Dutch Secretary of State, Van der Burg: “We need to give priority to modern slavery”

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Last Monday, the prime minister of the Netherlands, Mr. Mark Rutte offered apologies in the name of the past government for slavery in the past. In the afternoon, the prime minister of Aruba, Mrs. Evelyn Wever-Croes together with Dutch Secretary of State for Justice and Security, Mr. Eric van der Burg held a press conference regarding this historical moment.

Premier Wever-Croes pointed out that the apology of the Cabinet marks a historical day. “It is a day that our ancestors could only dream about. The prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte apologized for slavery in the past. He recognized before that this was a crimen against humanity, and then he offered his official apology.”

Wever-Croes added that even though she could comment on the way in which the preparations for the apology took place, “this does not take away that well-intended apologies are always welcome and that they owe our ancestors to find recognition for them, as they have received today.”

Wever-Croes said that what Rutte said, namely, that this is not a period, but a comma, because from this moment on, Aruba, the Netherlands and the entire Kingdom will continue working together on the path to recovery, restoration and reconciliation. She emphasized that the Government of Aruba is very thankful to the government of the Netherlands for taking this very important first step, and it is now left to the present generation to ensure that what happened in the past never takes place again, and this is why they will be taking steps together to prevent it.

Regarding Aruba, Wever-Croes indicated that minister of Culture, Xiomara Maduro formed a commission that since the first of July 2022, has been working on the history of slavery, and their wish is that for next July 1st they can present a concrete plan on what this all means for Aruba.

Van der Burg pointed out the importance of this historical moment for the Netherlands, Aruba and the entire Dutch Caribbean. He remembered that in his speech, Rutte was very clear as well that he is also thankful to people and organizations that during the last years have been working on proving how important it is for the Netherlands to express their apologies and to have recognition of the crimes that took place against people.

The Secretary of State also said that Monday morning he had a nice meeting with Wever-Croes, one in which there was also the possibility of expressing criticism – for example, for the date chosen, the process until now during which some things did not go optimally, among others – something that Rutte also mentioned in his speech. “As was already mentioned, this is the beginning of the trajectory for us to continue working together on improving the relationship between Aruba and the Netherlands, but also the beginning of the trajectory for the next processes regarding the history of slavery”, Van der Burg said.

Aside from that, he emphasized that it is very important also to recognize the history of slavery and also show how the effects of this remain to this day in the life of people and in society.

Van der Burg mentioned that during his stay he visited the National Archive of Aruba and he commented that that shows how important it is for the archive to not only capture history, but also make this history public for all who want to see how the story of a specific person was, the story of their family, but also what it meant for that person in the present and future.

During questions from the press, our reporter asked the Secretary of State about modern slavery and abuse. Van der Burg explained that he visited the team that is in charge of people smuggling and trafficking in Aruba. He emphasized that even though he came to Aruba in the name of the government of the Netherlands in the context of the apology for slavery in the past, daily as Secretary of State he is responsible for different affairs and two of these are people smuggling and trafficking, which he underscored is very important to him.

Van der Burg also explained that he could see what is already being done in Aruba in this area and how they are taking big, important steps to bring experts on human trafficking and human smuggling, to train people, not only in the direction of law enforcement but also in the direction of the state, the coast guard and public servants.

The Secretary of State added that they are introducing expertise on processing of people guilty of human smuggling and trafficking. He added that we must remember that everyone needs to pay attention to awareness within the community, because a lot of people don’t realize the danger of human trafficking.

“What sometimes we see as just bad labor conditions, or we say that people can leave, they can quit and go do something else, but it’s exploitation of vulnerable people who are in a position to be exploited and many times do not have a way out”, he pointed out.

Van der Burg emphasized that priority need to be given to modern slavery, which is not comparable to the history of slavery but nonetheless is completely unacceptable.