Belgium’s Regrets Not Sufficient: Congo Deserves Apology and Reparations for Warfare Crimes

On June 8, 2022, Belgian King Philippe expressed his regrets for the exploitation, violence and racism through the colonization of the Congo Free State, now referred to as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This adopted  years of denials and excuses by Belgian authorities.

The DRC, a territory 76 occasions greater than Belgium, is the second largest nation after Algeria in Africa and the 11th largest on this planet. Right this moment, it’s torn by conflicts between armed teams that recruit kids as troopers. To make issues worse, DRC’s safety forces function with impunity. They proceed harassing, threatening, attacking, arresting and murdering human rights defenders, journalists and members of the political opposition. Civilians are arbitrarily killed and kidnapped. Girls and ladies are systematically raped and subjected to different types of violence. Communal violence and ethnic cleaning are widespread. Most minorities together with Hutu, Tutsi, Hema, Lendu, Lunda, Luba, Mbororo, and Batwa reside underneath steady risk. The nation stays the supply and vacation spot level for trafficking in kids and girls for prostitution. The nation desperately wants humanitarian help.

The DRC’s issues are usually not completely the fault of the Congolese individuals. Their roots will be traced again to Belgian King Leopold II and successive Belgian governments.

The Belgian King belatedly expresses regrets

Earlier than his latest admission, Philippe denied Belgian atrocities and made excuses for Leopold II and Belgium for years. Regardless of stress from his personal nation’s individuals together with that of the worldwide neighborhood who have been impressed by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) motion, Philippe hesitated to take any motion apart from provide excuses for the final two years.

On Might 27, 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke on the genocide memorial in Rwanda’s capital Kigali the place many victims have been buried. He requested Rwandans to forgive France for its function within the 1994 genocide. On Might 28, 2021, Germany apologized for its genocide in opposition to Herero and Nema tribal individuals in Namibia and supplied to launch “tasks over a billion euros” as compensation. Even these apologies didn’t encourage Philippe to confess Belgian atrocities within the Congo.


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Over a yr later, elevated Belgian and worldwide pressures lastly compelled Philippe to face actuality. When he lastly spoke out, the Belgian king simply expressed regrets. Philippe stopped wanting formally apologizing for Belgian atrocities through the colonial interval. “This [Belgian] regime was considered one of unequal relations, unjustifiable in itself, marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism,” he stated earlier than a joint session of parliament within the DNC capital Kinshasa, He wish to state: “I want to reaffirm my deepest regrets for these wounds of the previous.”

The poisonous legacy of the previous

Leopold II was a tyrant who pursued a brutal pogrom that resulted within the deaths of hundreds of thousands. His insurance policies additionally led to the destruction of the livelihoods and cultures of the individuals of the Congo. Leopold II got here to energy in 1865 and was decided to construct an empire. Licensed by the 1885 Berlin Convention, he fashioned the Congo Free State, separate from Belgium however privately owned and managed by himself. Leopold II knew evangelization was the best technique to dominate individuals. He took the view that, if the Congolese transformed to Christianity, they might change into extra subservient. This might permit Leopold II to plunder Congo’s beneficial sources. So, this ruthless Belgian king introduced in missionaries to transform the Congolese individuals to Christianity. He issued and enforced inhumane decrees that not solely triggered distress and dying but in addition pushed the Congolese to transform to and follow Christianity.

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To extract ivory, rubber, and minerals, Leopold’s males viciously used whipping, wounding, enslaving, beheading and severing physique elements, together with the penis. They routinely resorted to sexual violence in opposition to the Congolese individuals. They handled the Congolese as animals, exhibiting them of their zoos in Belgium. Their atrocities are estimated to have triggered the deaths of round 10 million, then 50% of the Congolese inhabitants. This led to worldwide scandal and outrage, forcing the Belgian authorities to take over the colony.

In 1908, underneath immense worldwide stress the Belgian authorities took over Leopold II’s non-public property and made it a Belgian colony, christening it Belgian Congo. After 23 years of Leopold II’s rule, the Belgian authorities dominated Belgian Congo for an additional 52 years. The colony solely gained its independence in 1960.

Underneath Belgian rule, genocidal actions decreased in quantity and severity however persecution and compelled labor continued. The racism initiated by Leopold II continued although. Africans have been excluded from schooling, employment and different alternatives. Kids of blended race have been kidnapped and despatched to orphanages in Belgium.

After World Warfare I, European and US firms moved in and used the Congolese as indentured laborers to supply cotton, espresso, cacao, palm oil, rubber, copper, gold, diamond, cobalt, tin, zinc, uranium and different uncooked supplies. They used compelled labor to develop roads, railroads, utility stations, and different public amenities in Belgian Congo. Throughout World Warfare II, the US was closely concerned in mining uranium within the Congo. When postwar decolonization started, Belgium insisted that the Congolese weren’t mature sufficient to run their very own nation. So, Belgium stood agency on retaining its Belgian Colony, forgetting that the Belgians had needed freedom from Nazi Germany themselves.

Underneath Belgian annexation, Congolese schooling undermined crucial pondering and ripped up the social material. Solely a only a few have been allowed to get primary schooling by the government-paid Christian missionaries whose main objective was to advance colonization and conversion to Christianity. Solely in 1954, a Congolese was first admitted to a Belgian college to review a topic apart from Christian faith. To today, the DRC is hobbled by its poisonous colonial legacy.

Independence is snuffed out, exploitation continues

Ranging from 1919, the Congolese started combating for his or her independence. Their revolts have been frequently suppressed by the Belgian authorities. In 1958, the Congolese fashioned their first political social gathering. Riots broke out in 1959 with mobs demanding independence. A yr later, Belgium capitulated, granting its big colony independence. On June 30, 1960, the nationalist chief Patrice Lumumba grew to become the prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu president. They put Colonel Joseph Mobutu in control of the protection. Backed by Colonel Joseph Mobutu, Kasa-Vubu quickly eliminated Lumumba. In January 1961, the US and Belgium backed a army coup. Mobutu murdered Lumumba. Mobutu went on to take over the presidency from Kasavubu in 1965. Backed by the US, he ran the DRC as a brutal dictator for 32 years, embezzling authorities funds at a gargantuan scale.

In 1997 backed by Rwanda and Uganda, Laurent Kabila took over the presidency and dominated for 4 years, inflicting over 3 million deaths. In 2001, he was killed and his son Joseph Kabila took over the presidency and dominated till late 2018 when opposition chief Felix Tshisekedi supposedly received an election that didn’t meet worldwide expectations and was contested by the nation’s dominant Catholic Church. He has remained in energy as president to the current time.

Within the Eighteen Eighties, the US was changing into a world energy. Leopold II used the providers of an American to survey the Congo. He additionally sought American recognition of his private rule over Congo. Some People have been afraid of the ability of American blacks who have been demanding equality and liberty. They noticed Leopold II’s  request as a possibility to cleanse the US of its black inhabitants by sending them to the Congo. In trade for the favor, Leopold assured the US that its residents may purchase lands in Congo and US imports could be exempt from all customs duties. Leopold obtained recognition of his rule in Congo by the US, paving the way in which for him to earn recognition from European powers. Leopold II’s cope with Uncle Sam additionally opened the gate for the US to plunder Congo”s wealth.

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The US emulated Leopold II’s egregious abuses in minute element, together with displaying Congolese individuals in zoos in quite a few cities throughout the nation. As late as 1906, New Yorkers would rush to see a Congolese within the Monkey Home at Bronx Zoo. This led to protests by American blacks and have become a nationwide scandal.

Suffice to say, the US has been exploiting Congo since Leopold II’s days. Particularly, the US has been extracting uranium from Shinkolobwe mine because the Nineteen Thirties. This small mine within the southern province of Katanga offered many of the uranium used within the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Right this moment, US mining firms backed by the American army proceed taking cobalt, copper, zinc and different minerals from the DRC, giving the nation peanuts in return. 

The Belgian function within the Rwandan genocide

After World Warfare I, the League of Nations transferred Rwanda and Burundi from Germany to Belgium. Taking a leaf out of its Congo playbook. Belgium but once more resorted to Christian evangelization and appointed white brokers to dominate and management the brand new colonies. It additionally carried out a caste system, decreeing the minority Tutsis, a cattle-herding individuals, as superior to the bulk Hutus, a farming individuals, and the native Twa, a pygmy individuals.   

In Rwanda, the Hutu king was eliminated for refusing to transform to Christianity. Then, the faith was forcefully imposed on the lots. Imana, the native monotheistic faith, was worn out. For hundreds of years, it had been the cultural drive unifying the neighborhood. To dominate Rwanda, Belgium supplied the Tutsis entry to schooling and designated them as superior to others. The Tutsis grew to become subordinate brokers of Belgian colonial administration.


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Belgium licensed the Tutsis to impose compelled labor and punishments on different communities. Belgian insurance policies imposed by Tutsis triggered a number of famines. Later, Belgian colonial authorities took the executive step of issuing identification playing cards for every ethnicity. That racial segregation coverage together with the elimination of their king angered the bulk Hutus. To the Hutus, the Tutsis grew to become referred to as “invaders”. Within the late Nineteen Fifties, the Hutu motion started to arrange to oppose the Tutsis and expel Belgium. The Hutus additionally lastly  started to earn some sympathy from Belgians.

When Rwanda received independence in 1962, a Hutu marketing campaign to incinerate Tutsi huts despatched many Tutsis fleeing into exile. The Hutu president Juvénal Habyarimana, identified for his anti-Tutsi rhetoric, maintained an excellent relationship with Belgian King Baudouin. On April 6, 1994, a aircraft carrying Habyarimana, Burundian President Cyprien Ntarvamira, and different high-ranking officers was shot down, killing all on board. Blaming the insurgent Rwandan Patriotic Entrance (RPF), Hutu extremists started the slaughter of Tutsis and their Hutu sympathizers. On April 7, 1994, Rwandan forces killed 10 Belgian officers. They threatened Belgium not intervene within the ongoing genocide in opposition to the Tutsis. Belgium dutifully deserted Rwanda to the Hutu killers. In April 2000, Man Verhofstadt, the Belgian prime minister, went to Rwanda and stated, “Within the identify of my nation and of my individuals, I encourage your forgiveness.”

French forces have been additionally current in Rwanda through the genocide. They watched the massacres, however did nothing. The French authorities persistently denied this till not too long ago. After 27 years of denial, France was lastly compelled by its personal authorities fee to formally admit its complicity within the 1994 Rwanda genocide. As said earlier, Macron requested Rwandans for forgiveness in Might this yr. He stated, “Solely those that went via that evening can maybe forgive, and in doing so give the present of forgiveness.”. 

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As in Rwanda, Belgium divided Burundi individuals into Tutsis and Hutus, which led to ethnic conflicts and civil conflict, inflicting the deaths of 300,000 individuals. In 2009, Belgium formally apologized for its atrocities. 

Imperial powers should compensate their victims

In 2022, the time for reparations has come. Up to now, the UN proved impotent within the face of genocide, ethnic cleaning, conflict crimes and crimes in opposition to humanity. The oppressed individuals of the Congo are nonetheless ready for justice and reparations for Belgian atrocities that also hang-out them. It’s for good cause that  Human Rights Watch noticed, “Belgium can not undo its colonial previous however it’s not too late to redress its up to date fallouts to construct a future based mostly on justice and equality.”

Happily, many Belgians as we speak acknowledge that apology should be accompanied by reparations. Patrick Dewael, the speaker of the Belgian federal parliament, stated: “aside from any apologies or excuses … anybody who makes a mistake, says our authorized code, should compensate for the injury.” In 2001, the Belgian Parliament discovered the nation morally liable for the assassination of Lumumba and apologized for its function. Belgium has but to make any reparations although.

The “Belgium’s Colonial Previous” fee, based in 2020, continues to be engaged on points associated to the pre-independence historical past of the nation’s three former colonies: Belgian Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda. To handle the crimes of the previous, Belgium should take these actions:

  1. Acknowledge all of the previous abuses that embody genoide and crimes in opposition to human rights.
  2. Convey to justice all these people, residing and lifeless, who perpetrated these egregious abuses.
  3. Make reparations to all three former colonies based mostly on the hurt completed to the Congolese individuals from Leopold II’s private rule in addition to Belgian colonial exploitation. The reparations should meet the next standards:
    • correlate straight with all of the financial income Belgium earned from Congo, and
    • make sure that reparations don’t go to the coffers of DRC’s corrupt authorities however are spent to enhance schooling and infrastructure, bringing them to Belgian requirements inside 10 years.

As we have now seen above, the US was Belgium’s confederate in colonization of the Congolese individuals. Subsequently, the US should take the next actions.

  1. Acknowledge its collaboration with the Belgian authorities within the Congo relating to human rights abuses, together with violence and genocide, and financial exploitation..
  2. Kind a committee that brings to justice US officers, residing or lifeless, who abetted Belgian atrocities within the Congo.
  3. Make reparations to treatment the harms completed to the Congolese individuals. The reparations should meet the next standards:
    • embody a bipartisan committee to guage all of the financial income earned by the US from the Congo, beginning 1885 to as we speak, and
    • make sure that reparations don’t go to the coffers of DRC’s corrupt authorities however are spent to enhance schooling and infrastructure, bringing them to Belgian requirements inside 10 years.
  4. Emulate Belgium and apologize for assassinating the nationalist chief Lumumba,

None of those actions can destroy the harm and ache from the previous however they’ll make our world a kinder, gentler and extra simply place.

*[Dr. Mehdi Alavi is the founder and president of Peace Worldwide Organization, a non-religious, non-partisan and charitable organization in the United States that promotes freedom and peace for all. It recently released its Civility Report 2022, which can be downloaded here.]

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Truthful Observer’s editorial coverage.