Demand for slavery reparations delivered to Dutch embassy in Suriname

Marvin Hokstam

PARAMARIBO, Suriname, Friday June 28, 2013 - The compensation many descendants of Dutch slavery feel is due to them became official after members of the Committee Reparations Slavery Past Suriname deposited a claim at the Dutch embassy here.

“We want to discuss the material and immaterial damage,” said Committee Chairman Armand Zunder as he presented a petition to Dutch charge d’affaires Ernst Noorman.

Zunder was joined at the presentation by Committee member Guno Rijssel, who stressed “we’re did not go begging. We only demand a satisfactory settlement that is due to us.“

In its petition, the Committee requests that The Netherlands acknowledges the suffering of people who were enslaved here.

“We request that the Dutch Government appoint an institute with which we could enter into dialogue regarding the reparations of the damage we suffered,” Zunder said.

He acknowledged efforts by The Netherlands to give Afro-Surinamers a place in the Dutch community -like the Slavery Memorial statues of Amsterdam and Rotterdam-, but said that these were but feeble.

The Dutch shipped an estimated one million Africans from their continent to work on plantations in “the new world”. Slavery was officially abolished on July 1st 1863, which this year is 150 years ago. The Netherlands has not offered a formal apology.

Zunder, an economist, has previously published research results that showed that the Netherlands earned some Euro125 billion (One Euro =US$1.29 cents) from Suriname during slavery.

“That money was earned through the hard work of the slaves and they were never compensated; in contrast, the traders and the plantation owners were. They got Euro 100 million. And that has been invested in the Dutch economy. The country still benefits from these investments,” he said.

Charge d’affaires Noorman urged the committee to “wait and see” what message Dutch Social Affairs Minister Lodewijck Asscher will have when he addresses the slavery abolition memorial event at Amsterdam’s Oostpark on July 1.

“Whatever Asscher will have to say is for the wider public. The Committee expects a formal response in writing from The Hague to our petition. The Netherlands only seems to want to talk about oppression and the slavery that exists today, and disregard the riches they earned from enslaving our ancestors,” he said.

Zunder said that he did not consider his Committee a mouthpiece of the Surinamese government, but stressed that he was following a path that has been laid by Government.

“Government never changed the standpoint it took at the United Nations World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), held in Durban, South Africa in September 2001. We simply filled in the blanks and used that as our point of departure. Slavery was a crime against humanity, and that has no statute of limitations,” he said.

He expected a tedious process, but said he was in for the long haul.

“We have to set up the organization, start the dialogue with our community and then be ready to tackle whatever will be thrown at us by the institute the Dutch Government will appoint to talk to us,” he said. “Fact is that reparations are due because our ancestors suffered material and immaterial damage.”

Asked whether he thinks compensation should be in the form of funds or in the form of projects that help the ancestors of slaves bridge disadvantages, he said: “Well that’s what we need to start the dialogues for.”

Talk of slavery reparations has been ongoing for a while, but this is the first time that an actual request has been submitted with the Dutch Government. The committee finds many likeminded individuals in the region.

Pro-vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Sir Hilary Beckles recently made a case for slavery reparations in his book, titled “Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations owed the Caribbean for Slavery and Indigenous Genocide.”

Calls have also been made for compensation in Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica.

St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Goncalves has also weighed in on the issue, saying that the Caribbean must remain part of the leadership on the debate of reparation for slavery.

Zunder said he felt reinforced because the reparations issue being a hot topic in the Caribbean.

“Our countries are all former colonies. Slavery and reparations are a shared history and reparations are a topic we can approach together. There is movement to have it become an agenda point for the Heads of Government to discuss,” he said.

 “The process is developing and the good thing about it is that the Caribbean governments are starting to get involved, which gives us a stronger platform to work from. So far we have been footing the bill ourselves,” he said.  (CMC) Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)