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Rutte: “Sincere apologies” for Indonesia violence after “penetrating” decolonization report

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The main conclusions of the report “Independence, Decolonization, Violence and War in Indonesia, 1945 – 1950” are both “penetrating and confronting,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in an initial reaction. “They are tough but inescapable. The Cabinet endorses the conclusions. We have to face the shameful facts.”

The research covers the period from the proclamation of the Republic of Indonesia by Sukarno on August 17, 1945 up to and including 1949, the year in which the Netherlands signed the transfer of sovereignty on December 27. It was carried out by the Royal Institute for Language, Land and Ethnology (KITLV), the Netherlands Institute for Military History (NIMH) and the NIOD, the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

“I am today offering a sincere apology to the people of Indonesia for the systematic, and widespread extreme violence by the Dutch during those years, and the previous Cabinets who consistently looked away,” Rutte said. “These apologies are what they are: Full recognition that we have all failed,” he added.

“The Netherlands waged a colonial war in which extreme violence was used systematically and widely, up to torture, which in most cases went unpunished,” Rutte said at a press conference in Brussels. “The prevailing culture was one of looking away, shirking responsibility, and a misplaced colonial sense of superiority.” It is, he said, “a painful observation and we have to take that into account”.

According to the prime minister, the responsibility for “this black page in our history” lies first and foremost with the authorities at the time. “The Dutch government, parliament, the armed forces as an institution and the judicial authorities. The Cabinet takes full responsibility for their collective failure, which was the basis of the extreme violence in the period described.”

Rutte also went beyond those apologies offered by King Willem-Alexander nearly two years ago on an official visit to Jakarta. “Each generation has to relate to its own past, including us, and we feel that very strongly today,” Rutte said. “This study paints a full picture of the tragedy of this period.”

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