Declaration and Petition against Genocide in Congo
Declaration and Petition Addressed to:
His Royal Highness King Philippe of the Belgians and
The Belgian Federal Parliament,
President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and
The Pan-African Parliament,
His Holiness Pope Francis of the Holy See and
The College of Cardinals of the Vatican,
President Herman Van Rompuy and
The European Parliament,
President Barack Obama and
The Congress of the United States of America.
President Vladimir Putin and the
State Duma of the Russian Federation.
President Abdullah Gul and
The Grand National Assembly of Turkey.
His Royal Highness King Harald V and
The Parliament of Norway.
We, the undersigned scholars, spiritual leaders，public servants, humanitarian workers, businessmen, media consultants, and common people concerned with righteousness, social justice, and improvement of life on the African continent, gathered on this day – May 24, 2014 in Beijing, China for the purpose of celebrating and commemorating the African Union Day. Heretofore, we agreed upon and signed this current document, which we named the Africa Shall Rise Declaration.
We hope and wish all of you and the millions of peoples you represent, health, prosperity, and long and peaceful life. We pray for the welfare and blessings on your work in the interest of humanity! After exhaustive research, prayer, consideration, and deliberations, we have decided in the interest of historical justice and for the
purpose of healing the past wounds of colonialism, that it would be necessary at this time to reopen, revisit and review the tragic and obscure history of the Congo Free State (État Indépendant du Congo) of 1884 – 1908. That heavy period may have been forgotten by many, but there are still people all over the world who strongly believe that the Kingdom of Belgium should acknowledge full responsibility for this deplorable time of history. It needs to be reopened for the purpose of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation in our turbulent times. It must be revisited for the sake of a needed historical catharsis.
That sad period of history is still very much alive and hurtful in the minds of people on the African Continent, and especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That great country has gone through a lot of turmoil and humanitarian crises in recent years as all of you know well. However, we do believe it is important for us to realize
that denying careful attention to the bleeding wounds of the past will not be beneficial if we desire to reach appropriate solutions for the present or the future.
We do appreciate the fact that in the late 19th century the Belgian Parliament did not endorse King Leopold II’s ambitions to pursue a colonial possession for Belgium. This led him to act totally on his own and under the cover of smokescreen humanitarian organizations to be able to obtain a large territory around the Congo Basin area in
Central Africa. We also appreciate the fact that Belgium was not the first country to give sovereign recognition to their king’s large personal estate (called “International Association of the Congo” at the time), but followed after the United States and several European countries, in according that privilege.
While presenting himself as a great philanthropist and thus deceiving people in the West, and after gaining full international recognition of his sovereign rights over the Congo, King Leopold II starting breaking the regulations set by the Berlin Treaty Act of February 1885. His rule of the region as his personal slave plantation was atrocious – several million people died (estimates vary from 2 to 15 million since it is not easy to get an exact count and many records were destroyed by the king in 1908); hands were severed off from thousands of men and young boys, women were kidnapped and violently raped, and villages were plundered and burnt, while the immense resources of the area were ruthlessly exploited. The regime produced one of the worst humanitarian disasters in all of history.
That period of depopulation, when about half of the inhabitants of the land died, should be called what it really was – an African Holocaust. The time has come for its full historical disclosure and recognition. The time has come to reckon with that dark past in order that both we and our children would be properly educated and learn from our history.
King Leopold II was also the key person responsible for the larger colonization of Africa, because by his actions, initiatives, political influence, and insatiable appetite for glory, he inspired six other European nations to annex the interior of the African continent in the so-called “Scramble for Africa (1876-1914).”The following colonization period brought about much pain to the native populations of the continent. We do not condemn the countries which participated in that, but we strongly denounce the sinful and criminal acts committed during that time.
Belgian historians are expected to make a clear exposition of the atrocious record of Leopold II’s Congo Free State regime and accept the documented truths, which the rest of the world already knows. This, we deem necessary for the sake of maintaining historical and national integrity for both Brussels and the European Union.
Historical exposition and accountability for that reprehensible period, was supposed to be given by Belgium’s scholars in 2004, but now is long overdue. We agree with the famous British journalist W.T. Stead who in 1905 suggested: “No one, not even a king, should be immune to international prosecution for permitting or condoning atrocities like those in the Congo Free State.”
We do consider all monuments of Leopold II in Belgium or coins minted with his image as highly insulting to Africa and the international community who know the lamentable events surrounding the slaughter of Congolese people under his regime and the millions of human lives it destroyed. For those among us who are Europeans such monuments are a shame, embarrassment, and disgrace to our global legacy.
Therefore, we publicly declare that the sovereign regime of King Leopold II of Belgium over the Congo Free State (1884 – 1908) was a reign of terror, brutality, slave labor, exploitation, mass murder, deception, and a grave violation of international law – crimes against humanity, for which repentance, official apologies, and historic restitutions are needed at this time.
We are grateful to the United Kingdom of Great Britain for leading the world during that period in exposing the appalling crimes of the Congo Free State. We appreciate the fact that in August of 1908 Britain threatened a naval blockade on the Congo River, in order to obstruct Leopold II’s exports and thus put an end to the butchery. We value the initiative taken on May 24, 2006 (exactly eight year ago to this day) in Early Day Motion 2251 by 48 members of the British House of Commons, led by Mr. Andrew Dismore, who sponsored and discussed the need for exposing the full tragedy of the Colonial Genocide under Leopold II rule and requested Belgium to apologize to the Congo; unfortunately, the motion was tabled and not reconsidered later.
We are thankful to the Congress of the United States of America, which even though being persuaded to become the first world power to accord diplomatic recognition to the Congo Free State in April 1884 and approved the act of the Berlin Conference on Congo, in view of the atrocities exposed later the same body took action to denounce Leopold II’s regime in 1906. We appreciate the several missionary boards, like those of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches, in America, and activists like George Washington Williams who wrote petitions to stop the atrocities. We are grateful for the fact that President Theodore Roosevelt did not grant permission to King Leopold II to visit the United States in February of 1908.
We now want to call upon the international community to raise their voice and correct this grave injustice to history, by increasing public debate and peaceful actions on the mater, by denouncing the Congo Free State regime of King Leopold II as a disgrace and horrible crime against humanity, and by requesting admission and apology from Belgium accordingly. Such an act of apology and acceptance of responsibility by Brussels will be helpful for the country to experience moral cleansing and rid herself of this heavy historical burden. We believe that divine favor on the Belgian Kingdom and global reconciliation will result from such a noble step.
Official apologies for past historical evils and crimes committed are relevant in our time for national healing and contribution to world peace. We do appreciate the fact from more recent history that the Belgian government did apologize in February of 2002 for its involvement in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the Congolese independence leader, which took place in January of 1961.
Germany gave us a great example when in August 2004, Development Minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeulthis apologized in Namibia on behalf of the German government for the genocide committed in 1904 against the Herero and Nana tribes, saying: “We Germans confess to our historical-political and moral-ethical responsibility and guilt that Germany at that time took upon them…I plead with you as part of our common Lord’s Prayer to forgive us our sins.”
Exactly a month ago, on April 24, 2014, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey offered condolences to the descendants of the Armenians killed by Ottoman soldiers during the sad events of 1915. By that admission on behalf of Turkey, and by calling those actions “inhumane,” Mr. Erdogan made a historic step toward healing and dialogue with Armenia. That recent development should serve as a great example of Belgium to follow.
Therefore, in view of our thorough study of the painful circumstances of the Congo Free State period and their destructive results on the Congo people, in the name of historical righteousness and justice today, we officially make the following petitions:
1. We petition the institution of the Belgian Monarchy to make an official public declaration admitting the crimes committed by King Leopold II during his rule of the Congo Free State and make an official apology to the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to Africa, and to the rest of the world. Even though the present king or people of Belgium had no direct involvement in the Congo Free State events, and the crimes committed then were primarily the work of one person who happened to be their monarch a century ago, such a step is appropriate in the interest of historical justice and moral responsibility. We do sincerely hope that His Royal Majesty King Philippe can plan a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the near future and make a speech to that effect. That would be a historic act of Christian repentance
and admission on behalf of the Belgian crown.
2. We make the following petitions to the current Belgian Federal Parliament:
a) We ask that the surviving archives of the Congo Free State be made
fully accessible for international scholarly review.
b) We petition that lessons on that tragic part of world history be included in educational programs and textbooks in Belgium.
c) We hope that the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren would include a special exhibition giving an objective view of the destruction of African life that took place under the Congo Free State regime and honor the memory of the millions of Africans who perished during that time.
d) We petition the Belgian government to deconstruct the monument of
Leopold II in the municipality of Arlon, which includes the following inscription in French: “I have undertaken the work in Congo in the interest of civilization and for the good of Belgium.” We request that no more euro coins would be minted with Leopold II’s image like the one made in 2007.
e) The Belgian government should commit to making extra special
efforts of assistance and take a more active role in improving the
humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
3. We petition the African Union to make an official public declaration denouncing the Congo Free State period for its atrocities, destruction of millions of African lives, violations of international law, and crimes against humanity.
4. We petition the Most Holy Father Pope Francis and the College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church to make an official public declaration of denouncement of the horrific crimes of the Congo Free State regime and thus take symbolic responsibility for the fact that most of the Belgian Catholics did not speak out against the atrocities during that awful era, while the British, American, and Swedish protestants raised their voice. With that important step his Holiness will make a historic contribution to the healing of wounds, and to the reconciliation and forgiveness in the Congo and the African continent. Such a declaration would be significant for the present situation there and it will contribute greatly to the spiritual revival and transformation of Africa.
5. We petition the European Parliament to officially admit historical responsibility for the powers, currently European Union member states, which gave official recognition to the International Congo Association as King Leopold II’s sovereign territory, especially the countries present at the Berlin Conference on Congo (1884-85), namely: Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Austria – Hungary, and Denmark. We petition these nations in particular and the European Union as a whole to admit that historical tragedy by publicly denouncing the atrocities, international law violations, and crimes against humanity committed under King Leopold II’s Congo Free State rule.
6. We petition the parliaments of the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Germany, Italy, and Spain to make declarations of formal apology for crimes committed during the period of their respective colonial occupation and administrations in Africa in regard to local peoples, tribes, and native cultures, and for acting on many occasions in violation of the provisional guidelines set by the General Act of the Berlin Conference signed on February 26, 1885 (Chapter I, Article 6) for humanitarian treatment and protection of the African natives.
7. We petition the United States Congress to appoint a research group to reexamine that period and to vote on establishing an African Memorial museum or a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute for remembering the victims of the Congo Free State and for educating the public regarding that awful time; the regime’s massacre of African peoples is hard to be compared to any other period of history. That would be a significant step of historical justice and reconciliation for the people of Africa. It will also send a strong message to the world that the dreadful events of the Congo Free State must never be repeated.
8. We petition the State Duma of the Russian Federation to take moral historical responsibility, as one of the powers involved in the Berlin Conference for Africa and recognizing King Leopold II’s Congo Association in January of 1885, by officially denouncing the Congo Free State regime for its brutality, violations of international law, and crimes against humanity.
9. We petition the Grand National Assembly of the Republic of Turkey to take historical responsibility for the Ottoman Empire’s participation and approval of the Berlin Conference Act of 1885, by officially denouncing the Congo Free State regime for its brutality, violations of international law, and crimes against humanity.
10. We petition the Parliament of Norway, which was a joint kingdom with Sweden at the time, to take historical responsibility for participating in the Berlin Conference and for recognizing King Leopold II’s Congo Association in February of 1885 by officially denouncing the Congo Free State regime for its brutality, violations of international law, and crimes against humanity.
Dear gentlemen and madams, we are a group of ordinary people who have no political or economic agenda for writing this letter, but are requesting a correction to a grave historical injustice. Even though this ugly period of history occurred over a century ago its lasting shadow and continuing effects are still evident in the Congo in the present day.
Therefore, we strongly consider that these actions we are petitioning for, though not easy and requiring special grace and humility, to be very important and necessary, because historical healing and reconciliation is desperately needed in view of the present situation in many African nations, especially the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We plead with you to assist us in fully putting the past behind so that we will be able together to bring about a better and more prosperous future for the people of the Congo, of Africa, and of the rest of the world.
We wish to conclude with a verse from the Holy Scriptures (Micah 6:8):
He hath showed thee, O man, what is good;
and what doth the LORD require of thee,
but to do justly, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with thy God?
We deeply and honestly appreciate your careful consideration of
these our petitions!
Thank you for your time and thoughtful attention to our letter!
Colonial Genocide and the Congo, Early Day Motion 2251, British Parliament
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