Five Mixed-race Women Lose Their Lawsuit Against the Belgian State

Lea Tavares Mujinga, Monique Bintu Bingi, Noelle Verbeken, Simone Ngalula and Marie-Jose Loshi had hoped Belgium would recognize responsibility for the suffering of thousands of mixed-race children. Known as “metis,″ the children were snatched away from families and placed in religious institutions and homes by Belgian authorities that ruled Congo from 1908 to 1960.

These five women were among those taken away from their Black mothers in infancy, and they have decided to sue the Belgian state for committing a crime against humanity.

They have lost their case. But as reported to teh Associated Press, their lawyers and relatives will appeal the court’s ruling.

The Brussels court’s ruling seen by The Associated Press found that the policy, however unacceptable, was not “part of a generalized or systematic policy, deliberately destructive, which characterizes a crime against humanity.” The court added that it was not possible to establish that “the placing of mixed-race children in religious institutions for racial reasons was considered by the community of States to be a crime against humanity and incriminated as such” at the time the events took place.

“The judge said that it would have been qualified as a crime against humanity if it happened today. It’s very shocking,” Monique Fernandes, the daughter of Bintu Bingi, told The AP.

In 2019, the Belgian government apologized for the state’s role in taking thousands of babies from their African mothers. And for the first time in the country’s history, a reigning king expressed regret last year for the violence carried out by the former colonial power.

Lawyers said the five plaintiffs were all between the ages of 2 and 4 when they were taken away at the request of the Belgian colonial administration, in cooperation with local Catholic Church authorities.

The children were placed at a religious mission in Katende, in the province of Kasai, with the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul. There, they lived with some 20 other mixed-race girls and Indigenous orphans in very hard conditions.

According to the lawyers, the Belgian state’s strategy was aimed at preventing interracial unions and isolating métis children, known as the “children of shame,” to make sure they would not claim a link with Belgium later in their lives.

Legal documents claim the children were abandoned by both the state and the church after Congo gained independence, and that some of them were sexually molested by militia fighters.

– Ella Breedlove