Women kidnapped from Congo sue Belgium for crimes against humanity
Five biracial women are suing the Belgian government for crimes against humanity, saying they were snatched from their families by Belgian colonial authorities.
The women, Monique Bitu Bingi, Noelle Verbeken, Simone Ngalula Lea Tavares Mujinga and Marie-Jose Loshi – also were taken from their families in the 1950s and 1960s.
It was not until 2017 that Monique Bitu Bingi felt strong enough to tell the full story of what happened during her childhood in the Belgian-ruled Congo.
Even her husband, who died years earlier, didn't know the full details. But her children, who suspected she'd suffered severe trauma, were aware of her recurring nightmares, a living testament to one of the darkest chapters of post-war colonial history.
Born to a Black Congolese 15-year-old and a white Belgian father, Bingi was snatched from her family by the colonial authorities when she was 4.
Marriages between white Belgians and Black Congolese were illegal under a regime that saw biracial people as a "threat for white race supremacy and consequently a threat for the Belgian colony," Bingi's lawyer told ABC News.
The colonial policy separated thousands of biracial children, known as "metis," from their families and placed them into Christian institutions.
The five women are seeking compensation of $55,000. The sum they seek is largely symbolic, but with it they hope to appoint an independent expert to evaluate the extent to which their upbringing constituted the "emotional destruction of a life." That, they hope, will be a source of hope for thousands of others who similarly suffered.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo was a colony of Belgium from 1885 until it gained independence in 1960.
King Leopold II of Belgium ruled the Congo as his private colony from 1885 to 1908. According to the historian Adam Hochschild, millions died as the monarch exploited the country.
A U.N. report into race relations in Belgium, authored in 2019, claimed that Belgium's colonial past could be directly seen to this day. The national curriculum in particular was roundly criticized, as 1 in 4 children reportedly were unaware Congo was once a Belgian colony.
"There is clear evidence that racial discrimination is endemic in institutions in Belgium," the report said. "Civil society reported common manifestations of racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance faced by people of African descent. The root causes of present day human rights violations lie in the lack of recognition of the true scope of violence and injustice of colonization."