UN to Belgium: Apologise for colonialism, accept racism against Africans

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The UN report urges Belgium not to turn a blind eye to racism and to apologise for the atrocities that Belgium colonial rule committed in DR Congo

Belgium's Africa museum, full of artefacts and stuffed wildlife, was often criticised for ignoring the brutalities of King Leopold II’s fiefdom, whose troops collected the hands of those who resisted slave labour at a time when millions of Congolese people are estimated to have died. Picture taken December 6, 2018.
Belgium’s Africa museum, full of artefacts and stuffed wildlife, was often criticised for ignoring the brutalities of King Leopold II’s fiefdom, whose troops collected the hands of those who resisted slave labour at a time when millions of Congolese people are estimated to have died. Picture taken December 6, 2018. (Reuters)

Racial discrimination and marginalisation against Africans “is endemic” in Belgium and it is inherently embedded in the culture through the colonisation that Belgium needs to apologise for, according to United Nations (UN) experts.

″(We are) concerned about the human rights situation of people of African descent in Belgium who experience racism and racial discrimination,” the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descents said in a new report.

Earlier this month, the UN delegation travelled to multiple cities across Belgium and interviewed people from non-governmental organisations, diverse communities and human right groups as well as the state officials.

At the end of their investigation, the UN experts found that people with an African background faced systematic and institutional racism in Belgium.

“There is clear evidence that racial discrimination is endemic in institutions in Belgium,” the group concluded in its statement.

When asked about the investigation, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel called it “a very strange report”.

However, many African descents in the so-called capital of the European Union were less surprised, reportedly facing different forms of racism and discrimination on a regular basis.

Recently, a very emotional video recorded by Belgium’s only black TV presenter, Cecile Djunga, sparked a nationwide debate about racism in the country.

In the video, Djunga talked about the racist messages she has received, including the woman who told her that “she didn’t look good on screen because she is too black”.

She said in the video: “It doesn’t stop. I’ve been doing this job for a year and I’m fed up of getting tonnes of racist and insulting messages.

“It hurts because I’m a human being.”

Djunga also makes a similar point picked up in the UN report.

“In Belgium, people do not know anything about colonisation or immigration. They feel it is all the fault of foreigners. I think in Belgium we have a problem in that we never explained the truth about colonisation, and it should be told in the schools,” she said.

Skeletons are seen in Belgium's Africa Museum, in Tervuren, Belgium.
Skeletons are seen in Belgium’s Africa Museum, in Tervuren, Belgium. (Reuters)

The UN report also stressed that racism was rooted in widespread ignorance about colonisation among Belgians.

Calling Belgian colonisation in Congo a “dark chapter in history”, the report argues that “the root causes of present-day human rights violations lie in the lack of recognition of the true scope of violence and injustice of colonisation”.

Belgium’s actions in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo have long been characterised as one of the worst examples of colonial abuse. The Belgian King Leopold’s reign over Congo from 1885 to 1908 was notorious for its brutality. Around 10 to 15 million Congolese people were killed during Belgium’s extreme exploitation of land and indigenous people.

After Leopold handed over Congo to the Belgian state, the tiny nation continued to hold sway over an area 80 times its size half a world away until Congo became independent in 1960.

The UN report suggested: “Belgians should confront, and acknowledge, King Leopold II’s and Belgium’s role in colonisation and its long-term impact on Belgium and Africa.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies
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