ground-breaking decision to lift the statute of limitations.
The court of appeal in The Hague found there was sufficient evidence that language differences and social disadvantage had stood in the way of claims being made against the state.
The relatives – five men and one woman – will have the opportunity to prove they are the children of those executed in 1947. If that is the case, they can claim a reimbursement of the costs of their living.
In a sixth case, involving a man tortured by Dutch forces during Indonesia's struggle for independence after the second world war, compensation for his ordeal was awarded. The victim, who was beaten and had a cigarette stubbed out on his head, was granted Euro 5,000 by the court.
Liesbeth Zegveld, the claimants' lawyer, said: "After 10 years of legal proceedings and given the developments in the debate in our society, it has always surprised me that the state asked a decision of the appeals court.
"I'm happy that the court has now issued this principal ruling... My clients are speechless and grateful. This judgment means justice."
The Dutch state had sought for the claims to be struck out given the time that had passed since the acts were committed.
But the appeal for limitation was rejected. "The court of appeal is of the opinion that especially the extraordinary seriousness and the high degree of culpability of the violence used stand in the way of limitation," the judge said. "At the time, the Netherlands failed to register who was shot or abused and when."
The executions carried out by Dutch soldiers took place in 1947 during so-called "cleansing actions" on South Celebes, now called Sulawesi, an island east of Borneo.
Japan had occupied the then Dutch colony of the Dutch East Indies during the second world war, but after its capitulation the nationalist leaders Sukarno and Hatta proclaimed the Republic of Indonesia on 17 August 1945.
For the following four years, the Netherlands fought to prolong its 350 years of colonial rule of the country, often through barbaric means.
Klaas Meijer, a spokesman for the ministry of defence, said the government would study the rulings before deciding its next steps. It could appeal again to higher courts.