Born in the Belgian Congo in the 1940s and torn from her mother and then abandoned to militia violence, five Métis women took action against the Belgian state for crimes against humanity.
Their names are Noëlle, Simone, Léa, Monique and Marie-José. They are all grandmothers today and share the same story. These five women were born to black Congolese mothers and white Belgian fathers in the late 1940s in the Kasai region of the Belgian Congo, which became the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A status as “mestizo”, which caused them to be torn from their mother from the age of 2 and placed in isolation by the Belgian state at the sisters Saint-Vincent de Paul in Katende, in the south of the country.
“These are kidnappings of children organized by the Belgian state and carried out with the help of the church,” accuse these women, four Belgians and a French woman, aged 70-74 today. During the colonial era, like them, thousands of children of the Belgian administration were placed from an early age in a Catholic mission in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. A number will be evacuated to Belgium after independence in the early 1960s, but this was not the case for these five women.
In 1961, in the middle of the civil war in Kasai, the nuns at the Katende boarding school returned immediately. The five young girls will not have this chance. They are abandoned on the spot with younger children in their arms, including infants. Surrendered to their own devices in a climate of violence, they are subjected to daily “sexual abuse” by Congolese militiamen. “The lives of these women have been ruined,” appeals Maître Michèle Hirsch, one of the lawyers taking the case to court. “The systematic kidnapping of children for racial reasons is a crime against humanity,” she claims.
“My customers show great courage. For the most part, this is the first time they are telling their true story “, explains Me Hirsch contacted by France 24.
Sixty years later, the five women have decided not to remain silent anymore. The first stage of their legal proceedings will begin on Thursday, 10 September, with a hearing before the conclusions of the Belgian State’s lawyer are expected in December.
A preliminary sum of 50,000 euros is requested
“Why did the state come to pick us up? We had our mothers, we had our families, who were very good. Why did it come to take us away?” Asks Monique Bitu, one of the five complainants. interviewed by RTBF.
“When you commit a crime, we stop you, right? Because you have to repair and besides you do it. Here it is the same: it is a crime and it is necessary to repair it,” adds Léa Tavares, another of these. women.
Given that these Métis women have fallen victim to an “institutionalized” system, in particular through “official racial regulations” taken by the state, Me Hirsch demands that a provisional sum of EUR 50,000 be paid to each of the complainants and the appointment by an expert to assess the moral damage that has occurred.
The lawyer acknowledges that this legal action is above all symbolic. “The goal is not to deliver individual justice but to mention the crime and seek redress,” she says. “The Belgian state was greatly enriched during the colonization thanks to forced labor by people in the colonies. Today, what prevents it from acknowledging the crimes and compensating all the victims? ”
Recovery of Belgian nationality, access to ancestral name
Progress has been made in recent years. In April 2019, Belgium, with a voice from the then Prime Minister Charles Michel, apologized for the injustices and suffering that these mixed children were subjected to by force lost from the population. “Forgiveness is not enough, the state must repair. Moral and material, both! “Reacts Léa Tavares.
Not all of these Métis children. François Milliex, President of Métis from Belgium, welcomes the declaration of the former Belgian Prime Minister, suspended after years of lobbying by his association. “I agree, the fight does not end there. We are also asking for compensation, but rather of an administrative and moral nature, with the recovery of Belgian nationality, access to our father’s name, our true identity and our date of birth, ”he explains, questioned by France 24.
“For action to take place, Belgium must first recognize segregation, it is a first step,” he said, although he acknowledged that we must act quickly so that yesterday’s Métis children, now grandparents, can feel heard throughout their lives. .
He himself was born in Rwanda to a black mother who worked in the service of a white settler. He grew up in a boarding school in Save, near the capital Kigali. Unlike many children taken from his parents, he was fortunate to have a father who agreed to recognize him. It was for his classmates that he decided to found Métis de Belgique, to accompany them in the recognition of the segregation they had suffered and the search for their past.
According to Métis de Belgique, between 14,000 and 20,000 children were born in Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to a resident father and a native mother.