Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte formally apologized Monday for the Netherlands’ role in slavery and the negative impact it continues to have to the present day.
“Today, I apologize,” Rutte said during a speech at the Dutch National Archives in The Hague.
“For centuries, the Dutch state and its representatives facilitated, stimulated, preserved, and profited from slavery. For centuries, in the name of the Dutch State, human beings were made into commodities, exploited, and abused,” Rutte said.
He added that slavery must be condemned as a “crime against humanity.”
The apology comes amid a broader examination of the nation’s colonial past, including initiatives to recover stolen art and its ongoing battles with racism.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch West India Company played a significant role in the slave trade by bringing enslaved people from Africa to the Americas. Even though slavery was prohibited in the Netherlands, the Dutch did not outlaw it in their colonies until 1863.
According to Reuters, Dutch traders are thought to have transported more than half a million enslaved people from Africa to the Americas. According to the agency, many went to Brazil and the Caribbean, while many Asians were sold into slavery in the Dutch East Indies, or what is now Indonesia. Dutch children are, however, taught little about the role the Netherlands played in the slave trade, Reuters added.
Rutte issued the apology even though some activist groups urged him to wait until July 1 of next year, the 160th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Netherlands and its former colonies.
They also said they had not been adequately consulted in the lead-up to the speech. Since many enslaved people were forced to work in plantations for a decade after abolition, activists consider next year the 150th anniversary.