Council for Culture: dealing with colonial archives calls for cooperation on an equal footing.

With its advisory report entitled ‘Dealing with shared sources from colonial history’, the Council for Culture makes a series of recommendations concerning the handling of colonial archives and documentary collections.  The report was presented to the State Secretary Fleur Gräper-van Koolwijk on 25 March 2024. 

In its advisory report, the Council applies three key principles for dealing with colonial archives and documentary collections: the recognition of the historic injustice inflicted on the former colonies by the Dutch state; the willingness to put right this injustice where possible; the need to prevent new injustice and/or any lasting impact caused by historic injustice. 

The provision of full and proper access to archives in consultation with stakeholders can help to prevent new injustice. Archives contain important sources for studying one’s own history and the ability to research one’s own history in a proper way must not be the preserve of the few. 

The recommendations emphasise the need to recognise the shared culture and/or moral ownership of colonial archives and documentary collections.  They include the recommendation that the Netherlands should engage with the countries involved in an equal dialogue in order to ensure that archives and documentary collections can be found, used, interpreted and viewed by all stakeholders. 

The Council also makes recommendations on how to approach requests for restitution. An independent committee made up of national and international experts can be established to advise on each request. The Council does not rule out restitution. It reaches the conclusion that in cases of restitution requests for (records from) colonial archives and documentary collections, a bespoke approach is appropriate. 

The Council believes that the issue of redressing injustice in relation to colonial archives is not so much a legal as an ethical question.  In its advisory report, the Council has therefore embraced the idea of transitional justice in reaching workable recommendations. This means that communities can recover from mass human rights transgressions by means of efforts to identify the truth, by doing justice to and according rights to the victims (or their descendants) and doing everything in their power to prevent the injustice ever being repeated. 

The Council for Culture’s advisory report was prepared by a committee made up of Dagmar Oudshoorn (Chair), Leo Balai, Deirdre Carasso, Michael Karabinos, Wim Manuhutu and Matthias van Rossum.