Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized on Monday on behalf of the Dutch state for his historical role in slavery and recognized that the slave trade practiced by the country was a crime against humanity.
“Today I apologize. For centuries the Dutch state and its representatives have permitted and encouraged slavery and profited from it,” Rutte said in a televised speech from the National Archives in The Hague.
“It is true that no one alive today bears any personal blame for slavery. However, the Dutch State bears responsibility for the immense suffering that was done to those who were enslaved and their descendants.”
Rutte also delivered the apologies in English, Papiamento and Surinamese, languages spoken in the Caribbean islands and Suriname.
The apology is a response to the “Currents of the Past” report —prepared by an advisory panel formed after the George Floyd murderin the United States in 2020—and comes amid a broader reconsideration of the country’s colonial past, including efforts to return looted artwork.
The date chosen by the government to apologize, which was leaked to the Dutch press in November, provoked a fierce controversy at home and abroad. Anti-slavery memory organizations wanted the apology on July 1, 2023, the date on which the end of slavery is commemorated in an annual celebration called “Keti Koti” (break the chains) in Suriname.
“It takes two to tango — apologies must be received,” said Roy Kaikusi Groenberg of the Honor and Recovery Foundation, an Afro-Surinamese Dutch organisation.
He said, however, that it seemed wrong that activists descended from slaves had struggled for years to change the national discussion on the issue but had not been sufficiently consulted. “The way the government is handling this is looking like a neocolonial burp,” he said.
At the same time that Rutte was speaking in The Hague, several of his ministers were present in the former colonies of Bonaire, Sint Maarten, Aruba, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius and Suriname, to discuss the topic with the local inhabitants.
Aruba Prime Minister Evelyn Wever-Croes said on Monday the apology was welcome and is a “turning point in the history of the Kingdom”.
Panel members asserted that Dutch involvement in slavery amounted to crimes against humanity, and last year they recommended an apology and reparations.
But the prime minister ruled out reparations at a press conference last week, even though the Dutch government is setting up a €200m (£250m) education fund to raise awareness of crimes and abuses committed during the period.
“What was completely missing from this speech was responsibility and accountability,” said Armand Zunder, chairman of Suriname’s National Reparations Commission, although he said the apology was a “step forward”.
“If you recognize that crimes against humanity have been committed, the next step is to say that I am responsible for this, we are responsible for this. In fact, I am talking about reparations.”
Earlier this month, the King of the Netherlands ordered the opening of an independent investigation into the role of monarchy during the colonial period.
The Dutch played an important role in global trade in enslaved people during the 17th to 19th centuries. The Dutch West India Company, made up of merchants from the country, operated ships that trafficked around 600,000 people, according to data from the Dutch State.
Enslaved people were forced to work under harsh and inhumane conditions on plantations in the Dutch overseas colonies in the Caribbean and the america On the🇧🇷 In Brazil, the Dutch clashed with forces from Portugal and installed a colony in the Northeast, based in Recife, from 1630 to 1654.
Slavery was abolished in Suriname and other Dutch-controlled territories on 1 July 1863, but it did not end until 1873, after a 10-year transition period.
Many Dutch people take pride in the country’s naval history and prowess as a trading nation. However, children learn little about the role in the slave trade played by the Dutch West India Company and the Dutch East India Company, major sources of national wealth.
Despite the Dutch reputation for tolerance, racism is a significant problem in the country. Citizens of Antillean, Turkish and Moroccan descent report high rates of discrimination in their everyday lives and recent studies have shown that they face significant disadvantages in the job market.