Belgium’s Colonial Past: Commission urged to declassify archives

Belgium’s Colonial Past: Commission urged to declassify archives
© Belga

Belgium’s State archivists have called for a series of archives related to the country’s colonial past to be declassified, particularly those of the Colonial Security Service, whose rightful successor has not yet been determined.

The call came at a meeting on Monday of the special parliamentary commission tasked with looking into Belgium’s colonial past. If the archivists’ call is granted, it would make available four kilometres of private archives, including those of companies like the Société générale or the Union minière.

According to Foreign Affairs Archivist Alain Gérard, only a tiny part is classified. However, it is still of great importance since it includes Colonial Security files.

A burning question which, according to both Gérard and State Archives officials has not yet been settled, is ‘Who is the legal successor to the colonial intelligence service?’

State Security believes it should have the files, but this view is contested, particularly by State Archives, whose interim head of department, Pierre-Alain Tallier, points out that the service fell under the Governor-General, who was answerable to the Colonial Ministry, which later became the Foreign Ministry.

The archivists have called for an agreement to be reached on the deadline for automatic declassification. They see this as indispensable otherwise the documents will become forever inaccessible. Given the volume of documents, State Security is unable to separate and stamp those that can be made public and those that cannot be divulged until at least 60 years after their original dates.

“This will doubtless be a very difficult negotiation, but one that could yield very positive results,” Tallier stressed.

Another matter that needs to be settled is the issue of classification. Some of the archives at the Foreign Ministry are covered with surface mould and need to be decontaminated before they can be transferred to State Archives as scheduled.

A Dutch company does this type of decontamination, but for it to be able to do its work, the folders sent to it must not contain any classified document.

The Brussels Times

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