Premier Mark Rutte acknowledges that the Dutch state enabled slavery and profited from it as advocates insist King Willem-Alexander should deliver the apology instead.
The prime minister of The Netherlands has apologised on behalf of the Dutch State for its historical role in slavery, and for consequences that he acknowledged continuing into the present day.
"Today I apologise" Prime Minister Mark Rutte said, speaking at a nationally televised speech at the Dutch National Archives on Monday.
"For centuries the Dutch state and its representatives have enabled and stimulated slavery and have profited from it.
"It is true that nobody alive today bears any personal guilt for slavery...(however) the Dutch state bears responsibility for the immense suffering that has been done to those that were enslaved and their descendants."
The apology comes amid a wider reconsideration of the country's colonial past, including efforts to return looted art.
The prospect of an apology on a December afternoon in The Hague had been met with resistance from groups who say it should have come from King Willem-Alexander, in former colony Suriname, on July 1, 2023 - the 160th anniversary of Dutch abolition.
READ MORE: Caribbean seek 'reparatory justice' as Netherlands mulls slavery apology
Dutch slave-trading history
"It takes two to tango - apologies have to be received," said Roy Kaikusi Groenberg of the Honor and Recovery Foundation, a Dutch Afro-Surinamese organisation.
He said it felt wrong that activists who are descendants of slaves have struggled for years to change the national discussion but had not been sufficiently consulted.
"The way the government is handling this, it's coming across as a neo-colonial belch," he said.
Rutte acknowledged a clumsy handling of the runup to the announcement and said the Dutch government is sending representatives to Suriname, as well as Caribbean islands that remain part of the kingdom of the Netherlands with varying degrees of autonomy: Curacao, Sint Maarten, Aruba, Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius.
The Dutch first became involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the late 1500s but did not become a major trader until the mid-1600s, when they seized Portuguese fortresses along Africa’s west coast and plantations in northeastern Brazil.
Eventually, the Dutch West India Company became the largest trans-Atlantic slave trader, with hundreds of thousands of people branded and forced to work in plantations in Suriname and other colonies.
Dutch slavery continued until 1863.
A Dutch government-appointed board issued a report last year saying that "today's institutional racism cannot be seen separately from centuries of slavery and colonialism."
READ MORE: Dutch bank ABN AMRO's apology and its links to slavery, explained