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Indonesia hails Dutch finding on responsibility for 1947 massacre

Ruling on 64-year-old atrocity in which 431 people allegedly died at the hands of Dutch troops should set precedent for Indonesia to face up to its own pasta buses, rights activists say.

JAKARTA // Indonesia yesterday welcomed a Dutch court's finding that the Netherlands was responsible for a 1947 massacre in Indonesia in 1947and that victims' families should be compensated.

The foreign ministry spokesman, Michael Tene, said: "It is an important and significant decision which in effect acknowledges and upholds the rights of those civilian victims of the Dutch military's violent acts."

Eight widows and one survivor from the town of Rawagede, east of Jakarta, took the Netherlands to court in 2008 to claim compensation for the execution of men and boys in 1947 by Dutch troops during Indonesia's independence war.

A three-judge bench of The Hague civil court ruled on Wednesday that seven of the eight widows and the family of the survivor should be compensated.

The survivor, Saih Bin Sakam, died at age 88 in May. An eighth widow died before the court papers were lodged.

Dutch authorities say 150 people died, while a victims' association claims 431 lost their lives during an operation to root out a suspected independence fighter hiding in Rawagede.

The Netherlands has in the past admitted that the executions did indeed take place, and in 2009 decided to donate €850,000 (Dh4.3 million) to the area.

It has avoided using the term "compensation", according to the Dutch daily newspaper De Volkskrant.

The court rejected the Dutch argument that no claim could be lodged because of an expiry in the statute of limitations in Dutch law of five years, saying it was "unacceptable".

This argument is used by the Indonesian government to avoid trial over the torture and killings of an estimated 500,000 suspected communists and their sympathisers in 1965-66 as the Suharto dictatorship emerged.

A string of other massacres in Indonesia's history have also evaded trial. The Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (Kontras), the human rights group that led investigations into the killings, said The Hague's decision should push Indonesia to address its own past human rights abuses.

"This [massacre in Rawagede] happened more than 60 years ago. It will send a message to our government that they should take responsibility for their own abuses in Indonesia," Kontras's deputy coordinator, Haris Azhar, said.

"Indonesian authorities always use this excuse, that too much time has passed to bring people to justice, but even recent abuse cases are not taken to court," he said.

A prominent Indonesian rights activist, Andreas Harsono, said that the government had done nothing to address past abuses, and that torture continued today, especially in Indonesia's Papua region and in prisons.

"There have been so many massacres across our country, and in fact there have been more killings by authorities in Indonesia's 60 years of independence than there was in the 200 years that the Dutch ruled the country," Mr Harsono said.

Mr Harsono said the ruling would set a precedent for accountability of gross human rights abuses, an issue that he said had fallen off the agenda in recent years.

"Since 9/11 and the United States war on terror, human rights have lost momentum. This decision by The Hague is a huge step forward for human rights around the world."

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