Netherlands PM Rutte apologises for role of Dutch state in slavery

Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands

December 19, 2022

Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Monday apologised on behalf of the Dutch State for its historical role in slavery, and for consequences that he acknowledged continue into the present day.

“Today I apologise,” Rutte said in a nationally televised speech at the Dutch National Archives. “For centuries the Dutch state and its representatives have enabled and stimulated slavery and have profited from it,” he added.

“It is true that nobody alive today bears any personal guilt for slavery…(however) the Dutch state bears responsibility for the immense suffering that has been done to those that were enslaved and their descendants.”             

The apology comes amid a wider reconsideration of the country’s colonial past, including efforts to return looted art, and its current struggles with racism.

The prospect of an apology on a December afternoon in The Hague had been met with resistance from groups who say it should have come from King Willem-Alexander, in former colony Suriname, on July 1, 2023 — the 160th anniversary of Dutch abolition.

“It takes two to tango – apologies have to be received,” said Roy Kaikusi Groenberg of the Honor and Recovery Foundation, a Dutch Afro-Surinamese organisation.

He said it felt wrong that activists who are descendants of slaves had struggled for years to change the national discussion but had not been sufficiently consulted.

“The way the government is handling this, it’s coming across as a neo-colonial belch,” he said.

Rutte acknowledged that the runup to the announcement had been handled clumsily and said the Dutch government was sending representatives to Suriname, as well as Caribbean islands that remain part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands with varying degrees of autonomy: Curacao, Sint Maarten, Aruba, Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius.

TURNING POINT

The Prime Minister of Aruba, Evelyn Wever-Croes, said on Monday the apology was welcome and a “turning point in history within the Kingdom”.

Rutte was responding to a national advisory panel set up following the 2020 killing of George Floyd in the United States.

The panel said that Dutch participation in slavery had amounted to crimes against humanity and in 2021 recommended an apology and reparations. Rutte on Monday said his government embraced those conclusions, including that slavery had been a crime against humanity.

However, he ruled out reparations at a news conference last week, though the Dutch government is setting up a 200 million euro educational fund.

“What was completely missing from this speech is responsibility and accountability,” said Armand Zunder, chairman of Suriname’s National Reparations Commission, though he said it had been a “step forward”.

“If you recognise that crimes against humanity were committed then the next step is you say I’m responsible for it, we’re liable for it …. Indeed I’m talking about reparations.”

Dutch press agency ANP reported that in Curacao a Dutch government delegate said in a speech that Tula, a historical figure who led a slave revolt in 1795 and was executed, would have his reputation restored. The report said the speech was greeted with long and loud applause.

Historians estimate Dutch traders shipped more than half a million enslaved Africans to the Americas, mostly to Brazil and the Caribbean. As many or more Asians were enslaved in the East Indies, modern Indonesia.

Many Dutch people take pride in the country’s naval history and prowess as a trading nation. However, children are taught little of the role in the slave trade played by the Dutch West India Company and the Dutch East India Company, key sources of national wealth.

Despite the Dutch reputation for tolerance, racism is a significant problem.

Citizens of Antillean, Turkish and Moroccan ancestry report high rates of discrimination in their everyday lives and recent studies have shown they face significant disadvantages in the workplace and in the housing market.

Reporting by Toby Sterling, Ank Kuipers, Bart Meijer and Charlotte Van Campenhout; Editing by Ed Osmond


Afro-Guyanese organisation welcomes Dutch apology for slavery

 The International Decade for People of African Descent Assembly-Guyana (IDAPADA-G) on Monday welcomed The Netherlands apology for the role that European country had played in the capture and enslavement of millions of Africans, many of whom had been brought to Guyana to work on plantations.

“We consider this apology a significant step in the acceptance of guilt and the demonstration of penitence for the involvement of the Dutch in the worse crime ever committed against humanity,” IDPADA-G Chairman, Vincent Alexander said in an open letter to The Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

While that apology was targeted at the former Dutch colony of Suriname and Netherlands’ existing dependencies- Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Saba and Dutch St Maarten- Mr Alexander indicated that present day Guyana and African Guyanese feel connected to the apology. “Even as we acknowledge these aspects of the legacy woven into the fabric of our society and enduring today, we, as African Guyanese and descendants of the victims of this unspeakable crime, look forward to the formal apology,” he said.

Mr Alexander noted that much of Guyana’s legal and land conveyancing systems are legacies of the long period of Dutch colonial administration that ended in 1803.

IDPADA-G said it viewed The Netherlands’ apology for the Trans-Atlantic Trade in captive Africans as the start of a process that would eventually lead to compensation for slavery and all of the attendant and enduring ills.

“We look forward to subsequent initiatives on your Government’s part in response to the just and global call for reparations as the ultimate act of recompense,” said Mr Alexander who is closely associated with the People’s National Congress Reform political party whose supporters are mainly Afro-Guyanese.

IDPADA-G praised The Netherlands government’s commitment to reparations, saying that it is manifest in some actions taken in the post-colonial era. The organisation noted that it enjoys beneficial relations in the archival sphere. “Those relations can go a far way in the pursuit of recognition for the peoples of African descent, recognition being one of the goals of the UN declared decade to which your government subscribed,” he said.

Mr Alexander hoped that that initiative would strengthen the current relations of The Netherlands and Guyana based on the universal
principle of mutual respect and the embrace of the principles which they all subscribe to as members of the United Nations.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Suriname, the Federation of Grassroots Afro Surinamers has rejected the Dutch government’s apology and wants compensation of 400,000 euros per descendant of transatlantic slavery for people living in Suriname, the Netherlands or elsewhere. Further, that organisation is calling for a tax-free, unconditional advance of 50,000 euros per descendant.

Suriname’s opposition National Democratic Party (NDP) refused an invitation for the viewing of Prime Minister Rutte’s apology at The Netherlands embassy in Paramaribo, labelling the action by the Dutch as unilateral. “In order to arrive at reconciliation and reparation with regard to slavery and indentured labor practiced in Suriname, agreements can only be made in a bilateral process with all actors involved. Unfortunately, so far the Dutch government unilaterally determines what acts can be committed and when they will take place,” the NDP said.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Comments

  • Andre Brandli  On 12/21/2022 at 3:52 am

    A step forward for the Netherlands. I would have however preferred to hear the apology from the King and Head of State. One of my great-grandmothers was born on a plantation in Nickerie, Suriname in 1869. She was the daughter of a slave freed in 1863 and the Jewish plantation owner. Hence, the apology is also relevant to me and my relatives.

  • Brother Man  On 12/21/2022 at 5:37 am

    The British should also apologize and the British Monarchy should cease to exist. This lingering, criminal legacy of colonialism, slavery and global exploitation is an insult to humanity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: