Slavery: Ten true Stories of Dutch Colonial Slavery at United Nations in Geneva

Including opening speeches exhibition

The exhibition Slavery: Ten true Stories of Dutch Colonial Slavery is part of the Outreach Programme on the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery is presented by the United Nations Office in Geneva and the Permanent Representation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations in Geneva. 

Originally curated and displayed in 2021 by Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’ national museum of art and history, the adapted poster version of the Rijksmuseum Slavery exhibition has been showcased at the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva during two weeks, from 20 June till 4 July 2023 and was open to the public. Via this link you can see the online version of the Rijksmuseum's Slavery exhibition.

The Ten True Stories exhibition focuses on slavery in the Dutch colonial era, from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century in Brazil, Suriname and the Caribbean, as well as in South Africa, Asia and the Netherlands itself. It presents ten true personal stories of people who were enslaved, who profited from the system of slavery, and of people who raised their voices against it.

By delving into the past and providing a comprehensive narrative, we can better understand and address today’s societal challenges such as racism and other negative consequences of slavery.

In December 2022, Prime Minister Rutte offered a formal apology on behalf of the Dutch Government to enslaved people in the past and to all their descendants, up to the present day, who suffered the consequences of the historical role played by the Dutch State in the slave trade.

On 1 July 2023, the day of Keti Koti, Dutch King Willem-Alexander apologised for the Netherlands’ slavery past and asked for forgiveness. Exactly 150 years after slavery finally ended in all Dutch colonies.

Opening ceremony Slavery exhibition 20 June 2023

Speakers during the opening ceremony on 20 June 2023:

Ms. Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General of the United Nations Office

H.E. Mr. Paul Bekkers, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations in Geneva

H.E. Mr. Emmanuel Kwame Asiedu Antwi, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Ghana

Ms. Kathleen Ferrier, Chair of the Netherlands National Commission of UNESCO


Speech opening exhibition Slavery by H.E. Mr. Paul Bekkers, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations in Geneva

"Good afternoon, excellencies, distinguished guests, colleagues. Welcome to all of you. 

Thank you dear DG Valovaya for your opening remarks. And thank you Ambassador Antwi and Mrs Kathleen Ferrier, for your presence and contribution during this opening ceremony.

The Netherlands was one of the European countries involved in the colonial slave trade.

For the first time, the history of the Dutch colonial slave trade across the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean is brought together in one exhibition by the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands. This here is small part of that exhibition.

Usually, exhibitions showcase a nation’s culture or history, with enthusiasm, with pride.

Not this time. This exhibition displays a part of our history that we are not proud of. It reflects on our history’s darkest chapters.

We believe, however, that it is important to present it to you. Because only by understanding our history and confront it head-on, we can heal. And at least as important, we can deal with the effects of colonization and slavery today.

We see these effects, centuries later, in racist stereotypes. In discriminatory patterns of exclusion. In social inequality.

In December last year, Prime Minister Rutte formally apologized on behalf of the Netherlands for it’s historical role in the slave trade. To the enslaved people in the past, as well as to their daughters and sons. And to all their descendants.

He did so by stating that these apologies were not a full stop, but a comma. A comma because we do not only share a past. We share a future too.

This comma will commence with a Slavery Memorial Year, soon to start.

In collaboration with various groups and communities the Government initiates and supports activities. A National Slavery Museum will be established. Our colonial past will become an even more integrated part of our education. In this way, and many more, the Slavery Memorial Year will develop organically, from the ground up.

Excellencies, distinguished guests,

A comma, as mentioned, because we share a future too.

Here in Geneva, in the city of peace and human rights, we humbly invite you to be part of this future.

As a diplomat, an activist, a civil servant, a member of the UN-family. Or simply as a citizen with a sincere willingness to positively change this world that has been shaped by our actions in the past.

Sharing stories like in the exhibition are part of this. In order to learn from it. And to do better.

Because while the colonial slave trade might be behind us, its effects certainly are not.

I thank you."


Speech opening exhibition Slavery by H.E. Mr. Emmanuel Kwame Asiedu Antwi, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Ghana


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to be part of this programme to open the exhibition showcasing true stories of Dutch colonial slavery. As a black African, the word “slavery” always leaves me with mixed feelings. The era of slavery was devastating to the African continent and the African People. The continent has suffered the pain of exploitation and experienced some of the lowest standards that we can think about, mostly brought upon it by other countries.  This has led to the African Continent being  described throughout the ages as dark, beleaguered, a scar on the conscience of the world, hapless, and even hopeless.

For over 150 years, Ghana was used as a major hub in the slave trade to capture, enslave, and transport millions of Africans to the Americas and Europe. This painful chapter in history has left an indelible mark on our collective memory, reminding us of the need to confront the past, acknowledge its consequences, and work towards a better future. The numerous forts and castles scattered along the coast of Ghana continue to remind us of this horrendous past.

We solemnly acknowledge and recognise the significance of shedding light on the dark history of slavery. As a nation deeply affected by the transatlantic slave trade, we reflect upon this period with sorrow and strive to honour the memory of those who endured unimaginable suffering.  Recounting these painful moments can be torturesome; however, our stories must be continuously told.

On December 11th 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which declared freedom  from slavery as an internationally recognised human right  and Article 4 of this Declaration States that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude, slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”.

We believe that acknowledging past wrongs, offering sincere apologies, and working together to address the lasting consequences of slavery are essential steps towards healing, reconciliation, and promoting human dignity for all.  It is in this light that, we commend the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte for rendering an apology to the enslaved people in the past and to their descendants in December, 2022.  We also acknowledge apologies from previous leaders and governments including  the National Assembly of France; The Commonwealth of Virginia; the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone; the US House of Representatives and  Senate; The Government of  Denmark which apologised to Ghana; King Philippe of Belgium who also expressed “deepest regrets” for abuses in Congo and Pope John Paul II who apologised for the church's role in slavery. 

Ghana’s former President, Jerry John Rawlings and Benin’s former President Mathieu Kerekou have also both publicly apologised for the role  Africans played in the slave trade.

Ghana stands firmly committed to advocating for restorative justice in the aftermath of the transatlantic slave trade. We believe in preserving historical records, amplifying the voices of those affected, and ensuring that future generations are educated about the profound injustices committed against Africans during this era.

Even though the slave trade has been abolished, many years ago; it is pertinent that we work together to eradicate the factors which can make people vulnerable to modern day slavery and exploitation namely poverty, economic hardship, lack of education, forced migration, discrimination, conflict, etc.

Together, let us strive for a future built on justice, equality, and respect for all so that the pain endured by those in the past can pave the way for a more inclusive, conscientious and compassionate world.

I thank you."


Speech opening exhibition Slavery by Ms. Kathleen Ferrier, Chair of the Netherlands National Commission of UNESCO

"Director General Valovaya,


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an enormous honor for me, to be invited by DG Valovaya and the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Paul Bekkers, to say a few words at this opening.

Thank you so much for the invitation.

I do this as the chair of the Dutch UNESCO commission and, on a more personal level, as a women born in Suriname, the former Dutch Guyana, where I grew up, aware of the history of slavery and contract labor - and of the consequences of that history of transatlantic slavery and, later, indentured labor, - and the consequences of this past in our present days.

UNESCO proofed awareness of the importance of this history already in 1994, by starting The Slave Routes Project. Through the staging of shows and collaboration on books and films this project works to promote and recognize the history of black people with a view to consolidating the values of tolerance and respect, in the minds of young people. In 2004 UNESCO started Breaking the Silence, an educational project. UNESCO underlined two things: the importance of education and awareness raising regarding our common past and secondly that facing this common past cannot be done at the national level only, because the routes of the enslaved people show us the connectedness of countries and peoples and that the impact of the transatlantic slavery and its consequences have a global effect, right into our present days.

That is why it is so particularly important that this exposition, composed by our Dutch National Museum, het Rijksmuseum,  is opening here today in the Palais des Nations, at the heart of the UN in Geneva. Because the UN is the only place where all nations gather and where this story, this part of our common history should be seen and told. To raise awareness of the past and the recognize and face the consequences for all of us today.

In many nations the effects of slavery past, -which in essence is taking away human dignity of people who look different from you-, are deep.  Slavery is not something form the past, the structures of unequalness based on race and color still go on. We see that in a lack of equal chances, in patterns of discrimination and racism and in feelings, often even unconscious, of superiority and inferiorly.  These long-rooted patterns of exclusion prevent us from finding solutions for the challenges we are facing today.  

It is my conviction that as a world community we have reached a critical point in the history of humankind. The challenges we are facing today, a war in this continent, climate change, energy transitions, migration, cannot be solved by one way of thinking and reasoning only. We need all input, all ways of thinking.

The Rijksmuseum made clear, that to make this exposition possible, and to achieve the broad inpact they were looking for, they recognized that they needed to involve new groups, to let go of their usual ways and to give space to new views, different solutions and other focuses, than what they usual do.

It was not easy to let go of their usual control and to allow others into the decision making processes. But the results are stunning.

What happened at the Rijksmuseum is what I want for our world to happen. To experience that new ideas and other perspectives can bring us stunning effects and can help us, as world population, to find the urgently needed answers to the questions we are facing today.

And it all starts with awareness, with knowledge, with consciousness, with all perspectives and different stories of our common past.

A past we cannot change.

But we can act differently today and by doing so, create a more just future for coming generations.

It is my wish that many will see, this exhibition, and understand, what the Dutch National Museum is telling us with ten true stories.

Thank you."