Belgian king expresses 'deepest regrets' over DR Congo colonial past

WION Web Team New Delhi Jun 30, 2020, 12.42 PM(IST)

Queen Mathilde of Belgium and King Philippe - Filip of Belgium visit the Institute of tropical medecine in Antwerp, on June 23, 2020. Photograph:( AFP )

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The death of George Floyd in the US late last month as he was being arrested by police in Minneapolis in the US has stoked fresh debate in Belgium over its colonial record. 

Belgium's King Philippe expressed his "deepest regrets" for the harm done during Belgian colonial rule in DR Congo, in a first for his country.

"I want to express my deepest regrets for these wounds of the past whose pain is reawakened today by the discrimination still present in our societies," Philippe said Tuesday in a letter to DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi to mark the country's 60th independence anniversary.

The death of George Floyd in the US late last month as he was being arrested by police in Minneapolis in the US has stoked fresh debate in Belgium over its colonial record. 

Also read: U.N. mulls slow DR Congo drawdown despite ongoing bloodshed

Historians say that millions of Africans from areas in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo were killed, mutilated or died of disease as they worked on rubber plantations belonging to Belgium's King Leopold II.

60 years after independence, traces of the system of exploitation and violence that Leopold II and colonial-era Belgium created still remain in DR Congo. The propensity for violence is inherited, experts say.

Philippe, without mentioning Leopold by name, said that during this period "acts of violence and cruelty were committed which weigh on our collective memory."

"The colonial period which followed (1908-60) also caused suffering and humiliation," he said.

Philippe said he would combat all forms of racism and said he wanted to encourage the reflection on the issue begun by the Belgian parliament so that such memories could be put to rest.

Also read: UN chief expresses solidarity with Ebola-hit DR Congo

Several statues of Leopold, who ruled between 1865 and 1909, have been daubed with paint or torn down by protesters in Belgium in recent weeks, and a petition has been launched for their removal.

And some institutions have removed busts or statues from public view to defuse public anger.

(With inputs from AFP)