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International News: The Netherlands is first of major European slave-trading nations to apologize

Den Haag, 19-12-2022 Toespraak minister-president Rutte naar aanleiding van kabinetsreactie slavernijverleden. Foto Martijn Beekman / RVD

Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2022. 7:46 am CST.

Photo Credit: Martijn Beekman/Government of the Netherlands

By Aaron Humes: “Today I apologize.”

Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, speaking at the National Archives in The Hague, said these words on Monday as he spoke of his country’s contribution to the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade and its practice in its Caribbean dependencies – Sint Maarten, the former Netherlands Antilles, and Aruba.

“For centuries, the Dutch State and its representatives facilitated, stimulated, preserved and profited from slavery. For centuries, in the name of the Dutch State, human beings were made into commodities, exploited and abused. For centuries, under Dutch state authority, human dignity was violated in the most horrific way possible. And successive Dutch governments after 1863 failed to adequately see and acknowledge that our slavery past continued to have negative effects and still does. For that I offer the apologies of the Dutch government,” Rutte said, continuing that the apology, directed to those affected directly and indirectly, represents the first step in finding a way to move “forward together.”

Rutte said he had personally experienced a change in his thinking after visiting Suriname and listening to stories of survival and learning of the atrocities committed on slaves right up to the formal abolition by the Dutch in 1814, and the ultimate end of slavery in 1863 – though slaves continued working for the state for another ten years. The 150th anniversary of that event comes next year.

Rutte added: “It is true that no one alive now is personally to blame for slavery. But it is also true that the Dutch State, in all its manifestations through history, bears responsibility for the terrible suffering inflicted on enslaved people and their descendants. So we cannot ignore the effects of the past on the present.”

The apology forms part of the response to the July 2021 report titled “Chains of the Past” by the Slavery History Dialogue Group, whose watchwords are “acknowledgment, apology, recovery.”

On Tuesday, the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) in a statement said it “welcomes this statement which it views as long overdue to the victims of the trans-Atlantic trade in enslaved Africans, chattel slavery in the Caribbean and their descendants.” The CRC since 2013 has been actively pursuing reparations from the former colonizing nations of Europe, most especially the United Kingdom, whose royal family on visits to the region this year acknowledged, but stopped short of apologies for, their family’s and country’s role in slavery. Belize’s National Assembly this year passed a motion supporting and agreeing to participate in that movement.

The CRC wants a commitment by the Dutch government to enter into reparations negotiations with CARICOM, Africa and Indigenous Caribbean communities. It plans a press conference on the matter this morning Belize time.


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