Colonial human skulls will not be auctioned in Brussels after protests

Colonial human skulls will not be auctioned in Brussels after protests
Credit: RV

Following heavy criticism and protests, the Vanderkindere Auction House in the Brussels municipality of Uccle will not be auctioning off three human skulls from Belgium's colonial period after all.

Vanderkindere had put up for sale three skulls from the colonial period of Congo Free State (1885-1908), which was the private property of then-King Leopold II. The skulls were from a private collection, but following heavy criticism, they have been withdrawn from the auction.

"Vanderkindere sincerely apologises for having offered for auction a lot including three human skulls linked to the Belgian colonial past, which are therefore imperatively withdrawn from the sale and will be repatriated," the auction house posted on Facebook.

"We do not in any way condone the suffering and humiliation suffered by the peoples who were victims of these colonial acts," they said. "Once again, we express our deepest regrets to anyone who has been hurt and injured by the sale of this lot."


The issue also came up during the special parliamentary committee investigating Belgium's colonial past, often referred to as the 'Congo Commission.'

One of the proposals of recommendation by committee chair Wouter De Vriendt aims at "the possible return of these remains" based on the 'Home project' of the Africa Museum in Tervuren, just outside of Brussels, which aims to identify and return the many human remains owned by the museum.

Going one step further, the French-speaking Green Party (Ecolo) is now also asking for a ban on the trade in human remains. "It is inconceivable to me that the trade in human remains is legal in Belgium today," said Ecolo MPs Rajae Maouane and Guillaume Defossé.

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"The remains, including those of people killed during the colonial period, are entitled to absolute respect. One does not sell corpses," they said. "That has to change."

In the meantime, the Chamber has not yet found a consensus on whether Belgium should apologise to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Burundi for its colonial regime based on domination and exploitation with economic reparations and/or with symbolic restitution, such as a day of commemorations.

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