Belgian State acquitted in trial of abducted mixed-race children in Congo

Belgian State acquitted in trial of abducted mixed-race children in Congo
The Justice Palace in Brussels. © Pixabay

On Wednesday, a Brussels court acquitted the Belgian State in the trial about five 'métis' (mixed-race) children, who were taken from their mothers in Congo when it was under colonial rule.

Five métis women – children born in Congo under Belgian rule of Congolese mothers and Belgian fathers – sued the Belgian State for kidnapping, abuse, being separated from their families and having their identities taken away.

At a young age, the women were taken away from their mothers and placed in a Catholic mission post in Congo.

Based on these "contextual elements," the court ruled on Wednesday that "the policy of placing children of mixed descent in religious institutions" cannot be seen as a crime against humanity, reports the Belga News Agency.

On top of that, the case is also statute-barred, the court stated.

'Visible proof of disrupted colonial order'

Between 1948 and 1961, numerous métis children were abducted by colonial officials in the run-up to Congo's independence from Belgium.

Belgian colonisers often pressured mothers into signing documents in a language they often did not understand or took the children away by force.

As black people were made to live completely separate from their white colonisers under Belgian rule, the children were considered "visible proof of the disrupted colonial order" and had to be taken out of sight.

They were often sent to mission posts in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, taken to orphanages and institutions or placed with adoptive parents in Belgium. Based on official documents from the colonial administration, the Church assisted in the abductions, according to the lawyers of the five métis women.

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In older official documents and newspapers, métis children were often called "half-bloods," referring to only half of their blood being European, or "mulattos," which has its origin in the Latin word mulus, the bastard offspring of a horse and a donkey.

Not only do both these words carry very pejorative connotations, but they also only refer to the children’s mixed skin colour. The word métis, however, carries no negative undertones and also refers to the children’s colonial background. It is the word these (grand)children now call themselves.

In 2019, then-Prime Minister of Belgium Charles Michel apologised on behalf of the Belgian State to the métis children taken from Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.

However, the plaintiffs felt that this was not enough and filed a complaint against the State. This was the first time a complaint about Belgium's colonial past went to court.

More in-depth information about the métis children and their abduction from Congo can be found here.

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