‘Reparations owed’: Experts deliver special report on Belgium's colonial past

‘Reparations owed’: Experts deliver special report on Belgium's colonial past
A bust to colonial-era General Émile Storms, who led murderous expeditions in Congo to squash resistance to Belgian occupation. Credit: EmDee/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ten experts tasked with examining Belgium's colonial past from different points of view have delivered their final report, which includes a suggestion that the country pay reparations to the Congo.

Anne Wetsi Mpoma, an art historian and representative of the diaspora movement, argued in the 681-page report that Belgium should recognise the colonisation of Congo as a crime and pay due reparations, according to De Morgen.

“The damage suffered is impossible to quantify, but it must be made good through financial compensation,” Mpoma said.

She also said that Belgium should initiate a procedure to award reparations to Afro-descendants - Belgians with Congolese, Rwandan or Burundian roots - including reimbursement of certain psychological support.

“The wounds inflicted are passed on from one generation to the next,” Mpoma said.

Opposition party N-VA has already reacted to the report with strong opposition to any reparations.

“If we have to pay rent for the occupied territories in Congo, as is suggested, we ourselves have a lot of historical accounts to settle with just about every other European country,” said Member of Parliament Tomas Roggeman.

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The commission behind the report was created after the Black Lives Matter protests last year, and their task was far from easy.

They were instructed to take stock of the knowledge about Belgium’s colonial past, namely and most infamously its involvement in the Congo, and to examine how that past still affects people today.

The panel of ten included historians, but also other experts, which from the beginning sparked arguments about its composition. The report itself has been delayed for months.

The findings form the basis for further debate among politicians in the commission.

Wouter De Vriendt, the commission's chairman, emphasises that each contribution in the report is the responsibility of the expert who wrote it.

“In itself, it is not surprising that these things appear in the report,” De Vriendt said.

“The experts just had to examine the link between colonialism and racism and discrimination today. It is good that the report does not avoid taboos. It is and remains a difficult task and it is now up to the committee members to discuss it further.”

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