Progress letter from Central Government on apologies for slavery past

After the summer, the Central Government will organize a meeting in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom about the follow-up to prime minister Rutte’s apology for the Dutch slavery past. State Secretary Van Huffelen announced this in letters she sent to the States of Curaçao, Aruba, and Sint Maarten and the Island Councils of Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba.

Alexandra van Huffelen, State Secretary of Kingdom Relations (D66)

Read her letter here:

Progress letter apologies for slavery past

Dear members of the Island Council,

Since the apology for the slavery past of 19 December last year, there have been good discussions with your Executive Board and civil society organizations of your island. I would like to thank them for their openness during these discussions. We see these conversations as a good basis to further build on a culture of remembrance, in which there is room for awareness of our shared past and space for conversation about a shared future.

Follow-up of the apology on Saba

At the same time as the apology on 19 December, the State Secretary for Health, Welfare, and Sport was present with you on Saba. At the end of the Prime Minister’s speech, he discussed the history of slavery and its impact. In addition to the measures announced in the cabinet response of 19 December last, he has made several commitments.

These stem from the contributions your island has made to the ‘Chains of the past’ report and the conversations that have taken place as a result. The implementation of these commitments and the realization of the measures from the cabinet response is done in collaboration with your executive board, civil society organizations, and descendants.

As indicated in the government’s response, the commitment is that these commitments to the islands will be financed from the € 100 million regarding measures that relate to knowledge and awareness, recognition and remembrance, and impact and processing. The implementation of these commitments is part of a broader conversation with the Caribbean part of the Kingdom about the further implementation of the entire package, and their specific needs within it.

Since December, we have been talking to each island and have held both digital and physical meetings with representatives of your government, civil society organizations, and descendants. The follow-up of the apology relates directly to the islands and it is very important that the islands themselves are in charge of the implementation of the follow-up of the apology. These discussions showed, among other things, the extent to which certain commitments can already be put into practice and implemented. A number of commitments require further research and/or deliberation, for example through participation or through the work of an advisory committee. We are therefore happy to give you the space and time to shape the implementation of the commitments and the establishment of a position yourself.

In addition, the government is investigating how the various organizations can be supported in their work, with special attention to grassroots organizations and community engagement. Within this framework, a meeting will be organized in the Caribbean after the summer, to which stakeholders from all six islands will be involved and invited. This is as a follow-up to the meeting in Curaçao on November 23 last year.

 State of play of commitments

On Saba, various discussions took place with representatives of descendants, civil society organizations, and your Executive Board. Various ideas have emerged on how to implement the commitments for a monument and to map out the possibilities and support genealogical research for descendants. The implementation of these commitments fits within a broader commitment to raising awareness of the slavery and colonial past, for example by facilitating social dialogue, organizing Oral History projects, developing teaching materials about Saba’s slavery past, and designating 1 July as an official day off on the island.

We are now working on these different ideas together with your Executive Board and relevant civil society organizations and descendants. It is special to mention that during the parliamentary debate on the cabinet response on 25 January of this year, the motion by Simons et al. was adopted. This motion asks the government to also facilitate the search for exactly where one comes from, by means of DNA research by non-profit institutes, such as Erasmus University. The thrust of the motion is in line with the commitment made by the cabinet to Saba on 19 December. From this €100 million, the following measures will also be financed: the free name change scheme; the multi-year study on the impact of the slavery past; as well as stepping up efforts on anti-discrimination and anti-racism policies. The elaboration of the commitment to Saba could therefore serve as a pilot for a broader deployment of this.

Overarching themes

During the various rounds of discussions on the islands, various topics are repeatedly discussed, such as the preservation, management, and disclosure of colonial and slavery heritage; accessibility of the National Culture Funds on the islands; the available cultural infrastructure; and the museum facilities. The different ideas about this are included in each island’s own plan. In addition, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science is looking at how this can be supported, for example by linking up with existing policy initiatives such as the Caribbean Netherlands Culture Covenant, but also by collaborating with the National Archives and the Royal Library in The Hague.

Looking forward

We are on the eve of the Slavery Past Remembrance Year 2023- 2024. I myself am present at the commemoration and opening of the Year of Remembrance on Saba. During this year, throughout the Kingdom and together with Suriname, we reflect on our shared history, so that it has a permanent place in our collective memory. Initiatives will be organized throughout the Kingdom, with the aim of recognition and awareness about this past. Part of this is getting to know the stories, gaining knowledge and listening to how this affects the present. Given the different wishes of the islands, I think it is very important that each island is in charge of the follow-up of the commitments and apologies. In the coming period, I would therefore like to discuss with your Executive Board their thoughts on, for example, the regulation for social initiatives and the Committee. Accessibility and visibility are also topics that we would like to discuss with them. I am convinced that we will only achieve a good joint follow-up if we involve the descendants and organizations involved. That is why we intend to organise a meeting in the Caribbean after the summer, to discuss this with each other and to arrive at concrete principles for, for example, the subsidy scheme and the organization of the intended Committee.

Best regards,

Alexandra C. van Huffelen

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