Belgium MPs fail to agree words to atone for colonial past

Published: 11:25 PM, 19 Dec, 2022
Belgium MPs fail to agree words to atone for colonial past
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On the same day that the Netherlands officially apologised for 250 years of slavery, MPs in neighbouring Belgium failed to agree on how to seek atonement for colonial-era abuses.

The Belgian parliament set up a commission in 2020 in the wake of protests triggered by the Black Lives Matter movement to examine their country's record in its former central African colonies.

But the panel admitted they had failed to reach a consensus on how to formulate an apology for the notoriously bloody excesses of Belgian rule in what is now DR Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.

They had been due to meet on Monday to approve 128 recommendations drawn up by the commission. But in the end none went to a vote.

For the left, the fault lay with liberal coalition partners, whom they said had refused to vote to approve a report that included an apology for the historical crimes.

"The liberals sabotaged the work of the commission through pure colonialist dogmatism," said green MP Guillaume Defosse, blaming Prime Minister Alexander De Croo's political family. "It's a wasted opportunity, a great disappointment," Defosse added.

The Ecolo party MP noted with bitterness that the failure came on the same day that another liberal premier, the Netherlands' Mark Rutte, had apologised for slavery on behalf of the Dutch state.

"Today, over here, our liberals are unwilling to acknowledge that past," Defosse said.

In 2020, in the wake of a movement against police violence in the United States, Belgium saw protests targeting statues celebrating King Leopold II and other figures of the colonial era.

The 19th century king is a controversial figure.

In Belgium he is called the "Builder King", the father of the modern nation.

In central Africa, his rule over a vast private holding was marked by the murder, mutilation and enslavement of tens of thousands.

- 'Violence and atrocities' -

Today's king, Philippe, has apologised to the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo for the "paternalism, discriminations and racism" that led to "abuse and humiliation".

In June, Philippe visited the Democratic Republic of Congo on the 60th anniversary of the region's independence from Belgium

For some in parliament, this gesture was enough.

Some MPs refused to approve a clause in the committee's report which would have again expressed regret for the atrocities.

This would have asked the parliament to "apologise to the Congolese, Burundian and Rwandan peoples for colonial domination and exploitation, violence and atrocities, individual and collective violations of human rights during this period, as well as racism and the discrimination that accompanied them".

Several liberal MPs, including Benoit Piedboeuf, said that they were opposed to any clause offering a "global apology" rather than a point-by-point accounting of responsibility for specific crimes.

The broad apology, he said, would have created two opposing groups: "Victims on one side, the guilty on the other", rather than a joint search for an accurate historical record.

Maggie De Block, a former minister from the Dutch-speaking liberal VLD, wanted to know: "Why should all the Belgians of today have to apologise?"

Categories : World

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