The Dutch government has said it will apologise for the Netherlands’ role in exploiting more than 600,000 people of the former colonies in 250 years of slavery. This was made known by the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte  in the Hague that the formal apology will take place today which is expected to make terms with the past.

According to Al-Jazeera, one of the former Dutch colonies, Suriname in South America has criticised the Netherlands for unusual timing in issuing the apology.

The group claimed it was not consulted about this date and also felt the decision was made in a random and hurried manner.

They would prefer the apology to be issued on July 1, 2023 – a day which marks the 150th anniversary of the Netherlands abolishing slavery in its former colonies.

Johan Roozer, chairman of the Surinamese National Commemoration of Slavery Remembrance Committee told reporters last week that Rutte probably wanted to stick to this date because of the “changing political situation” in the Netherlands, with far-right Dutch political parties against the apology. 

According to local media reports, the government also plans to announce a 200 million-euro ($212.8m) fund to promote more awareness about the Netherlands’ role in slavery and another 27 million euros ($28.7m) to open a slavery museum.

“All of this definitely gives a form of acknowledgement that finally the country, which is still a democratic monarchy, is ready to talk about the past.

“Basically, everything that the Netherlands stole from the former colonies, especially Suriname, they carried out through slavery,” said Colin de Bie with Dutch and Surinamese background.

“While this acknowledgement is also a form of investigation to understand what exactly happened in the past, it is also important to question what the next step looking into the future will be,” he said.

“Will the government invest in the countries they stole money from? What are their plans to support all the descendants of former slaves who are still struggling?” de Bie, who is based in Amsterdam and works part-time at the Anne Frank House, asked.

The Netherlands’ involvement in slavery began in the 17th century when the transatlantic slave trade was already being carried out by other former European colonial powers like Spain and Portugal.

Through the Dutch West India Company (WIC), the Dutch Empire began colonising large parts of land in South America and the Caribbean and bought slaves from Africa to work on the sugar, cotton and coffee plantations of these lands.

According to a study by Leiden University, “between 1612 and 1872, the Dutch operated from some 10 fortresses along the Gold Coast (now Ghana), from which slaves were shipped across the Atlantic”.

The study also highlighted that the Dutch role in the transatlantic slave trade involved exploiting about 550,000-600,000 Africans.

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