At the height of the trade in the 17th and 18th centuries, more than 1,000 slaves were brought to Suriname each year to work on sugar plantations, according to State and Slavery. More than 90% of the population in what was then a South American colony was enslaved and conditions were so harsh that the number of births never exceeded the number of deaths, the study showed.
The study’s findings have surprised many in the Netherlands, including those who read advance copies, said one of its editors, Esther Captain, an expert at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Caribbean and Southeast Asian Studies, in the city. Leiden Dutch.
«I was surprised because you would assume that [it is] basic in general knowledge, but it’s not,» he told NBC News by phone.
“I think it has to do with the fact that this is confronting our own image. We used to sell ourselves as tolerant, open and democratic. And I think this is challenging our own image, and that hurts.»
The church, the navy and the royal family each participated in the human trafficking of some 600,000 people, mainly to Suriname and the islands of the Antilles in the Caribbean. Successive generations were born into this often deadly cycle of servitude.
Plantation owners engaged in reading, writing, sports and other leisure activities while workers labored under the scorching sun while facing physical and sexual abuse.
The Dutch began trading slaves in the 16th century and became a major player in the 17th century. Slavery only ended in the Dutch Caribbean islands and Suriname in 1863, although some slaves were not freed for another 10 years. The Netherlands bowed to international pressure, especially from Great Britain, which ended its participation in the Atlantic slave trade in 1808 (the United States abolished slavery in 1865).
Slavery was also enforced in the Dutch East Indies, a major colony that included present-day Indonesia, until the 19th century.
In response to questions from NBC News Voorst, Pauline van Voorst, a spokeswoman for the Dutch government, echoed Rutte’s apology by admitting the country was slow to act on the legacy of slavery.
“For centuries, under Dutch state authority, human dignity was violated in the most horrific way possible. And successive Dutch governments after 1863 did not adequately see or acknowledge that our past of slavery continued to have negative effects and still does,” he said.
On the subject of reparations, he said that various assistance packages already exist to help the former colonies, designed to improve local economies.
The State and Slavery project was funded by a 200 million euro (about $218 million) commission to explore and expose the country’s colonial past, announced by Rutte in December. Some countries have taken similar measures and have even paid reparations.
King Charles III said in April that Buckingham Palace will cooperate with an inquiry into the British royals’ links to slavery, and Belgium set up a commission to look into its links in 2020. Belgian lawmakers past hours last year debating whether and how to make an apology but they did not reach any agreement, and the British project is should not be completed until 2026.
King Philippe of Belgium expressed his «deepest regret» last June during a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where from 1885 to 1908 the government, under the supervision of King Leopold II, extracted a fortune in natural resources while enslaving, mutilated, tortured and killed many thousands of people.
Britain has «lagged behind in the international conversation» in acknowledging its colonial past, said Sathnam Sanghera, a journalist and author of «Empireland,» a 2021 best-selling book on the legacy of British colonialism.
“That the Dutch have commissioned historians and apologized just highlights how little we have done,” he said.
The coronation of King Charles, which included items sparkling with precious gems taken from the British colonies, highlighted Britain’s imperial past.
“It kept coming up during the coronation, every other Commonwealth raised it, whether it was loot, slavery or their legacy,” Sanghera said. “This is going to be the conversation for the next 20 years.”
Britain was an early and enthusiastic participant in the transatlantic slave trade in the 16th and 17th centuries, helping to build an empire that ruled over some 400 million people at its height in the early 20th century.
In 2021, Germany called its actions in Namibia «genocide» and pledged 1.1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) in reparations, and the same year French President Emmanuel Macron He apologized to the Algerians who fought alongside the French forces but were later killed as traitors.
“You have Germany doing that, you have the Netherlands doing that. And it puts pressure on Belgium, which has dug its heels into the sand,” said Jeremiah Garsha, an expert in colonial history at University College Dublin.
The State and Slavery project made headlines last week for revealing how much money Dutch kings made from slavery. But Garsha added that reducing the colonial misdeeds of an entire country to a number is itself a continuation of the colonial attitude: that people can be financial assets.
“Those are numbers that continue to enslave people in our mentality: they are personal property, they are property. No. These are experiences, these are human experiences,” she said. «That’s what I want to get back.»