UN experts: "Belgium should apologise for its colonial past"

A United Nations group of experts has called on Belgium to apologise for its colonial history and crimes committed during this dark chapter in Belgian history.

The group of experts was on a fact-finding mission to Belgium and has issued an interim report.  The group is studying racism directed against people of African heritage and is visiting several countries with African communities.  The experts spoke with various government authorities, ngo’s as well as people of African heritage. They travelled to Brussels, Antwerp, Namur, Liege and Charleroi as well as St Gillis prison in the capital.

The working party says that racism, discrimination and xenophobia are widespread.  In theory people of African heritage are protected by a set of anti-racism laws, but in practice this amounts to little.  People of African heritage have fewer opportunities on the labour market.  They are at the back of the queue when it comes to housing and their children end up in care sooner.  The working party is also concerned about hidden racism in the police and is worried about a wave of populism that discriminates people of African heritage.

Strikingly the experts say that today's racism can be linked to the country's colonial history.

"The roots of today's human rights’ violations lie in the lack of recognition of the violence and injustice during colonial times" they argue.

The experts call on the Belgian authorities to apologise for the cruelties committed during this period.  Only by apologising can this chapter be concluded.   The working party also calls for statues and monuments in honour of King Leopold II, who played a leading role in Belgium's colonial history, to be removed.  It also objects to the reprint of the strip cartoon Tintin in Congo that contains negative stereotypes of Congolese people. The working party doesn't believe the management of the recently refurbished Africa Museum in Tervuren has gone far enough either in putting the colonial experience in context.

The experts' report remains unfinished.  The Belgian government will be able to provide input before a definitive report is published.  But already PM Michel has described the report as "very strange" and has let it be known the government will provide input.

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