Speed Reads

Saying Sorry

Dutch prime minister apologizes for slave trade, but critics say it is not enough

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized on Monday for his country's role in the transatlantic slave trade, making the Netherlands one of few European countries to formally acknowledge its slaveholding past. 

"Today, I apologize," Rutte said during a speech in The Hauge. "For centuries under Dutch state authority, human dignity was violated in the most horrific way possible. Successive Dutch governments after 1863 failed to adequately see and acknowledge that our slavery past continued to have negative effects and still does. For that, I offer the apologies of the Dutch government."

Rutte added that slavery should be condemned as a "crime against humanity."

"It is true that no one alive now is personally to blame for slavery. But it is also true that the Dutch state, in all its manifestations through history, bears responsibility for the terrible suffering inflicted on enslaved people and their descendants," Rutte said. 

At its height in the 1770s, the slave trade "accounted for more than 10 percent of the gross domestic product of Holland, the richest of the seven Dutch provinces," The Guardian reports. Slavery was officially abolished in the Netherlands in 1863 but remained in the Dutch colony of Suriname for another decade. 

Despite Rutte's words, some felt that his speech did not go far enough. Mitchell Esajas, director of a Dutch organization called The Black Archives, said the speech's lack of consultation with the Black community was "almost insulting."

"Reparation wasn't even mentioned," Esajas told The Associated Press. "So, beautiful words, but it's not clear what the next concrete steps will be."