BRUSSELS (AP) — Five mixed-race women who were taken away from their Black mothers in infancy and sued the Belgian state for allegedly committing a crime against humanity have lost their case.
Lawyers and relatives told The Associated Press on Thursday that they will appeal the Brussels court’s ruling.
Lea Tavares Mujinga, Monique Bintu Bingi, Noelle Verbeken, Simone Ngalula and Marie-Jose Loshi had hoped Belgium would recognize responsibility for the suffering of thousands of mixed-race children. Known as “metis,″ the children were snatched away from families and placed in religious institutions and homes by Belgian authorities that ruled Congo from 1908 to 1960.
The Brussels court’s ruling seen by The Associated Press found that the policy, however unacceptable, was not “part of a generalized or systematic policy, deliberately destructive, which characterizes a crime against humanity.”
The court added that it was not possible to establish that “the placing of mixed-race children in religious institutions for racial reasons was considered by the community of States to be a crime against humanity and incriminated as such” at the time the events took place.
“The judge said that it would have been qualified as a crime against humanity if it happened today. It’s very shocking,” Monique Fernandes, the daughter of Bintu Bingi, told The AP.
The five women, all born between 1945 and 1950, filed their lawsuit last year amid growing demands for Belgium to reassess its colonial past.
In the wake of protests against racial inequality in the United States, several statues of former King Leopold II, who is blamed for the deaths of millions of Africans during Belgium’s colonial rule, have been vandalized in Belgium, and some have been removed.
In 2019, the Belgian government apologized for the state’s role in taking thousands of babies from their African mothers. And for the first time in the country’s history, a reigning king expressed regret last year for the violence carried out by the former colonial power.
Lawyers said the five plaintiffs were all between the ages of 2 and 4 when they were taken away at the request of the Belgian colonial administration, in cooperation with local Catholic Church authorities.
According to legal documents, in all five cases the fathers did not exercise parental authority, and the Belgian administration threatened the girls’ Congolese families with reprisals if they refused to let them go.
The children were placed at a religious mission in Katende, in the province of Kasai, with the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul. There, they lived with some 20 other mixed-race girls and Indigenous orphans in very hard conditions.
According to the lawyers, the Belgian state’s strategy was aimed at preventing interracial unions and isolating métis children, known as the “children of shame,” to make sure they would not claim a link with Belgium later in their lives.
Legal documents claim the children were abandoned by both the state and the church after Congo gained independence, and that some of them were sexually molested by militia fighters.
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Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press