Advocates for reparations say Dutch slavery apologies not enough

By Catarina Demony and Charlotte Van Campenhout

(Reuters) -As the Netherlands on Monday marked 161 years since the abolition of slavery with annual Ketikoti celebrations, activists have questioned the sincerity of apologies by Dutch authorities since the issue of reparations has not been addressed.

"Ketikoti" is a Surinamese expression that means the "the chain is broken," and it is the title given to July 1 as a day of remembrance of slavery and celebration of freedom.

But in an incident highlighting the issue's divisiveness, Speaker of the House Martin Bosma was uninvited from Monday's celebrations for refusing to apologize for past dismissive remarks on slavery.

The government has ruled out reparations, instead setting up a 200 million euro fund to promote social initiatives in the Netherlands, the Dutch Caribbean and Suriname.

It said in a statement on Friday that the fund would benefit descendants of enslaved people and other groups, with the goal of countering "the harmful effects of the past in the present".

The idea of reparations for the transatlantic slavery is long-standing but has recently been gaining momentum worldwide. Opponents say countries shouldn't be held responsible for historical wrongs, while proponents say the legacy of slavery has resulted in persistent and vast racial inequalities today.

Barryl Biekman, an activist who for decades has been at the forefront of the movement calling for reparations in the Netherlands, said apologies must be followed by concrete measures to address issues affecting Black people.

"They apologised but they don't want to look at the systems that keep us down," Biekman said, pointing to persistent disparities in the labour market, education and health.


Linda Nooitmeer, chair of the National Institute for the Study of Dutch Slavery and its Legacy (NiNsee), said the official Dutch apologies appeared sincere but said the aftermath had been bittersweet.

"Sweet because the silence surrounding the history of slavery and the Netherlands has been completely broken... but(NiNSee) does feel the need for specific economic policies," Nooitmeer said.

The slavery reparations commission for the Caribbean Community, CARICOM, has drawn up a 10-point reparation plan that calls for debt cancellation and investment to tackle public health crises.

"The Dutch have set a precedent for a path that is not only not a true apology, but has nothing to do with reparations," Eric Phillips from CARICOM reparations commission told Reuters.

Opponents of reparations argue it is too complex to identify responsible parties and to determine remedies. Some say discussions of the issue could also trigger greater political polarisation in countries - including the Netherlands where the far-right is on the rise.

Biekman called for the establishment of a truth commission to look into reparations.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands still comprises several Caribbean islands, including Aruba and Sint Maarten.

Rhoda Arrindell, an advocate for the independence of Sint Maarten, said the apologies were "incomplete" if the islands remained part of the kingdom and the Dutch did not repair the economic underdevelopment caused by colonialism.

She said the new Dutch fund should be a "downpayment on a bigger reparation bill".

"How could you think that you commit the crime, acknowledge the crime and then decide what the punishment will be?" Arrindell said. "We find that rather appalling."

"We've come a long way, and more people are aware of the Dutch slavery history, but we still have far to go," said Suriname-born Cindy Chan A Hung (46), who attended the Ketikoti celebrations in Amsterdam.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony in Lisbon and Charlotte Van Campenhout in Amsterdam;Additional reporting by Stephanie van den Berg;Editing by Kat Stafford, Gareth Jones and Aurora Ellis)