Netherlands Prime Minister Apologizes For Slavery In Historic Speech
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
THE HAGUE/PARAMARIBO (Worthy News) – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has apologized for his nation’s role in centuries of slavery when millions of Black people were traded as cattle, and many died. In a historic speech, he called it a “crime against humanity.”
Rutte’s live televised speech on Monday came ahead of a year when descendants of Dutch slavery will celebrate 150 years of liberation. The annual celebration is called “Keti Koti” (Breaking the Chains) in the Sranan Tongo language of the South American nation of Suriname, which became independent in 1975.
The Dutch role in the transatlantic slave trade involved exploiting up to 600,000 Africans, according to historical records.
For centuries, “people were commodified, exploited and traded in the name of the Dutch state,” Rutte stressed in a speech at the national archives in The Hague.
He said he realized that the apology also has spiritual implications. Rutte admitted he hadn’t always supported an apology for slavery, as the crime happened generations ago.
However, slavery caused “great suffering that continues to affect the lives of people now … And for that, on behalf of the Dutch state, I apologize.”
Rutte’s words were echoed by Dutch ministers who traveled to former colonies in South America and the Caribbean that suffered untold misery during the 250 years of the slave trade that helped fund the Netherlands’ economic and cultural “golden age.”
The move followed the conclusions of a national advisory panel set up after the 2020 killing of Black man George Floyd by police in the United States. It said Dutch participation in slavery had been a crime against humanity and deserved a formal apology and financial reparations.
It has, however, caused controversy, with descendants’ groups and some of the affected countries criticizing it as rushed. They argued that the lack of consultation from the Netherlands showed colonial attitudes still persisted.
Campaigners have said an apology should instead come from the Dutch king, Willem-Alexander, and be made in the former colony of Suriname on July 1 of next year – the 150th anniversary of the day slavery finally ended there.
However, Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch finance minister and deputy prime minister, said on an official visit to Suriname that a “process” would begin leading up to “another incredibly important moment on July 1 next year”.
Descendants of Dutch slavery will then celebrate 150 years of liberation from slavery in an annual celebration called “Keti Koti” (Breaking the Chains) in Surinamese.
Slavery was formally abolished in all Dutch overseas territories on 1 July 1863, making the Netherlands one of the last countries to outlaw the practice.
However, it took another decade to end in Suriname because of a mandatory 10-year transition period.
In Suriname, activists and officials have mixed feelings about the apology. Suriname’s Catholic Bishop Karel Choennie made clear he appreciated Rutte’s moving tribute to descendants and his speech about slavery.
However, critics said the Dutch apology should be backed up by adequate compensation, with some demanding as much as billions in compensation.
Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs of the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten said it was too early to accept the apologies without “a proper dialogue” about slavery, “the most devastating crime against humanity.” In 2013, the Caribbean trade bloc known as Caricom made a list of requests, including that European governments formally apologize and create a repatriation program for those who wish to return to their homeland.
“We are still feeling the effects of that period, so some financial support would be welcome,” said Orlando Daniel, a 46-year-old security guard and a descendant of enslaved people.
The government has proposed a 200-million euro ($211 million) fund for projects to raise awareness about the legacy of slavery.
Earlier Dutch cities such as the capital Amsterdam and several banking institutions, including the Dutch central bank, apologized for their role in the slave trade. Elsewhere, Americans have had emotionally charged fights over taking down statues of slaveholders in the South.
Separately, in 2018, Denmark apologized to Ghana, which it colonized from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century. In June, King Philippe of Belgium expressed “deepest regrets” for abuses in Congo. Two decades earlier, in 1992, Pope John Paul II apologized for what he said was the church’s role in slavery.
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