On Monday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte issued a formal apology for the country’s role in slavery over 250 years, referring to it as a ‘crime against humanity’. The apology comes over 150 years after slavery was abolished in the colonial possessions of European nations, including Suriname, islands like Curacao and Aruba in the Caribbean, and Indonesia in the East.
In a speech in The Hague, Rutte apologised on behalf of the Dutch government for the nation’s previous conduct. Living in the present, he remarked, ‘we can only recognise and denounce slavery in the sharpest terms as a crime against humanity’. For the occasion, Dutch ministers have travelled to seven former colonies in South America and the Caribbean. The Dutch finance minister and deputy prime minister, Sigrid Kaag, stated last week during an official visit to Suriname that a ‘process’ will start building up to ‘another tremendously crucial event on July 1 next year’.
Then, at an annual event known as ‘Keti Koti’ (Breaking the Chains in Surinamese), descendants of Dutch slaves will commemorate 150 years of freedom from slavery. However, the proposal has drawn criticism, with organisations and some of the impacted nations claiming it was hurried and that the Netherlands’ lack of engagement smacked of a colonial mindset. However, Rutte stated in his address on Monday that picking the ideal time was a ‘difficult problem’. ‘ There is not one perfect phrase for everyone,’ he stated. ‘There is not one suitable spot for everyone’.
Around 600,000 Africans were transported as slaves by the Dutch, primarily to South America and the Caribbean, to support their ‘Golden Age’ of power and culture. The Hague, Utrecht, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam have all issued formal apologies as a result of mounting domestic pressure. Suriname, Curacao in the Caribbean, South Africa, and Indonesia, where the Dutch East India Company had its headquarters in the 17th century, were just a few of the territories that the United Provinces, now known as the Netherlands, controlled during the height of their colonial empire. The Netherlands has recently been struggling with how much of its ancient cities and museums packed with works by Rembrandt and Vermeer were based on such violence.
Sint Maarten’s prime minister says she will not accept an apology from the Dutch if it is made on Monday. Slavery was formally abolished in Suriname and other Dutch-held lands on July 1, 1863. But the practice only really ended in 1873 after a 10-year ‘transition’ period. An apology should come on the 150th anniversary of that date, in 2023, campaigners say. Slavery commemoration groups say any apology should come on the 150th anniversary of that date, in 2023, instead of the ‘arbitrary’ date of December 19 this year.