Five women born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have brought a case against the Belgian state for crimes against humanity. The women are seeking reparations for forced family separations that occurred during Belgium’s colonial rule.
A verdict is expected by the end of this month.
Lea Tavares and Simone Ngalula suffered abuse and malnutrition at the hands of Belgian authorities.
“It’s painful. It’s inhumane. I put myself back into the shoes of a tiny child who is looking for her mother. At two, you need your mother, her smell and her warmth, but there was none of that,” says Lea Tavares Mujinga.
The forced separations were designed to isolate biracial children from their black mothers. Interracial unions between European men and African women were prohibited. The women, who are now living in Belgium, are calling for the state to acknowledge its crimes, and for reparations of at least €50 000.
“First and foremost, we want our identities back. Until this day, I have never known my Belgian father. We first want an apology for the way we were mistreated, and then we need reparations. But how can you give reparations for a whole lifetime,” says Simone Ngalula.
The case comes amid growing demands that Belgium reassesses its colonial past. Last year, in the wake of protests against racial inequality in the United States, several statues of former colonial King Leopold II were defaced or removed. The current Belgian King Philippe expressed, for the first time, his regrets for the “wounds of the past.”
But the plaintiffs say these symbolic gestures are not enough.
“We are asking the Belgian state why we were snatched from our families, why we were made to suffer like that, and for reparations for lives that were broken apart,” Mujinga added.
A Belgian judge has been weighing up the women’s case for six weeks and a verdict is expected by the end of November. Now grandmothers themselves, these women hope for the start of a new chapter and to resolve decades of trauma.
VIDEO: Five women born in DRC open a case against Belgian state for crimes against humanity