A Dutch appeals court has ruled that the statute of limitations does not apply to allegations of crimes in the colonial era, in what lawyers claim is a ground-breaking judgement.

An appeals court in The Hague ruled that six men and women who claim their fathers were murdered by the Dutch state in 1947, during “purges” in what is now Indonesia, can claim for compensation despite the time elapsed.

It also ruled separately that a man tortured when in military confinement in the same period should have €5,000 in compensation, which has gone to his children.

The rulings could set a precedent for up to 20 cases currently going through the Dutch courts, regarding allegations of atrocities during the four-year period from 1945 to 1949 when the Dutch fought ruthlessly to deny Indonesia’s claims to independence after 350 years of colonial rule.

“Globally, this is the first time that an appeal court has ruled about the statute of limitations in a colonial case,” Liesbeth Zegveld, representing the claimants, told The Telegraph. “This could have ramifications for other countries like France and the UK. It also sets a precedent for a number of cases still running, including a pending case of [alleged] rape.”

Indonesia celebrates gaining its independence from Dutch colonial rule every August Credit:
AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana

In 2011, the state apologised for massacres of hundreds of men and boys in a Javanese village, and ten widows were awarded €20,000 each. In 2015 a Dutch court awarded widows and children the right to compensation for unlawful executions in South Sulawesi. The Dutch state had gone to the appeal court to seek clarification on whether the statute of limitations applied.

However, the court of appeal said that the way that the alleged crimes went unrecorded by the Dutch state, the relatively lowly status of the claimants, and the seriousness of the murders meant it was waiving the statute of limitations. “The Court of Appeal believes that the extraordinary seriousness of the violence and high degree of guilt weigh against an appeal to the statute of limitations,” said the judges in a statement.

It also suggested that the plaintiffs may have a lower burden of proof, and now only need to demonstrate they are descended from the murdered men.

A spokesman for the Dutch ministry of defense – which could take the cases to the supreme court – has said that it is studying the rulings before making a decision.