Dutch leader apologizes for Netherlands role in slave trade

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Monday apologized on behalf of his government for the Netherlands’ role in slavery and the slave trade, in a speech campaigners hailed as historic but no concrete plans for Repairs and repairs included.

“Today I apologize,” Rutte said in a 20-minute speech that was greeted with silence from an invited audience at the National Archives.

Before the speech, Waldo Koendjbiharie, a pensioner who was born in Suriname but lived in the Netherlands for years, said an apology is not enough.

“It’s about money. Apologies are words and words can’t buy anything,” he said.

Rutte told reporters after the speech that the government does not offer compensation to “people — grandchildren or great-grandchildren of enslaved people.”

Instead, it is setting up a €200 million fund for initiatives to help address the legacy of slavery in the Netherlands and its former colonies, and to promote education on the subject.

Rutte apologized “for the actions of the Dutch state in the past: posthumously to all enslaved people worldwide who have suffered from these actions, to their daughters and sons and to all their descendants to the here and now.”

Rutte described how more than 600,000 African men, women and children were shipped “like cattle” by Dutch slave traders, mostly to the former colony of Suriname, and said the story was often “ugly, painful and even downright shameful”.

Rutte went on with the apology, although some activist groups in the Netherlands and its former colonies had urged him to wait until July 1 next year, the anniversary of the abolition of slavery 160 years ago, and said they were not sufficiently consulted on it been process up to speech. Activists regard next year as the 150th anniversary because many enslaved people were forced to work on plantations for a decade after abolition.

Mitchell Esajas, director of an organization called The Black Archives and a member of the Black Manifesto activist group, did not attend the speech despite being invited, citing the “almost insulting” lack of consultation with the black community.

He said it was a historic moment but lamented the lack of a concrete plan for redress.

“Reparation was not even mentioned,” Esajas said. “So, fine words, but it’s not clear what the next concrete steps will be.”

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.

In Suriname, the small South American country where Dutch plantation owners made huge profits by using enslaved labor, the main opposition party, the NDP, condemned the Dutch government for not adequately consulting the descendants of enslaved people in the country. Activists across the country say what is really needed is compensation.

“The NDP therefore expresses its disapproval of this unilateral decision-making process and notes that the Netherlands is comfortably resuming the role of mother country,” the party said in a statement.

The year that begins July 1, 2023 will be a commemorative year for slavery, during which the Netherlands will “pause to reflect on this painful history. And how this story still plays a negative role in the lives of many today,” the government says.

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.

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.

Now the Netherlands are joining them.

But for some in the black community, the remarkable day was tinged with disappointment.

“For many people it’s a very beautiful and historic moment, but with – in Dutch we say – a bitter aftertaste… and it should have been a historic moment with a sweet aftertaste,” said Esajas.

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Gerold Rozenblad in Paramaribo, Suriname contributed to this.

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Read all AP articles on racial issues at https://apnews.com/hub/racial-injustice.

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