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Expressing Deep Regret, And…

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte recently offered a formal apology on behalf of his country for the Netherlands’ historical role in the slave trade.

Delivering a speech in The Hague on December 19, 2022, Prime Minister Rutte said: “Today, on behalf of the Dutch Government, I apologise for the past actions of the Dutch State. For centuries, the Dutch State and its representatives have enabled and stimulated slavery and have profited from it. It is true that nobody alive today bears any personal guilt for slavery… (however) the Dutch State bears responsibility for the immense suffering that has been done to those that were enslaved and their descendants.” He admitted that slavery should be recognised in “the clearest terms” as “a crime against humanity“.

However, former Dutch colonies, like Suriname, have complained that it was a random and hasty decision by the Rutte Administration. It may be noted that the Netherlands got involved in slave trade in the 17th Century. Former European imperial powers, including Spain and Portugal, had already been in slave trade. The Netherlands had colonised a number of South American and the Caribbean nations through the Dutch West India Company. The Dutch had reportedly recruited around 600,000 slaves from Africa for producing sugar, cotton and coffee in those regions. The Dutch East India Company, too, had introduced slavery in Asia, as they used to enslave the people of Arakan before sending them to Batavia or Jakarta (in Indonesia). Although the Netherlands abolished the practice of slavery in 1863, the trade continued in Suriname until 1873.

Experts are of the opinion that Prime Minister Rutte’s recent move is an attempt to erase the tainted history of the inhumane slave trade, and to get accustomed to the contemporary (liberal) culture. Interestingly, the Dutch Premier had refused to deliver the apology in the past, stating that such a move could trigger a polarising debate in his country. Now, he has done a volte-face, announcing that his Government would soon establish a fund for initiatives in order to help tackle the legacy of slavery in the Netherlands and former Dutch colonies. In fact, the Rutte Administration plans to spend EUR 200 million on a fund, promoting awareness about the Colonial Power’s role in slavery, and another EUR 27 million to open a Slavery Museum.

Meanwhile, Silveria Elfrieda Jacobs, the Prime Minister of Sint Maarten, has made it clear that the Caribbean island did not accept the Dutch apology, stressing: “Let me be clear that we won’t accept an apology until our advisory committee has discussed it and we as a country discussed it.Rhoda Arrindell, a Sint Maartener linguist and advocate for the Independence of Sint Maarten from the Netherlands, has strongly criticised the Dutch apology, stating that it did not “measure up to the standards of what an official legal apology should look like“. According to Arrindell, reparations should “be part of the conversation“. The linguist has argued that Amsterdam, by ruling them out, showed it was not sincere in its Apology.

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