Dutch government sends progress letter on the slavery past to the House of Representatives

June 29, 2023  -Today the government sent a letter to the House of Representatives explaining the progress that follows the government response to the slavery past. The letter explains the steps taken since the apology for the slavery past was offered and how the process initiated in response to the apology will take shape. Work has been done towards honouring the commitments in the government response, including the details of the €200 million fund and the Memorial Committee. The government is also committed to intensifying the fight against discrimination and racism. This includes measures to strengthen the anti-discrimination facilities, including in the Caribbean Netherlands. Several specific measures have already been initiated, including various commitments to the six islands, the extension of the Equal Treatment Act (Wet Gelijke Behandeling) to cover Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius and the scheme to allow the descendants of enslaved people to change their names.

‘Filling in the gaps’ process initiated in response to the apology

On  December 19th  of last year, the Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologised on behalf of the government for the involvement and role of the Dutch State and its historical predecessorsin the slavery past to descendants worldwide, and posthumously to their descendants who continue to suffer the consequences of that past today. During the past few months, the government has discussed the apology with descendants and other parties on Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire, St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba, as well as in the European Netherlands and in Suriname.

Fund and Memorial Committee

The establishment of a Memorial Committee and the €200 million fund were two of the most important commitments in the government response. The Memorial Committee will ensure  a larger, dignified, Kingdom-wide commemoration of the slavery past, which will be organised in partnership with Suriname where possible. The fund consists of two parts. €100 million will be used for a subsidy scheme for community initiatives. The guiding principle is that the money from the fund should be easily accessible for a wide group of applicants. The remaining €100 million will be used to implement the measures related to ‘knowledge and awareness’, ‘acknowledgement and commemoration’ and ‘impact and psychological processing’.

One example of these measures is the scheme to allow descendants of enslaved people to change their names without charge. Geographical balance must be maintained in the distribution of funds. Descendants and other parties will also be given an active role in developing the details of the chosen measures. The government will continue to consult with descendants and other parties during all phases of the establishment of the fund and Memorial Committee. The intention is that the subsidy scheme for community initiatives should be launched by the spring of 2024 at the latest, or earlier, and that the Memorial Committee should begin working in July 2024.

Caribbean part of the Kingdom

The government made commitments to all the islands on  December 19th . The details of these commitments are now being developed in partnership with descendants, civil society organisations and representatives of the island governments. The manner and speed at which the commitments are implemented and points of view are agreed will differ for each island. The government is studying how the work of the various organisations can be supported, with particular attention for grassroots organisations and community engagement. To this end, the government will organise a meeting in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom after the summer with stakeholders from all six islands.

Initiatives and commitments for each island

Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao

On  Aruba, the Aruba Slavery Past Awareness Committee has initiated an awareness raising campaign. The Aruban National Archives is making the Colonial Archives searchable using handwriting recognition software. Teaching materials are also being developed and there are plans for a memorial to the resistance heroine Virginia Dementricia.

The Executive Council of Bonaire has given the 1st of July working group the task of raising awareness of the slavery past in Bonaire. This will involve making teaching materials available and other activities. The Bonaire Dialogue Group is also working to realise a (sur)name monument. The book ‘Bonaire, een koloniale zoutgeschiedenis’ (Bonaire, a colonial salt history) and accompanying teaching materials will be made available to schools.

On Curaçao, the government has committed to the rehabilitation of Tula. In the plans of the Plataforma Sklabitut i Herensha di Sklabitut (Slavery and Legacy of Slavery Platform), the rehabilitation is symbolic of an emancipatory movement and a wider process of awareness raising. The platform has arranged a diverse programme to take place around  October 3rd , the anniversary of Tula’s death. The platform has been awarded funding for this programme.

St. Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius

The Prime Minister of St. Maarten has officially appointed the Advisory Committee on Slavery, Atonement and Reparations. The committee will issue recommendations to the government of St. Maarten on the response to the apology. The government of the Netherlands believes it is important that St. Maarten is able to complete this process at its own tempo and wishes to work together on the response to the apology once that process is complete.

The government has committed to financing a slavery monument or memorial on St. Eustatius and to supporting the work of the St. Eustatius Cultural Heritage Implementation Committee based on their financial and technical needs.

On Saba, various commitments have been made that will contribute to raising awareness of the slavery past in a broad sense, including genealogical research for descendants and a memorial. The discussions held revealed that it is also important to organise matters such as participation and the development of teaching materials for the island.

On all the islands, there is a great deal of interest in the preservation, management and accessibility of cultural heritage related to the colonial past and slavery past, the accessibility of the national cultural funds, the available cultural infrastructure and museum facilities.

Slavery Past Memorial Year

The Slavery Past Memorial Year will take place from  July 1st, 2023 to  July 1st 2024. Two funds have been established to allow cultural, community and educational initiatives to be organised during the Memorial Year. These initiatives will focus on the perspectives that are part of that past, which have received too little attention until recently, as well as those who wish to commemorate the period in which slavery existed in the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the period of contract labour. There is a great deal of interest in the Memorial Year. The available funds for the Mondriaan Fund and the Culture Participation Fund have been tripled to respond to that interest; both funds have received an additional €2 million. This amount is in addition to the previously allocated €2 million, which raises the total to €6 million. Dozens of projects will be funded, including Wintertuin Curaçao (‘Curaçao Winter Garden’), a literary project/digital platform on the common history of Curaçao and Ghana. The Culture Participation Fund will provide additional support  to organizations in the European Netherlands and on all six islands. Part of this sum is also earmarked for the Caribbean part of the Kingdom.

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