After 8 decades of colonization, Belgium had finally apologized for the kidnapping, segregation, deportation and forced adoption of thousands of children born to mixed-race couples during its colonial rule of Burundi, Congo, and Rwanda.
The apology which was pronounced on Thursday is the first time Belgium has ever taken any responsibility for what historians would say was the immense harm the country inflicted on the Central African nations.
Prime Minister Charles Michel offered the apology Thursday afternoon in front of a plenary session of Parliament, which was attended by dozens of people of mixed race in the visitor's gallery.
“Throughout Belgian colonial Africa, a system of targeted segregation of métis and their families was maintained by the Belgian state, and acts were committed that violated the fundamental rights of peoples,” he said, using the term for mixed-race people.
This is why, in the name of the federal government, I recognize the targeted segregation of which métis people were victims” under Belgian colonial rule in Africa and “the ensuing policy of forced kidnapping” after independence.
In the name of the federal government, I present our apologies to the métis stemming from the Belgian colonial era and to their families for the injustices and the suffering inflicted upon them.
I also wish to express our compassion for the African mothers from whom the children were taken,” he said.
The prime minister said the Belgian government would make resources available to finance additional research on the issue, open up its colonial archives to métis people and offer administrative help to those seeking to gain access to their official records and seeking Belgian nationality.
Some experts on colonial history noted that Belgium’s apology had come late — nearly 60 years after the three countries gained independence.
Racial segregation was a pillar of Belgian colonial rule, historians say. Until the late 1950s, the colonial authorities discouraged interracial romance and banned interracial marriage before the Catholic Church.
Many white Belgian men, nevertheless, married Black Congolese women according to local customs, producing children sometimes called métis. But in the eyes of Belgium, these children undermined official segregation policies and blemished the white race’s prestige, official documents from that time show.
Fearing a repeat of the Red River Rebellion in Canada in 1869-70, when métis people revolted and overthrew the local government, the Belgian authorities ordered métis children in Congo to be separated from their families and from the Black population as a whole.
An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 children were segregated from their parents — most often from single African mothers — and placed in orphanages and schools predominantly run by the Catholic Church, historians said.
— (The New York Times)