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Belgium sued: Will the state pay for some of its brutal colonial crimes in Africa?

The West is increasingly confronted with its historical and current crimes, which it has inflicted on other peoples who could not defend themselves against its military force. Through it, the West was able to obtain raw materials and labour from other peoples. This made its domination of the world possible for several centuries. These crimes continue, including in the resource-rich Congo. Now Belgium is looking its past in the eye - and is being asked to pay for crimes in Congo. It is a sign of the possible end of white tyranny over the earth. But it will not be easy, as the many wars waged by Western countries, especially the USA and France, to maintain their supremacy show. It is time to move towards the equal relations that the states agreed to in the UN Charter in 1945. This requires the solidarity of Africans and Europeans and people of all nations to put this dark chapter of human history behind us.

In 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement forced Belgium to confront its colonial past. Now a special commission has completed its report. The experts unequivocally demand that the kingdom pay for the crimes in Congo.

The Belgian king ordered a punishment in his private colony Congo: the amputation of hands.

In mid-October, in a courtroom in Brussels, none other than the Belgian state was put on trial. The accusers: five women who were born in the former colony of Belgian Congo in the 1950s.

Monique Bitu Bingi, Marie-José Loshi, Léa Tavares Mujinga, Simone Ngalula and Noëlle Verbeken were all born from the union of an African mother and a European father. In the eyes of the administration, the so-called Métisse children were "neither black nor white" and thus something that should not exist in the former colony.

The state forcibly snatched them from their mothers and took them to faraway reformatories. The girls were only two, three or four years old at the time. They were told by the Catholic missionaries that they were "children of sin". Because "white blood" flowed through their veins, they were nevertheless to be brought up in a strictly European way.

Quite a few white Europeans took advantage of black women in the colonies or kept a mistress, but woe betide them if these relationships produced children. The Métisses were a risk for the rulers because they represented a "threat to the supremacy of the white race and consequently a threat to the Belgian colony". This is how the lawyer of the five women described it.

Decades of silence

For decades, Belgium remained silent about the suffering of the mixed-race children, whose number is estimated at 12,000.

Should the human rights violations against the Métisse children be officially named as crimes of the Belgian state? And should compensation payments also be made for the first time, related to the Belgian colonial period? Six decades after the independence of the former Belgian colonies in Africa and one year after the "Black Lives Matter" protests, this would be tantamount to a sensation.

In June 2020, Parliament finally established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As one of its first tasks, the commission was to have a historian's report drawn up that would scrutinise Belgium's colonial period in minute detail. This report, almost 700 pages long, is now in the public domain and will serve as a guide for MPs in the coming months on how the past should ultimately be dealt with.

Myths destroyed

The ten experts describe the Belgian colonial period, which lasted a total of 75 years, as an enterprise to exploit mineral resources, made possible by forced labour and guided by racist ideas. The report also dedicates a separate chapter to the fate of the Métisses: for the abductions of mixed-race children, special officials were assigned to inspect the villages and look for mixed-bloods.

The special commission does not really provide any new insights. But because of its political mandate, the report is a source of controversy. One expert, for example, argues unequivocally that the colonisation of the Congo should be recognised as a crime and that reparations should be paid. This should also benefit the "Afro-descendants", i.e. Belgians with Congolese, Rwandan or Burundian roots, since the "wounds inflicted" would be passed on from one generation to the next.

The experts also recommend that Belgian schools should be more attentive to colonial propaganda and that public commemoration should be "decolonised".

A verdict is expected in November.

The experts' report on Belgian colonial history: Voorstel (

Belgium: Experts present damning report on the country's colonial past

The report of the Special Commission, which has already been described as damning by early readers, looks back at 80 years of Belgian colonial history in Central Africa to set the record straight. There are three countries in Belgium's colonial past, Congo-Kinshasa from 1885 to 1960 and the double protectorate of Rwanda-Urundi after the German defeat from 1918 to 1962. Belgian colonialism was characterised by brutality.

The experts commissioned by the "Special Commission to Investigate the Independent State of Congo and the Belgian Colonial Past in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, its Consequences and Appropriate Follow-up" presented their report to the members of the Chamber of Deputies.

Racism, brutality, forced labour...

In the 689 pages of their report, the historians paint a grim picture of the Belgian presence in Central Africa: forced labour, brutality, violence, constant coercion, the imposition of laws that permanently changed traditional societies, especially the devaluation of the role of women, and racism as the basis of colonial administration. Roads and other infrastructure were not for the development of the colonies, but for the exploitation of resources for export to Belgium. From plundering in the early colonial period in the 19th century to agriculture and mining 80 years later, there is only talk of developing the area for the benefit of the metropolis.

The second part of the report contains concrete recommendations for reparation measures that Belgium should take, such as an official apology that goes beyond the regrets personally expressed by King Philippe, or the return of thousands of African objects in Belgian museums. A law to this effect is planned for the beginning of 2022.

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