Belgium on Thursday apologized for the forced removal of thousands of children born to mixed-race couples during its colonial-era rule of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda.
Prime Minister Charles Michel issued the formal apology during a plenary session at the Belgian Parliament in Brussels with dozens of those affected watching on from the visitors’ gallery.
Belgium forcibly took away thousands of mixed-race children, known as “metis,” born to white settlers and black mothers in these Central African nations towards the end of its colonial rule between 1959 and 1962, a U.N. report said.
The Catholic Church and other institutions then raised these children.
“On behalf of the federal government, I recognize the targeted segregation and policy of forced abductions of the metis during the colonial rule over Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi,” Michel said using colonial-era names of the affected countries.
“In the name of the federal government, I apologize to the metis from the period of Belgian colonization and to their families for the injustices and the suffering that they went through.”
The Catholic Church previously apologized for its role in the kidnappings in 2016.
The Prime Minister’s apology marks the first time Belgium is taking official responsibility for the harm it caused during its colonial rule in Central Africa.
His remarks come shortly after a preliminary report released by the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent after experts visited the country in February.
“We urge the government to issue an apology for the atrocities committed during colonization,” the report said.
It added: “There is clear evidence that racial discrimination is endemic in institutions in Belgium.
“The root causes of present-day human rights violations lie in the lack of recognition of the true scope of violence and injustice of colonization.”
Belgium’s reign in Central Africa lasted from the 1800s to 1960 where King Leopold II exploited rubber and other resources.
Millions were forced to labor under severe conditions where limbs were cut off for not meeting production quotas, and as many as 10 million people are believed to have died in just 20 years.