BY NAN STAFF WRITER
News Americas, HAGUE, Netherlands, Mon. Dec. 19, 2022: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte made history Monday, becoming the first leader of a Western nation to apologize for the country’s role in slavery, but sidestepped an offer of reparations.
In a speech in the National Archives in The Hague today, Rutte officially apologized for 250 years of the Netherlands’ involvement in slavery, calling it a crime against humanity. The Netherlands was one of the last countries to abolish slavery in 1863.
“Today I apologize,” Rutte said in a 20-minute speech that was greeted with silence by an invited audience at the National Archive. Rutte also apologized “for the actions of the Dutch state in the past: posthumously to all enslaved people worldwide who have suffered from those actions, to their daughters and sons, and to all their descendants into the here and now.”
Describing how more than 600,000 African men, women and children were shipped, mostly to the former colony of Suriname, by Dutch slave traders, Rutte said that history often is “ugly, painful, and even downright shameful.”
But after the speech, Rutte told reporters that the government is not offering compensation to “people — grandchildren or great grandchildren of enslaved people.” Black advocates have long called for reparative justice for hundreds of years of slavery.
He said The Netherlands will instead establish a 200 million euro ($212 million) fund for initiatives to help tackle the legacy of slavery in the Netherlands and its former colonies and to boost education about the issue.
The prime minister’s address was a response to a report published last year by a government-appointed advisory board. Its recommendations included the government’s apology and recognition that the slave trade and slavery from the 17th century until abolition “that happened directly or indirectly under Dutch authority were crimes against humanity.”
Waldo Koendjbiharie, a retiree who was born in the CARICOM South American nation of Suriname but lived for years in the Netherlands, said an apology was not enough.
“It’s about money. Apologies are words and with those words you can’t buy anything,” he told the AP.
In Suriname where Dutch plantation owners generated huge profits through the use of enslaved labor, activists and officials say they have not been asked for input, and that’s a reflection of a Dutch colonial attitude. What’s really needed, they say, is compensation.
The speech came as Dutch ministers fanned out 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 Saba.
The Dutch first became involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the late 1500s and became a major trader in the mid-1600s. Eventually, the Dutch West India Company became the largest trans-Atlantic slave trader. In July, The Dutch Central Bank apologized for its role in the Atlantic slave trade and pledged to support initiatives that aim to reduce the repercussions of the legacy of slavery.