Taking Action on Colonial Past and its Legacies

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Taking Action on Colonial Past and its Legacies (TACLE) is an initiative coordinated by Avocats Sans Frontières following the establishment of the Special Commission on Belgium’s colonial past.

The death of George Floyd in the United States in May 2020 triggered a global movement against racial injustice. In the former European colonial powers such as France and Belgium, this movement is formulating a set of demands related not only to the current prejudices suffered by racialised populations but also to the historical prejudices arising from the colonial past of the countries in question. The denunciation of these injustices is not new, as evidenced by the conclusions of the UN Working Group on People of African Descent following its visit to Belgium in 2019.

Following these protests in Belgium, the Federal Parliament launched the establishment of a “Special Commission to examine the independent state of the Congo (1885-1908) and Belgium’s colonial past in the Congo (1908-1960), Rwanda and Burundi (1919-1962), its consequences and the follow-up action to be taken”. Initially envisaged as a truth and reconciliation commission, this mechanism was however requalified as a parliamentary, and therefore political, commission.

Nevertheless, its mandate still implies a mission to “shed light on Belgium’s colonial past” and to “make recommendations on reconciliation”.

The concepts of memory, truth and reconciliation are specific to the field of transitional justice, whose mechanisms are generally deployed in post-conflict or democratic transition contexts. Their transposition to the problems of managing the colonial past is therefore a novelty, which means that the actors involved need to fully grasp the contours of these concepts in order to be able to play their role to the full.

In this context, ASF is coordinating a initiative that aims to :

  • Document the work of this commission on the management of the colonial past and its consequences and disseminate it within Belgian society, at the European level and in the formerly colonised countries. This documentation work is currently being carried out in collaboration with Amah Edoh, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and African Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
  • Support civil society efforts in the development of an advocacy agenda on issues of colonial memory, reconciliation and reparation to national and international institutions. This crossroads of exchange between academic and activist expertise is organised in collaboration with a group of researchers from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Abdellali Hajjat, Amandine Lauro and Sasha Newell and Amah Edoh at MIT.
  • Create a dialogue between civil society actors and Belgian and European institutional actors on the implementation of public policies relating to the historical injustices of colonisation.

Interdisciplinary Symposium : JUSTICE NOW ? Tackling legacies of Europe’s colonial past in the wake of Black Lives Matter

ASF co-organizes an interdisciplinary conference with the Anthropology Department at MIT, and the European Network Against Racism from the 22nd to the 26th of March 2021. Over the course of five half-days, scholars, activists, and policy makers from Africa, Europe and North America will address issues related to Europe’s colonial heritage and the global demands for justice in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests.

>> More information and registrations <<

Publications about the TACLE initiative

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