By Thomas Verfuss in The Hague
The Netherlands has taken a step to right an injustice that resulted from slavery by allowing descendants of former slaves who want to change their surnames to do so free of charge.
According to news site nu.nl, experts have said that many descendants of former black slaves who now live in The Netherlands suffer psychological harm because of surnames that are reminiscent of slavery. However, most of them cannot afford to have them changed because of stringent and costly requirements.
Under Dutch law, the minimum legal fee for a surname change is 835 euros. And the request can only be granted after a person proves that they have suffered harm from their name. A request from a white Dutch man or woman whose surname is, for example Poepjes (little poos), will automatically be granted. However, descendants of black slaves are required to produce a report after a thorough examination by a psychologist, who is required to verify their claim of suffering harm.
The Municipality of Utrecht, the fourth city of The Netherlands, has gone a step further and will now reimburse citizens who have incurred the costs of change of surname as it hopes for national legislation. Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague are considering similar steps.
When slavery was abolished in the Dutch colonies in the Americas in 1863, the former slaves were supposed to get surnames like all citizens. However, a Dutch commission decided that they should not be given typical white Dutch surnames such as Janssen. They were to be named, for example, after the plantation that had formerly enslaved them.
The Dutch were the last Western colonial power to abolish slavery, 30 years after the British did in 1833. The long-debated related issue was compensation – not for the slaves, but the slave owners. The Dutch government paid 300 guilders per freed slave to the plantation owners for their “lost property”.
Enslavement and apartheid are crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court. The Netherlands has hosted the ICC in The Hague since 2002. Apartheid is sometimes jokingly said to be the only Dutch word known internationally. Apartheid, invented by settlers of Dutch descent in South Africa, is defined as the “institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups” in the Elements of Crimes, as adopted by the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute.