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Amsterdam becomes first Dutch city to apologize for role in slave trade

Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema apologizes for the city's slavery past Thursday at commemoration ceremony for the abolition of slavery in Oosterpark. Photo courtesy of City of Amsterdam
Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema apologizes for the city's slavery past Thursday at commemoration ceremony for the abolition of slavery in Oosterpark. Photo courtesy of City of Amsterdam

July 1 (UPI) -- Amsterdam became the first Dutch city to apologize for its role in the slave trade Thursday.

Femke Halsema, mayor of the Netherlands capital city, made the apology in a speech at a Keti Koti ceremony, marking the date when the Kingdom of the Netherlands abolished slavery in the South American country of Suriname and in the Caribbean colonies in 1863.

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In Suriname, the enslaved wouldn't be free for another decade since the law stipulated a mandatory 10-year transition, according to the African Studies Center Leiden, a scientific institute in the Netherlands.

The ceremony was held at the National Monument of Dutch Slavery Past in the city's Oosterpark with only invited guests due to COVID-19 restrictions, but broadcast live, NL Times reported.

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"On behalf of the Executive Board of the Municipality, I apologize for the active involvement of the Amsterdam city council in the commercial system of colonial slavery and the worldwide trade of enslaved people," Halsema said in the speech, the NL Times reported. "Not a single Amsterdammer living now is to blame for the past. ... As a board, we do take responsibility for this."

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The announcement made Amsterdam the first Dutch city to officially apologize for the act, according to NL Times. Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht have also acknowledged indirectly benefiting from slavery, but have never formally apologized.

Keti Koti, which means "broken chains," in the Suriname language Sranantongo, has been celebrated in various Dutch cities on the July 1 abolition date since 2002, DutchNews reported.

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The Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations established last year an Advisory Board Dialogue Group on Slavery Past to organize social dialogue about "Dutch slavery past and its impact in contemporary society," according to the ministry's website.

"Recognition is an important step for the Netherlands as a whole," the advisory group said in a statement on the slavery past Thursday, which listed several recommendations.

Among the recommendations, the board advised recognizing July 1 as a national day of remembrance, and starting a national research program to look into the slavery past and its impact today, and paying more attention to the slavery past within the education system.

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The board also advised actively combating discrimination and institutional racism across society, a national facility to raise awareness of the profile of slavery, recognition of Tula Rigaud and other slave resistance heroes, and establishment of financing for recovery funds.

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