Apology for slavery not enough

A leading Jamaican academic has welcomed the apology by Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands for his country’s role in the transatlantic slave trade as “a step beyond what existed before”.

But Professor Clinton Hutton, director of the Institute of Technological and Educational Research at The Mico University College, believes Rutte’s mea culpa at The Hague on Monday, December 19, 2022, does not go far enough.

“This step forward is still enmeshed in the culture, philosophy and psychology of anti-black racism that emerged and was cultivated to justify slavery. Hence, we see Rutte apologising and stating that slavery was a crime against humanity for which the Dutch State was responsible, yet ruling out reparation. This position cannot be sustained,” Hutton noted. “Britain, France, Portugal, etc, will at some point make this step. Of course, apologies alone are not sufficient. Indeed, they are not sustainable.”

In his speech, Rutte condemned slavery as a “crime against humanity”, adding that, “Today, I apologise.”

The speech contrasted with the Dutch leader’s previous utterances addressing the slave trade “a thing of the past” in which the Netherlands was a force during the 17th and 18th centuries through the Dutch West India Co. The Netherlands did not ban slavery in its West Indian colonies until 1863, even though it was illegal in that country.

Poet and social activist Yasus Afari agrees with Hutton that apologies are insufficient.

“Certainly not, and these colonial and neo-colonial nations need to get on the right side of history and the true reality of world affairs or be eternally disgraced on the wrong side of history for gang-raping Mother Africa and the authentic sovereign first nations of Earth and humanity,” he said.

“We need to continue to build public awareness and advocacy so as to create the required pressure on all the guilty nations, churches, banks and other institutions who are guilty of this genocidal crime against humanity. This is to ensure that they and the other institutions that are responsible can help in the necessary healing of humanity by way of international justice, truth and rights, reparations, repatriation, reconciliation and redemption. Only then shall humanity ensure the required equity, peace, love and tranquillity for the sustained goodwill and prosperity of all humanity,” he argued.

Leaders from the United Kingdom, France, and Portugal have offered guarded remorse for their countries’ roles in the transatlantic slave trade, which originated in 1526 and lasted for 200 years.

Europeans sold captured Africans into bondage, with their biggest ‘markets’ being the West Indies and United States.

In March, Prince William of Britain expressed “profound sorrow” for his country’s part in the slave trade during a speech at a State dinner at King’s House in St Andrew. His father, King Charles (then Prince Charles), made similar pronouncements five months earlier during a ceremony marking Barbados’ transition from a Commonwealth state to a republic.

Activists, including pan-Africans and politicians, have aggressively pushed for monetary compensation (reparation) for victims of slavery and their descendants.

Hutton acknowledged its tedious nature.

“The reparation agenda and struggle for such is a process with incremental steps thus far. The response prior to this step by the Dutch, through Prime Minister Mark Rutte, was to express regret. It never expressed then that slavery was a crime against humanity for which the enslaver states — Britain, France, Spain, et al — still bear responsibility. The Dutch State has now done that,” he said. “I cannot, at this point, speak to the specific set of events and forces which framed the architecture of this moment but it is a step beyond what existed before.”

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