The Hague, Netherlands ( Associated Press) — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte issued a formal apology Monday on behalf of his government for the nation’s historic role in slavery and the slave trade, despite calls to postpone the announcement.
“Today I apologize,” Rutte said in a 20-minute speech, met with silence by guests at the National Archives.
Some activist groups in the Netherlands and its former colonies protested that they should pronounce it next year on July 1, the 160th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. Activists mark it as the 150th anniversary because many enslaved people were forced to continue working on plantations for a decade after abolition.
“what’s the rush?” asked Baryl Beekman, leader of the National Forum on Slavery’s Past.
Some even went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the speech. Rutte addressed the disagreement in his speech.
“We know there is no right time for everyone, no right words for everyone, no right place for everyone,” Rutte said.
The Dutch government expressed deep remorse for the country’s historical role in slavery, though did not go as far as a formal apology because, according to Rutte, such a statement would divide society. But at present there is a majority in favor of amnesty in the Parliament.
The brutal colonial past of many countries is being scrutinized by the Black Lives Matter movement and the killing of George Floyd, a black man, in the US city of Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.
The Prime Minister’s speech follows a report released last year by a government-appointed advisory board. It recommended that the government apologize and acknowledge that “those committed directly or indirectly under Dutch authority from the 17th century until the abolition of the slave trade were crimes against humanity”.
The report states that institutionalized racism in the Netherlands “cannot be viewed in isolation from centuries of slavery and colonialism and the ideas that emerged in this context.”