The prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, has offered a formal apology for the role the Netherlands’ played in the slave trade.
Speaking at the National Archive in the Hague, Rutte said that the Dutch state had “enabled and stimulated slavery and have profited from it.”
“For centuries, in the name of the Dutch state, human beings were made into commodities, exploited and abused,” he said. “For centuries, under Dutch state authority, human dignity was violated in the most possible horrific way.”
He added that although no one alive today bears any personal guilt for slavery, it was also true that the Dutch state bore responsibility for the “immense suffering that has been done to those who were enslaved and their descendants.”
“For that, I offer the apologies of the Dutch government,” he said, adding in English. “Today, I apologize.”
The Netherlands played a significant role in the slave trade in the 17th and 19th centuries, with the Dutch West India Company and the Dutch East India Company – governed initially by Dutch state officials and royalty after – enslaved more than a million people, according to the New York Times.
The country transported about 600,000 people over the Atlantic Ocean and traded people in Indonesia, India and South Africa.
The Dutch government has said it will create a €200 million (US$212 million) fund to “increase awareness and involvement and follow-up” about the country’s role in slavery.
However, multiple descendants of people who were enslaved said that the government had not consulted with them before issuing the formal apology, according to the New York Times.
And others also said that they didn’t feel the speech went far enough as it didn’t offer responsibility and accountability, especially in terms of reparations.
July 1 will mark the 150 year anniversary of the Netherlands ending slavery in the Dutch colonies.
2023 will be a national year of remembrance, and Rutte said he had wanted to apologize on behalf of the Dutch state before the start of the year of remembrance.