AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands–Outspoken Suriname born Dutch lawyer Gerard Spong has said the Netherlands owes descendants of slaves in its former colonies slavery reparations.
The fierce opponent of Suriname’s President Bouterse, who earlier this year announced plans to sue the Surinamese Government over its amnesty law, has said he would gladly take on the Dutch state, large companies, banks and descendants of plantation owners who inherited well from the wealth their ancestors accrued 150 years ago in Suriname.
“It could be tricky to pinpoint a defendant, but it wouldn’t be a bad consideration to knock on the doors of the state that facilitated slavery and the heirs of the plantation owners who are now living in wealth,” Spong told Dutch TV station NCRV. He said it would be a he would gladly pursue, but in conjunction with other lawyers as it is too large in scale for one single attorney.
“I would pursue it, because of my own personal attachment to Suriname; I was born in the country. I do not feel like I am a descendant of slaves, but that doesn’t diminish my feeling that this would be a worthwhile case,” he said. A financial claim for suffering would be appealing and legally challenging.
Spong, who once owned a law practice in Suriname, is a fierce opponent of President Bouterse, and served as advisor of the previous Government on the December 1982 murders of 15 influential citizens. He recently chastized Suriname’s Government for passing controversial legislation that would pardon Bouterse and other suspects in these “December murders”, saying the country violated its constitution and international law. That he now announces his willingness to take on a case for reparations has been applauded. “I’m happy a lawyer of his caliber would pursue a case like this,” one person commented online when NCRV reported the story on its website.
The discussion about reparations was fired up a few months ago in the Surinamese and Antillean communities in The Netherlands, when Amsterdam University researchers published a map that shows all addresses in Amsterdam where 80 plantation owners and shareholders of plantations in Suriname lived 150 years ago. Among the financial institutions that were involved in the slave trade was the then Insinger Bank of Amsterdam. The Bank, which now does business as Insinger de Beaufort Bank, has meanwhile said in a statement that it regrets the slavery part of its past.
But an expression of regret is unsatisfactory, it seems. “Of course reparations are necessary. There are still Black people up until today who suffer from the inheritance of slavery. Slavery was abolished 150 years ago, but it lasted almost 400 years. People have not been able to heal, because there was no compensation or even an official apology for the inhumane treatment slaves suffered. How else are people expected to recover,” commented Glen Godfried of Amsterdam’s Multicultural Radio Station MART.