Dutch involvement with slavery went hand-in-hand with the expansion of its colonial and trading interests across the globe in the 17th century.

A ceremony in Amsterdam commemorates the July 1, 1863 abolition of slavery by law in Suriname and the Caribbean countries that were once part of the Dutch empire.
A ceremony in Amsterdam commemorates the July 1, 1863 abolition of slavery by law in Suriname and the Caribbean countries that were once part of the Dutch empire. (AA)

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has officially apologised for the role that The Netherlands played in enabling slavery for at least 250 years.

"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."

Here's what we know about the Dutch involvement in the slave trade:

'Golden Age' in Dutch colonialism

Dutch involvement with slavery went hand-in-hand with the expansion of its colonial and trading interests across the globe in the 17th century, referred to in the Netherlands as the "Golden Age".

After the establishment of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) trading company in 1602 and the Dutch West India Company (WIC) a few years later, trading, including slaves, rapidly expanded.

The Netherlands and its cities like Amsterdam became fabulously wealthy and the riches helped fund an explosion in art and culture that produced artists like Rembrandt.

The first significant Dutch foray into slavery started in 1634 when the initial thousand slaves were abducted from the Gold Coast (today's Ghana) to Brazil by the WIC to work in plantations.

The same year the WIC captured Curacao, which rapidly became a slave-trading hub and in 1667 the Dutch captured Suriname on the northeast coast of South America, which developed into a plantation colony and was heavily dependent on slave labour from Africa.

Around 200,000 slaves were brought to Suriname and around 650,000 in total to the "New World".

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Slavery as far as Indonesia

The Dutch involvement in the slave trade in the Indian Ocean and Asia is less-well researched, but of equal importance, experts say.

Slaves were brought mainly to Cape Town from modern-day Madagascar, while in the Dutch East Indies, today's Indonesia, the slave trade thrived with people captured from the Indian subcontinent.

Abolition of slavery

The Netherlands was one of the last countries to abolish slavery on July 1, 1863.

However, it took another decade in Suriname because there was to be a mandatory 10-year transition and many slaves had to keep on serving their masters until 1873.

Interest groups in the Netherlands say that July 1 next year is the correct date for an apology as it would be exactly 150 years since slavery in the Caribbean was actually done away with.

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Weak support for apology

The issue of a Dutch apology has been floating around for years but concrete steps were finally taken last year.

A 272-page report by a commission recommended the Dutch state recognise slavery as a crime against humanity and say sorry.

Critics say the date of Rutte's announcement on Monday, December 19 is arbitrary, but national public broadcaster NOS said the government's reasons were "pragmatic" including that ministers were available.

The I&O Research Agency found that in a poll among 1,457 Dutch respondents of all backgrounds, only around 40 percent support the idea of an apology.

READ MORE: Caribbean seek 'reparatory justice' as Netherlands mulls slavery apology

Source: AFP