Dutch apology for slavery already mired in controversy

The monument to slavery in Amsterdam's Oosterpark. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The monument to slavery in Amsterdam’s Oosterpark. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The cabinet’s lack of communication about what exactly will happen on December 19, when the government is expected to formally apologise for the Netherlands’ role in slavery, has angered Surinamese organisations.

News of the apology, to be delivered by members of the cabinet in Suriname and the six Caribbean islands, was leaked on Friday and later confirmed by legal protection minister Franc Weerwind.

However, instead of formally confirming the news, the cabinet said that it would be announcing a reaction to the recommendations made by the advisory body on slavery Dialooggroep Slavernijverleden on that date.

The lack of clarity and communication about the substance of the apology has caused a storm of criticism in Suriname.

Armand Zunder, of the Nationale Reparatie Commissie Suriname (NRCS) told the NRC the way the cabinet is handling the excuses is ‘totally unacceptable’ and ‘detrimental to the cause’. Zunder said the apology should come on July 1 when slavery was abolished in the former colony, and should be given by king Willem-Alexander.

That is unlikely to happen, prime minister Mark Rutte told broadcaster NOS, citing the ‘constitutionally vulnerable’ position of the king and his role as ‘a national symbol of unity who should not be dragged into a political discussion.’

The Surinamese ambassador to the Netherlands, Rajendre Khargi, said the government had not been formally informed about the apology on December 19. The Surinamese government has said it will not comment until it has.

The anger about the timing and content of the apology in Suriname is ‘a signal that must be taken seriously,’ Joyce Sylvester of the Staatscommissie tegen Discriminatie en Racisme said in political programme Buitenhof on Sunday. ‘It has taken 150 years for an attempt at reconciliation. We cannot allow it to end in disaster,’ she said.

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