Dutch leader Mark Rutte apologizes for Dutch role in slave trade
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Monday apologized on behalf of his government for the Netherlands’ historic role in slavery and the slave trade, despite calls for the long-awaited statement to be postponed.
“Today I apologize,” Rutte said in a 20-minute speech that was greeted with silence from an invited audience at the National Archives.
Rutte continued the apology despite urging some activist groups in the Netherlands and its former colonies to wait until July 1 next year, the anniversary of the abolition of slavery 160 years ago. Activists regard next year as the 150th anniversary because many enslaved people were forced to work on plantations for a decade after abolition.
“Why the rush?” Barryl Biekman, chairman of the Netherlands-based National Platform on the Slavery Past, asked before the Prime Minister’s address. Some of the groups went to court last week in a failed attempt to block speech.
Some even went to court last week to block the speech. Rutte referred to the differences of opinion in his remarks on Monday.
“We know there is no one good moment for everyone, no right words for everyone, no right place for everyone,” he said.
He said the government will set up a fund for initiatives to address the legacy of slavery in the Netherlands and its former colonies.
The Dutch government has previously expressed deep regret at the nation’s historic role in slavery but refrained from issuing a formal apology, with Rutte once saying such a statement could polarize society. However, a majority in Parliament now supports an apology.
A ledger with the names of enslaved people is shown at the National Archives in The Hague, Netherlands, December 19, 2022 Speech by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and ceremonies in the former colonies.
Rutte delivered his speech at a time when the brutal colonial history of many nations was being questioned due to the Black Lives Matter movement and the police killing of Black man George Floyd on May 25, 2020 in the US city of Minneapolis.
The Prime Minister’s speech was in response to a report released last year by a government-appointed advisory body. Among their recommendations was the government’s apology and acknowledgment that the slave trade and slavery from the 17th century to the abolition “that took place directly or indirectly under Dutch authority were crimes against humanity”.
The report states that so-called institutional racism in the Netherlands “cannot be seen separately from centuries of slavery and colonialism and the ideas that arose in this context”.
Dutch ministers fanned out on Monday to discuss the issue in Suriname and former colonies that make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands – Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten – as well as three Caribbean islands that are officially special municipalities in the Netherlands, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Sheba.
The government has announced that the year beginning July 1, 2023 will be a memorial year for slavery, during which the country will “pause to reflect on this painful history. And how this story still plays a negative role in the lives of many today.”
This was underscored earlier this month when an independent investigation found widespread racism in the Dutch Foreign Ministry and its diplomatic outposts around the world.
In Suriname, the small South American country where Dutch plantation owners made huge profits using slave labor, activists and officials said they were not asked for contributions, and that reflects Dutch colonial attitudes. What is really needed, they say, is compensation.
The Dutch first became involved in the transatlantic slave trade in the late 16th century and became a major trader by the mid-16th century. Eventually, the Dutch West India Company became the largest transatlantic slave trader, said Karwan Fatah-Black, an expert on Dutch colonial history and an assistant professor at Leiden University.
Dutch cities, including the capital Amsterdam and the port city of Rotterdam, have already apologized for the city fathers’ historic role in the slave trade.
In 2018, Denmark apologized to Ghana, which it colonized from the mid-17th to mid-19th centuries. In June, King Philippe of Belgium expressed his “deepest regret” for abuses in Congo. In 1992, Pope John Paul II apologized for the Church’s role in slavery. Americans have fought emotionally charged battles over the destruction of statues of slave owners in the South.
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