Metis women take Belgium to court for crimes against humanity

Five women are taking the Belgian state to court for crimes against humanity during Belgium’s rule in Congo.  The five were “metis children”, children of mixed-race parentage and claim they were abducted by the Belgian state and abused due to the colour of their skin. It’s the first time Belgium is taken to court in this way accused of crimes against humanity in Congo during the colonial era.

In this case the children had a Belgian father and a Congolese mother.

The five plaintiffs are all women.  They accuse the Belgian state of abduction, abuse, being separated from their families and the removal of their identity due to the colour of their skin.   The women were removed from their mother as children and housed at Roman Catholic mission posts in Congo.  When the nuns were evacuated at the time of Congolese independence children often had to stay.

The women’s lawyers claim they are seen as ‘children of sin’, neither white nor black.  The Belgian state is accused of a conscious segregation policy.  The Belgian state speaks of a different era.  The women are all seeking 50,000 euros in compensation and the appointment of an expert to evaluate the real cost of the damage Inflicted.

Jacqui Goegebeur, the president of the association of Métis in Belgium, who was brought to Belgium as a child, says she feels the women are particularly brave: “We never thought our story would be told.  People were astounded when we publicised our story in 2008.  People didn’t realise the profound intervention in so many peoples’ lives.”

“We arrived here and were told to be grateful for what people were doing for us.  We were supposed to be happy we had not been left behind.  Our mothers were called prostitutes.  When you grow up here thinking your mother abandoned you, you don’t have the inclination to go and seek her out.”

Metis children are the sons and daughters of Belgian fathers and African women.  They were born in the 40s and 50s during Belgium’s administration of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.  The Belgian authorities frowned on relationships between white Belgians and black African women.  It was felt that African women couldn’t serve as parents to children, who were partly white.  Many children were removed from their mothers and taken to mission posts.  Just before independence hundreds of children were dispatched to Belgium where they were adopted or ended up in foster care or orphanages.  All ties with their mothers and their native country were broken.  In Belgium, they often didn’t receive Belgian nationality and faced numerous administrative problems.

 Jacqui Goegebeur believes it’s important that the truth is told.  The Roman Catholic Church apologised for its role in 2017.  On behalf of Belgium, then Belgian premier Charles Michel followed suit in 2019. 

“These apologies mean a lot but other aspects need to be recognised.  Some people have a Belgian birth certificate drawn up by the administration, but the administration itself refuses to accept.  This is the kind of absurd situations people face.”

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