Women kidnapped from Congo file suit against Belgium

The five women, taken from Congo to Europe when their motherland was under colonial rule, have sued the Belgian state for crimes against humanity

Five women born in Congo have taken steps to ensure that Belgium takes responsibility for the thousands of mixed-race children who were taken from Africa to Belgium.

The complainants were all born in Congo when the country was under Belgian rule but were taken away from their black mothers.

They describe this as a “racially motivated abduction” and have filed a lawsuit against the European nation.

The lawyer for the women, Michèle Hirsch, said the lives of her clients have been shattered after they were forcibly taken from their parents and placed in religious institutions in Congo run as children’s homes.

“This systematic policy of racially motivated abduction is a crime against humanity,” she told the Associated Press on Friday.

“It is not enough to say: ‘We apologise.’ Reality has to be taken into account. Their lives have been shattered.”

Apology to métis

Many children – mostly born to Congolese women by white male settlers – were also kidnapped during the period of Congo’s colonisation in the 1940s and 1950s and sent to Belgium.

An estimated 20,000 mixed-race children, originally known as mulâtres and then as métis, were taken away from their mothers at the request of the Belgian colonial government.

The same abuses occurred in the other Belgian colonies, Burundi and Rwanda.

In 2019, Belgium’s then prime minister, Charles Michel, rendered an apology to all métis.

Many have since demanded that Belgium reassess its colonial past, as the Democratic Republic of Congo prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its independence on 30 June.

However, the five women, who were all born between 1945 and 1950, argue that an apology is not enough.

Four of the complainants are living in Belgium and the fifth resides in France. Hirsch said they were aged between just two and four when they were taken away from their families.

“Their fathers were white and did not legally recognise their child,” the lawyer said.

Global protests

The five women have been emboldened to take legal action against Belgium following the global wave of Black Lives Matter protests against racial inequality.

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has sparked renewed resistance by people of colour across the United States and in other parts of the world.

Legal documents suggest that the Belgian government threatened the children’s Congolese parents with reprisals if they refused to let their kids be taken.

“They arrived [in Belgium] without clothes or shoes, having lost all their affective bonds,” Hirsch said. “Some children were allowed to go to school, but they also needed to work.”

Some were said to have been molested by militiamen. Others were abandoned by both the state and the church after Congo became independent and the territory was carved into two nation states.

The five mixed-race women are seeking compensation of €50,000 (US$56,000) each from the Belgian state.

E A Alanore

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