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The Netherlands issues an official apology for slavery

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The Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte presented this Monday, December 19, during a speech in The Hague, the official apologies of the government for the role of the Dutch State in slavery, which he described as ” crime against humanity “.

“Today I apologize on behalf of the Dutch government for the actions of the Dutch state in the past: posthumously to all slaves around the world who suffered from this act. To their daughters and sons and to all their descendants”said Mark Rutte.

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“We can only recognize and condemn slavery in the clearest terms as a crime against humanity”.

This speech on the involvement of the Netherlands in the 250 years of human trafficking was eagerly awaited. At the same time, several of his ministers were present in seven former colonies, in Suriname and in the Caribbean, to discuss the issue with the inhabitants.

“People have been turned into commodities. Human dignity has been trampled on, in a horrific way”added Mark Rutte, before saying ” I apologize “ in English, Sranan (Surinamese Creole) and Papiamento (Netherlands Antillean Creole).

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A turning point

The Prime Minister of Aruba, a small island in the Netherlands Antilles located off the coast of Venezuela, welcomed this “turning point in the history of the kingdom” From the Netherlands. “A sincere apology is always welcome”said Evelyn Wever-Croes, quoted by the Dutch news agency ANP.

But the government’s willingness to apologize on Monday, which leaked to the Dutch press in November, had sparked fierce controversy in the Netherlands and overseas for several weeks. Slavery commemoration organizations wanted the apology to be delivered on July 1, 2023, the date marking 150 years since the end of slavery at an annual celebration called “Keti Koti” (Break the chains) in Surinamese.

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Sint Maarten Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs told Dutch media on Saturday that the island would not accept a Dutch apology if presented on Monday.

“There is no one right time for everyone, not one right word for everyone, not one right place for everyone”Mark Rutte said about it on Monday.

“Slavery has existed everywhere, on all continents, at all times”

golden age

Slavery helped fund the “golden century” Dutch, a period of prosperity thanks to maritime trade in the 16th and 17th centuries. The country trafficked around 600,000 Africans, mostly to South America and the Caribbean.

At the height of its colonial empire, the United Provinces, known today as the Netherlands, had colonies such as Suriname, the Caribbean island of Curacao, South Africa and Indonesia, where the Dutch East India Company was based in the 17th century.

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Slavery was formally abolished in Suriname and other Dutch-held territories on July 1, 1863, but did not really end until 1873 after a period of ” transition “ 10 years old.

Dutch ministers were on Monday in the Caribbean islands: Bonaire, Sint Maarten, Aruba, Curaçao, Saba and Saint-Eustache, and in Suriname.

“We must face the past openly”

In recent years, the Netherlands has begun to come to terms with its role in slavery. The cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague have officially apologized. Mark Rutte has long had reservations about issuing a formal apology, saying in the past that the era of slavery was too old and that an apology would stoke tensions in a country where the far right remains strong.

“I thought: slavery is a history that is far behind us. I was wrong “he explained on Monday, “because centuries of oppression and exploitation affect the present, in racist stereotypes, discrimination and social inequality”.

“And to break that, we have to face the past openly and honestly”added the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, where just 38% of the adult population were in favor of an official apology, according to a recent poll.

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