Netherlands PM Rutte apologises for role of Dutch State in slavery

Netherlands PM Rutte apologises  for role of Dutch State in slavery

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte responds to recommendations from a panel of experts to accept the role of the Netherlands in the history of slavery and its current consequences in The Hague on Monday, December 19, 2022. (Reuters/Piroschka van de Wouw photo)

THE HAGUE--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, speaking at a nationally televised speech at the Dutch National Archives.


A document showing a list of enslaved persons owned by the West India Company on Bonaire is displayed at the National Archive in The Hague. (Reuters/Piroschka van de Wouw photo)

“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 – Ed.] 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 Honour and Recovery Foundation, a Dutch Afro-Surinamese organisation.

  He said it felt wrong that activists who are descendants of slaves have 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 run-up 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: Curaçao, St. Maarten, Aruba, Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius.

  Prime Minister of St. Maarten Silveria Jacobs said last week she would not accept an apology without a discussion.

  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 said his government embraced those conclusions, including that slavery had been a crime against humanity. He ruled out reparations at a news conference last week, though the Dutch government is setting up a 200 million euro educational fund.

  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 Dutch East Indies, the modern-day Indonesia.

  Many Dutch people take pride in the Netherlands’ 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.

The Daily Herald

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