Belgian King Expresses ‘Deepest Regrets’ For Belgium’s Colonial Past But Doesn’t Apologize – The Organization for World Peace
During his visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, King Philippe of Belgium criticized his country’s former colonial regime but refrained from apologizing. King Philippe first visited the Democratic Republic in June as part of Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi’s efforts to improve relations with Belgium. Addressing a joint session of Parliament, the King reiterated his “deepest regrets for these wounds of the past”. King Philippe has become the first Belgian official to express regret for colonization in 2020. However, he has not issued an official apology for his country’s actions. The Belgian colonial regime was brutally violent, especially under the leadership of King Leopold II. According to some estimates, up to 10 million Africans may have died during Leopold’s reign.
During his speech to Parliament, the King noted that “This regime was one of unequal relations, unjustifiable in itself, marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism… On the occasion of my first trip to Congo, here, in front of the Congolese people and those who still suffer today , I wish to reaffirm my deepest regrets for these wounds of the past. Still, some members of the royal family don’t believe King Philip went far enough in his announcement. Princess Esmeralda, the king’s aunt, told the BBC, “I think the apologies should probably be coming soon, formal apologies for the past and for the colonial atrocities that have been committed.”
Many people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are also disappointed by the lack of an official apology. In an interview with CNN, Professor Antoine Roger Lokongo of Joseph Kasa-Vubu University said “the mere regret you have expressed is not enough”. Salesman Junior Bombi agreed, remarking “they left us isolated, abandoned. They plundered all our resources, and today you invite the king of the Belgians again?
Belgium took several steps to remedy colonial wrongs. Brussels is working to return objects looted in the Congo and placed in the Royal Museum for Central Africa. The Belgian Parliament has set up a commission to examine the historical archives of the state and will publish a report this year. These actions go in the right direction, but Brussels must do more. King Philippe is expected to issue a full formal apology acknowledging Belgium’s role in the atrocities. The Belgian school curriculum should objectively and comprehensively cover the colonial abuses of the state. Financial reparations should also be considered. The country must correct its past mistakes to start moving forward.
Belgium took control of the Congo in 1885 and King Leopold II ruled the Congo Free State as his personal property. The Belgian regime used brutal forced labor to trade in rubber, ivory and minerals. When trade quotas were not met, authorities often cut off the limbs of enslaved people in retaliation. According BBC News, administrators kidnapped orphaned Congolese children and sent them to so-called “children’s colonies”, forcing them to work or become soldiers. It is believed that more than fifty percent of these children died. King Leopold II also built a human zoo on the grounds of his palace and imprisoned over 200 Congolese as “human exhibits”. The king’s regime was so violent that other colonialist European countries condemned him and the Belgian parliament took control of him. Belgium ruled the colony until the Republic of the Congo gained independence in 1960. Belgian officials only began to confront and admit to the atrocities in recent years.
Given the scale of Belgium’s crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a statement of regret is wholly inadequate because regret does little to heal historical wounds or steer Belgium away from its colonialist past. An apology is essential to maintaining good relations between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Belgium. Moreover, genuine apologies and acknowledgment of colonial atrocities are crucial for the integrity of the state. If the Belgian government does not face its past, injustices will multiply. Belgium owes much more than regrets to the Democratic Republic of Congo.