Belgian King Philippe has expressed his “deepest regrets” to the Democratic Republic of Congo for the acts of cruelty committed during the years that his ancestor, Leopold II, presided over the DRC.
The reigning monarch made the comments in a letter to President Félix Tshisekedi on the 60th anniversary of DR Congo’s independence.
Belgium controlled the central African country from the 19th Century until it won its independence in 1960.
Millions of Africans died during Belgium’s bloody colonial rule. Historians estimate that the population of the Congo Free State may have halved to around 10 million people during the years Leopold II presided over the territory as his private property.
The country and its people were exploited for natural resources, including rubber.
In the letter to DRC President Felix Tshisekedi on Tuesday, June 30, Philippe wrote for the first time of his deep regret for these past injuries, the pain of which is also revived by the discriminations that are all too present in our societies.
The 60-year-old monarch also apologised for the suffering and humiliation caused after the end of Leopold II’s administration of the Congo Free State (1885 to 1908 ) when the country became Belgian Congo.
“I would like to express my deepest regrets for these injuries of the past, the pain of which is now revived by the discrimination still too present in our societies,” King Philippe wrote in the letter.
“I will continue to fight all forms of racism. I encourage the reflection that has been initiated by our parliament so that our memory is definitively pacified.”
There is a renewed focus on the European nation’s history after the death of George Floyd in police custody in the US and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed. Thousands of Belgians have demonstrated in recent weeks and statues of Belgium’s colonial leader King Leopold II have been vandalised. Authorities in Antwerp have removed a statue of him from a public square.