Belgium’s King Philippe expressed deep regret on Tuesday for the “suffering and humiliation” inflicted on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) during its 75-year period under Belgian rule.
The letter to DRC president Felix Tshisekedi to mark the 60th anniversary of independence is the first such expression of regret for Belgium’s colonial past by a reigning monarch, the royal palace said.
“I want to express my deepest regret for these past injuries, the pain of which is regularly revived by the discrimination that is still all too present in our societies,” the letter seen by Reuters said.
The DRC achieved independence in 1960 after the Central African country had been a Belgian colony for 52 years and, before that, the personal property of King Leopold II for 23 years until 1908.
During Leopold’s rule “acts of cruelty were committed, while the subsequent colonial period “caused suffering and humiliation”, Philippe said.
Statues of Leopold, whose troops killed and maimed millions of people in Congo, have been defaced or removed in Belgium after global anti-racism protests sparked by the police killing of black American George Floyd swept across Europe.
Philippe pledged to “continue to fight every form of racism” and welcomed the Belgium parliament’s move to launch a reconciliation commission to address racism and the country’s colonial past. This process of reflection could help Belgians “finally make peace with our memories”, he said.
The coronavirus pandemic prevented the Belgian king from travelling to the DRC to mark the anniversary.
Philippe struck a different tone to his younger brother, Prince Laurent, who said earlier this month that Leopold could not have “made people suffer” in the DRC because he never visited his colony.