THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- In a groundbreaking decision, an appeals court in the Netherlands ruled Tuesday that the statute of limitations does not apply to allegations of colonial era crimes committed by Dutch forces in what is now Indonesia.
The Hague Court of Appeal issued rulings in two cases linked to torture and summary executions by Dutch forces during Indonesia's struggle for independence after World War II.
"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," said lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, who represented the claimants. "I'm happy that the court has now issued this principal ruling."
Indonesia proclaimed independence on Aug. 17, 1945, declaring an end to Japan's World War II dominance as well as 350 years of Dutch colonial rule. But the Netherlands fought fiercely to maintain control for four years before recognizing Indonesia's independence in 1949 and has been accused of committing atrocities during the conflict.
The court said the Dutch state cannot rely on the statute of limitations in the case of five men and a woman who say they are the children of men executed in South Sulawesi, and another case of a man who was tortured while in detention in East Java.
Defense Ministry spokesman Klaas Meijer said the ministry is studying the rulings before deciding its next steps. The government could appeal again to higher courts.
Summarizing the rulings, the court said the appeals chamber "believes that especially the extreme seriousness and the large scale of blame for the violence used stand in the way" of claiming the statute of limitations.
Judges said the passage of time created problems with evidence but added that the claimants suffered the most from that as they have to satisfy the burden of proof in the case. The judges added that Dutch authorities also were largely to blame for the problems with evidence because they "neglected to register who was shot dead or abused and where it happened."
The case involving the victims of summary executions will now return to court so that judges can decide if the claimants are indeed the children of the executed men.
In the case of the man tortured while in Dutch custody, the victim who was beaten and had a cigarette stubbed out on his head was awarded 5,000 euros ($5,450) compensation.