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Dutch government to officially apologize for slavery, set up fund to heal 'historical suffering'

The Netherlands, one of the last countries to abolish slavery in 1863, wants to establish a fund 'for structural and sustainable financing of recovery measures.'

Dutch government to officially apologize for slavery, set up fund to heal 'historical suffering'
Cover Image: The Binnenhof castle with Gothic architecture from 13th Century at Hofvijver lake in The Hague, Netherlands. The Binnenhof is the oldest House of Parliament in the world still in use. (Getty Image/ Paulo Amorim)

A period of nearly 200 years of slavery came to an end in the former Dutch colonies of Suriname and the Dutch Antilles on 1 July 1863, according to the African Studies Department at Leiden University. Now, more than a century and a half after slavery was officially abolished in the Netherlands, the Dutch government is planning to apologize for its historic role in the slave trade, reports Bloomberg. It also plans to set up a fund—which may be as big as 200 million euros ($204 million)—for projects that aim to raise awareness about the legacy of slavery, according to people familiar with the matter. The fund will be announced after an official apology for the nation's role in slavery is made by the end of this year or early 2023.



The Netherlands played a key role in trans-Atlantic slavery from the 17th to the 19th centuries in Suriname, Brazil, the Caribbean, South Africa and Asia, where the Dutch East India Company operated. It was one of the last countries to abolish slavery in 1863. Further, slaves in Suriname fully became free only in 1873. With an aim to start a social dialogue about the Dutch slavery past and its impact on contemporary society, an Advisory Board Dialogue Group was set up on 1 July 2020. The board recognized: "Apologies help in the healing of historical suffering, but apologies are mainly aimed at building a common future." Making a commitment to tackle the consequences of slavery integrally and systemically, the board made many recommendations, one of which was the "establishment of a Kingdom Fund as of 1 July 2023 for structural and sustainable financing of recovery measures."



The board also said that July 1 should be turned into a national day of remembrance. Following the recommendations of the board, Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema made a formal apology in June 2021 for the city’s role in the slave trade, reports Politico. “On behalf of the city’s administration, I apologize for the active involvement of the Amsterdam city council in the commercial system of colonial slavery and the worldwide trade in enslaved people,” Halsema said during a Keti Koti ceremony—meaning "chains broken" to mark the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the former colonies of Suriname and the Dutch Antilles. “It is time to embed the great injustice of colonial slavery into the identity of our city, through broad and unconditional recognition.”



During the Keti Koti ceremony of 2022, DNB apologized for the institution's involvement in the slave trade. An investigation in February this year revealed that early private investors of the Dutch central bank (DNB) either owned or financed plantations in overseas colonies, according to DW. It also revealed that bank directors advocated against the abolishment of slavery in the Netherlands. Klaas Knot, the central bank governor, expressing his apology said in his speech, "On behalf of DNB, I apologize today to all people who by the personal choices of my predecessors were reduced to the color of their skin." DNB further promised to fund projects aimed at mitigating "contemporary negative effects of 19th-century slavery" amounting to 5 million euros ($4.98 million) in the next 10 years. The bank also said it will provide additional one-time funding of 5 million euros for a number of initiatives such as the National Research Center on the History of Slavery.



State-run lender ABN Amro Bank said its predecessor Hope & Co. was actively involved in the day-to-day business of plantations. Another predecessor, Mees en Zoonen, brokered insurance for slave ships and shipments of goods harvested by enslaved people. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that “a significant moment is to be expected later this year” concerning the Dutch role in slavery.

The Netherlands would be among the first in Europe to set aside money as an apology for slavery. Outside Europe, Canada has agreed to address the economic impact of slavery in the form of reparations by providing compensation of C$40 billion towards the First Nation children for being separated from their families. Australia and New Zealand have also agreed to compensate Indigenous people for the harm they suffered from settlers.


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