King Leopold’s Ghost and other crimes against humanity…

I have always been fascinated with our natural tendency to parcel out justice as we see fit – and mostly to those of our own ilk. If you were to catalogue the occasions when wrong has been perpetuated against people of (mostly) non-caucasian backgrounds, and then attempt to understand what (if any) formal undertakings were initiated to ensure proper restoration and/or reparation to their original circumstances (the only way proper restoration can be said to have occurred), you will find that sadly we have seldom done enough!
King Leopold of Belgium is a good case in point. He did not much care for his native land or his subjects, only considering them in terms of “small country, small people.” So he immersed himself in the pursuit of establishing a colony for Belgium, (anxious that the other European powers vying for overseas dominions in Africa and Asia would leave nothing for himself or his people). He finally set sights on what would become the Belgian Congo, later known as Zaire (or simply as Congo). Leopold immediately established a rule of terror that would culminate in the deaths of 4 to 8 million indigenous people. The survivors were forced to work in mining ore or harvesting rubber, all of which ensured Leo’s coffers were kept full to the brim at all times (Billions of dollars of this ‘loot’ was tucked away in hidden bank accounts throughout the world).
Surely this was one of the greatest, most horrifying (and often most overlooked) crimes of the century, lasting from 1885 until 1909 (24 years). Mercenaries were deployed to force slaves into mines and rubber plantations, raze villages to the ground and commit the most horrific of crimes including, rape, executions, dismemberments (particluarly the chopping off of hands to prove that the specific number of people had been dealt with as ordered).
The subsequent international Congo reform movement that was launched was supported by icons of the time such as Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington and Arthur Conan Doyle. In his bestselling book ‘Heart of Darkness’, Joseph Conrad evoked his own disgust and disenchantment with Leopold’s rape of the Congo in the poor guise of a civilizing mission to tame the savage.
I am not aware to this date, of any recompense that was awarded to the peoples of the Congo – either in whole or in part. I do know however, based on the book by Adam Hochschild (King Leopold’s Ghost – the source of this article) that leopold was able to actually ‘sell’ the Congo back to his own country Belgium, at a great personal profit, barely one year before he died. The Belgium government retained their colony in the Congo for the next 50 years or so till 1960.
Now if you were to extrapolate the same kind of scrutiny towards the taking over of the Native Indian lands in the Americas, the slave trade initiated by the European nations, the British colonization of Saudi Arabia and India, the Dutch colonization of the Transvaal (South Africa) etc., you are more than likely to discover an equally stupefying history of crimes against humanity, most of which remain yet to be properly addressed , or where proper compensation and/or restoration is yet to occur.
Interestingly enough, I do not believe I have ever read the word ‘Holocaust’ utilized in the same context as leopold’s exploits in the Congo, nor in the context of the White settlers and their taking over of the Native Indian lands in the America’s.

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