Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized Monday for the Netherlands’ “slavery past,” which he said continues to have “negative effects.”
Rutte’s comments were part of the Dutch government’s wider acknowledgment of the country’s colonial past, and an official response to a report entitled “Chains of the Past” by the Slavery History Dialogue Group, published in July 2021.
“For centuries under Dutch state authority, human dignity was violated in the most horrific way possible,” Rutte said during a speech at the country’s National Archives in The Hague.
“And successive Dutch governments after 1863 failed to adequately see and acknowledge that our slavery past continued to have negative effects and still does. For that I offer the apologies of the Dutch government,” the Dutch prime minister said.
Rutte also spoke briefly in English on Monday, saying: “Today, I apologize.”
“For centuries, the Dutch state and its representatives facilitated, stimulated, preserved, and profited from slavery. For centuries, in the name of the Dutch State, human beings were made into commodities, exploited, and abused,” Rutte said.
He said that slavery must be condemned as “crime against humanity.”
Rutte acknowledged that he had experienced a personal “change in thinking” and said that he was wrong to have thought that the Netherlands’ role in slavery was “a thing of the past.”
“It is true that no one alive now is personally to blame for slavery. But it is also true that the Dutch State, in all its manifestations through history, bears responsibility for the terrible suffering inflicted on enslaved people and their descendants,” he said.
In early 2020, the Dutch government returned a stolen ceremonial crown to the Ethiopian government.
The country profited greatly from the slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries; one of the roles of the Dutch West India Co. was to transport slaves from Africa to the Americas. The Dutch didn’t ban slavery in its territories until 1863, though it was illegal in the Netherlands.
Dutch traders are estimated to have shipped more than half a million enslaved Africans to the Americas, Reuters reports. Many went to Brazil and the Caribbean, while a considerable number of Asians were enslaved in the Dutch East Indies, which is modern Indonesia, the agency wrote.
Dutch children are however taught little about the role Netherlands played in the the slave trade, Reuters added.
Conversations about the country’s attitude to race have long-surrounded one of its holiday traditions. The character of “Black Pete” typically sees a white person wearing full blackface, an Afro wig, red lipstick and earrings, and is often part of the Netherlands’ St. Nicholas festivities in December.
Rutte in 2020 said the country his views on “Black Pete” had undergone “major changes” – but he wouldn’t go as far as banning it.