Caribbean reparations activists react to Dutch Government's apology for slavery
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte talks to invited guests after apologising on behalf of his Government for the Netherlands' historical role in slavery and the slave trade at the National Archives in The Hague, Monday, December 19, 2022. (Photos: AP)

REGIONAL reparations activists have welcomed/accepted the apology issued by the Kingdom of the Netherlands for African enslavement, but express disappointment that the statement stopped short of committing to reparation discussions with the afflicted parties.

In the statement, which was delivered on Monday by Netherlands's Prime Minister Mark Rutte, he formally apologised on behalf of his Government for the Dutch State's role in abetting, stimulating, preserving and profiting from centuries of slave trading.

On Wednesday, members of the Caricom Reparations Commission (CRC) voiced their opinions on the apology at a virtual media engagement hosted by the CRC in collaboration with the Centre for Reparations Research at The University of the West Indies (The UWI).

Chairman, CRC and vice-chancellor, The UWI, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, said the Netherlands's prime minister's statement is viewed as a comma rather than a fullstop, noting that this metaphor is encouraging and offers hope for the future.

"The Caricom Reparations Commission is keen to enable the prime minister, therefore, to complete this Dutch sentence. It looks forward to the next step, which must be a dialogue with the nations and communities that continue to suffer and expect therefore to be treated with the dignity of participating in a dialogue with the Dutch State," he said.

He said the commission is looking forward to meeting with the Dutch prime minister and his team of representatives from the Dutch State to speak about the movement of the statement of apology into a "development approach in which reparatory justice is at the centre of the conversation".

"The Caribbean has made its point of view perfectly clear, that reparations for the region is about the implementation of a development plan that seeks to clean up the colonial mess left behind in the Caribbean and to position the region to be more sustainable and competitive within the context of the world economy," he said.

He lamented that the "depth of poverty, illiteracy, ill-health and all of the social and economic consequences of colonisation have remained at the centre of the Caribbean experience", and that a dialogue of this nature can be the basis on which those states that have extracted wealth for hundreds of years from the Caribbean region can now participate in a development strategy and a development model that the region and its victim communities are entitled to.

"We are hoping therefore to be in a position to meet with the Dutch Government at a suitable time to begin the process of implementing the prime minister's vision of an apology and the consequences of that for rehabilitation in the region in the Caribbean and bringing beautiful satisfaction and closure to this terrible phase in human history," he said.

In his remarks, chairman, National Reparations Committee of Suriname Armand Zunder said the presentation of an apology of the Dutch administration, "came a little unexpected because it wasn't the result of a process of dialogue, it was actually a result of a one-way-street approach that was presented on the 19th of December."

"It was considered within the Surinamese community, as a milestone. It was especially accepted by elderly Surinamese people very emotionally also in the Netherlands, because they had been waiting for this statement," he added.

Zunder noted, however, that as the information in the statement continues to be processed, it is noticeable that the crimes against humanity committed against the indigenous people of Suriname was not included and the responsibility the Dutch Government "has to take to entering the process of repair that actually will be the next step".

He noted, however, that the Surinamese people are "content" with the fact that the Dutch prime minister mentioned after his statement, a process of dialogue will start "and from the perspective of the Surinamese Reparations Commission, we expect that the King of the Netherlands on the 1st of July next year, which commemorates 150 years of ending of slavery in Suriname, that he will to Suriname and give an apology as the symbolic representative of the Dutch people."

"Meanwhile, before that, I think that from January 1, we will start talking with the Dutch Government and, of course, from the perspective of Caricom procedures, strategies which are laid down in the 10-point plan for reparatory justice," he added.

Further, chairman of the Guyana Reparations Committee Eric Phillips said that the Guyanese people "were somewhat dismayed" that as a former Dutch colony, the Cooperative Republic of Guyana was not mentioned in the apology.

He noted that Guyana was a Dutch colony from 1616 to 1812 — a period of 196 years, noting that at one time, there were over 300 Dutch-owned plantations in Guyana.

"We in Guyana, however, welcome the courageous step taken by the prime minister of the Netherlands. We see the apology as a portal — a gateway between the mental, spiritual,economic, financial, health, cultural and psychological crises — that people of African descent live with daily in the former colonies," he said.

Phillips said the Guyanese people see the apology as the beginning of constructive dialogue that will lead to repair, to reparatory justice.

"The apology is an important first step…let us engage the process of justice, especially during the final years of the International Decade for People of African Descent whose motto is recognition, justice, development — recognition of the crime through an apology which was just done by the Dutch prime minister, we need to see justice which is reparatory justice and then we need to use those resources from reparatory justice for development plans," he said.

In the meantime, co-chair, National Council on Reparation and director, Centre for Reparations Research at UWI, Professor Verene Shepherd, acknowledged the statement of apology as "a step in the right direction".

She said it was a reflection of the success of all reparations activists on all sides of the Atlantic, including the Caricom Reparations Commission "who have been calling in all former colonising powers through letters written to them in 2016 and through other means and media to own up to their past and acknowledge their role in the trafficking in Africans and African chattlelisation and commit to a process of repair," she said.

"Most Governments who have issued statements on the enslavement of Africans by their colonial states have not used the word 'apology' and have not agreed that the trans-Atlantic trafficking in enslaved Africans and chattel enslavement were crimes against humanity. So this statement was an advancement within that context," she said.

BECKLES...the Caricom Reparations Commission is keen to enable the prime minister, therefore, to complete this Dutch sentence
BY ALECIA SMITH Senior staff reporter

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