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Government apologizes for slavery past in the Netherlands

In a speech this afternoon, Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized for the actions of the Dutch state in the past: posthumously to all enslaved people worldwide who suffered from that action, to their daughters and sons, and to all their descendants up to the here and now. The prime minister expressed his apology at the National Archives in The Hague in the presence of representatives of organizations that advocate recognition of the consequences of slavery. In Suriname and in Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten, Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, members of the cabinet will enter into discussions after the speech with relevant organizations and authorities about what those apologies mean on site.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte:
We are doing this, and we are doing this now, standing on the threshold of an important anniversary year, to find the way forward together. We don’t only share the past, but also the future. So today we are placing a comma, not a period.

The Prime Minister’s apology and talks by Cabinet members elsewhere are an important part of the Cabinet response to the report Chains of the Past presented in July 2021 by the advisory panel Dialogue Group on the Slavery Past. In it, the government is advised to proceed with recognition, apologies and reparations for slavery, in the Kingdom. The Cabinet response to the report was sent to the Senate and House of Representatives this afternoon.

After the speech, the prime minister, together with Vice Prime Ministers Kaag, Hoekstra and Schouten and Ministers Bruins Slot and Dijkgraaf, will engage in a private meeting with those present.

Cabinet reaction

The Cabinet is making a fund of 200 million euros available for measures in the field of awareness, involvement and impact. The programming and allocation of the fund will take place jointly with, among others, descendants and those involved.

In addition, the Cabinet proposes to establish an independent Commemoration Committee. In the coming years, this Commemoration Committee must ensure a grand, dignified commemoration of the slavery past on 1st of July , together with the Caribbean part of the Kingdom, Suriname and other countries. The cabinet wants to use the coming commemorative year 2023 to examine, together with social parties and the Commemoration Committee to be established, how the annual commemoration can be organized in a more lasting and dignified way and in a more coherent way.

The coming commemorative year, which begins on the 1st of July 2023, will include several large Kingdom-wide events. The King feels personally very involved and will be present at the commemoration and celebration in Amsterdam on the 1st of July. The upcoming commemorative year will offer plenty of room for social, cultural and educational initiatives from the community.

Further steps

The government sees today’s apology as a first step. In addition to the apologies, the government announced in its response the intention to give the slavery past a firm place within education because that is the place where young people come into contact with history.

The Cabinet is also committed to increasing knowledge and awareness through the preservation and further development of museums, archives and the protection of cultural heritage, both in the European Netherlands and in the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom and other countries involved. Consultations are held with Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba about their specific wishes in these areas.  The Cabinet is also contributing to the development of a national slavery museum, with a knowledge center attached. Announced, multi-year research on the history of slavery will provide input to those institutions. In addition, it will be easier to change a slavery-related surname.

For the horribly murdered Curaçao resistance hero Tula, the cabinet announces an official rehabilitation. The anticipated fund will also provide opportunities to appropriately honor other resistance fighters.