On Sept. 29, the district court of the Hague delivered its ruling in the case of Malik Lambogo, the son of South Sulawesi freedom fighter Andi Abubakar Lambogo, against the state of the Netherlands, putting an end to a four-year-long legal battle.
In its verdict, the court found the Dutch state liable for the beheading of Andi in March 1947 after he was detained, according to a statement released by Dutch law firm Prakken d’Oliveira, which represented Malik in court.
Malik is reportedly due to receive 874.80 euros (US$1,027) in damages.
The ruling was based on the testimony of two witnesses as well as existing documentation, both of which pointed to the cruelty of Andi’s decapitation. Based on the accounts, his head was put on display at the local market in Enrekang, South Sulawesi, presumably as a war trophy.
One witness, who gave his testimony through video conferencing, was himself even captured by Dutch soldiers and testified that he was ordered to kiss the decapitated head a few days after the incident.
The compensation offered turned out to be a far cry from what Malik’s legal counsel had sought: 30,000 euros in immaterial damages, in addition to material damages and legal interest.
The ruling at the end of last month was the final verdict in the case; if no appeal is filed within three months, the ruling enters into law and the case of Andi’s beheading will be closed after the damages have been settled.
Malik’s case is indicative of the hopes and the dread that surviving relatives of victims of past Dutch war crimes must face as they seek justice through the Dutch court system.
Even though a Dutch appeals court lifted in 2019 the statute of limitations on alleged executions by Dutch forces during the Indonesian struggle for independence, limitations for those seeking due recompense still remain.
“In the press statement about his case, we explained how the applicable law unfortunately limited the amount in damages that Mr. Lambogo could recover in court as a surviving relative of his father,” Brechtje Vossenberg, one of the lawyers representing Malik, told The Jakarta Post recently.
“One of the limitations is that according to the applicable law, surviving relatives cannot recover moral damages for the loss of a loved one.”
Aside from Malik’s case, there are at least two other cases that the Dutch courts are still hearing. One case involves Santa, son of Iabu, against the Dutch state. Iabu was one among a group of villagers from Lisu, South Sulawesi, who were summarily executed by Dutch soldiers under the command of Captain Raymond Westerling in 1947.
Cases demanding compensation from the Dutch state for war atrocities in Indonesia have slowly gained traction, but human rights lawyers have highlighted the need to better benefit from the perceived good will of the kingdom.
Dutch King Willem-Alexander offered an apology during his official visit to Indonesia in March for the “excessive violence” committed by Dutch soldiers during the early years of Indonesian independence.
But the chairman of the Committee for Dutch Debts of Honor (KUKB), Jeffry Pondaag, expressed regret that the Dutch courts don’t appear to be taking account of the royal apology in its rulings.
He pointed to a March 25 ruling on five cases referred to as the South Sulawesi cases, in which the court ordered the Dutch state to financially compensate the widows and children of 11 men who had been summarily executed in the past, at rates ranging between 123.48 euros and 3,634 euros.
“[The Dutch king] is the head of state and [is] speaking on behalf of the state to apologize, [but] the court ruling on March 25 – not long after the apology – finds the child of a victim [of past Dutch atrocities will] only receive 123.48 euros [in material damages],” said Pondaag. “That’s not fair.”
The Den Haag district court said in a statement that it recognized that the amount due for recompense that was part of its ruling was disproportionate to the pain and sorrow suffered by the relatives of the victims. But the court also acknowledged that current applicable laws offer few possibilities to recoup such damages.
The Dutch Embassy in Indonesia said in a statement that its government was of the opinion that the apologies offered by the Dutch king were an “appropriate part of the state visit” and that it “followed up on earlier statements made by other members of the Dutch government.”
The embassy also said the state had already paid compensation to the relatives of victims of violence, and that it was currently considering to broaden the compensation scheme.
Vossenberg, as well as Amsterdam-based lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, who together have represented different plaintiffs in similar cases, said they were determined to help the victims and their relatives go to court.
“One way or another, the State of the Netherlands needs to take responsibility for its past wrongs,” they said. “We strongly believe that the only way for a country to move forward is by coming to terms with its past.”
However, not all relatives opted to pursue litigation against the Dutch state.
Historian Anhar Gonggong, whose family members were also among those executed by the Dutch soldiers under Westerling’s command, said a major sticking point was the refusal on the part of the Dutch state to acknowledge Indonesia’s Independence Day on Aug. 17, 1945.
“If they want to give us compensation, they can come and ask me: Do I want to accept it or not? Then I’ll say to them I am willing to discuss it after they acknowledge Aug. 17 [as Indonesia’s Independence Day],” he said.