Henry Wellington Wack
The Story of the Congo Free State
New York & London : Putnam 1905



Letter of Instruction from the Secretary of State to the Governor-General at Boma in re Protection of Natives, October 1st 1896 (pp.563-565 )


Brussels, October 1st 1896
Sir,
I have the honour to transmit to you herewith a certified copy of a Decree, dated 18th September, appointing a Commission for the protection of the natives.
It has seemed advisable that selected and impartial men, without official or administrative connection, should be placed in a position to form a perfectly independent opinion in regard to any acts of violence of which the natives may have to complain. Such is the object of the new Commission which has been appointed to watch over the protection of natives throughout the country.
It's members are nominated by the King Sovereign, for a period of two years, from among the representatives of philanthropic and religious Associations.
By this expression the Decree pointed specially to the missionaries, who were, indeed, marked out for nomination in virtue of their office.
The first members nominated are : Mgr. van Ronsle, Fathers van Hencxthoven and De Cleene, the Protestant missionaries William Holman Bentley, Dr. A. Sims, and G. Grenfell. The last mentioned is appointed Secretary, Mgr. van Ronsle is nominated President.
I have to request you to inform them individually of their selection by the King Sovereign; the Government are confident that they will not be appealing in vain to the devotion of these gentlemen in requesting the assistance of their services in a work of humanity and protection. One of the authenticated copies of the Decree hereto annexed is intended for each, and will serve as a letter of appointment.
The Decree specifies the duty intrusted to them as being that of notifying to the judicial authorities acts of violence of which the natives may be victims. This right of initiative belongs to each member individually, that is to say, that he can act separately without any cooperation on the part of the other members of the Commission. Each member may on his own accord address direct communications to the Governor-General with regard to any matters which come within the scope of his mission.
It is the express desire of the Government that the authorities should act upon the information thus given by the members of the Commission, and open an inquiry and institute proceedings either administrative or, in cases of infractions of the law, judicial, in accordance with the general instructions given to the Department of Criminal Justice (le Parquet).
It will hardly be necessary to call the attention of the members of the Commission to the fact that, by reason of the great attention which will be paid to any complaint which they may make, it will behove them to act with circumspective, and to give the authority of their support only on those facts of which they may have personal knowledge, and which are based on trustworthy evidence.
The Decree lastly provides that the Commission may, through the medium of it's Secretary, indicate to the Government the measures to be taken to prevent slave-trading, to render more effective the prohibition or restriction of the trade in spirituous liquors, and gradually to bring about the disappearances of inhuman practices. The simplest mode of procedure will be for the Secretary of the Commission - and I am sure that Mr. Grenfell will be willing to accept the duty - to forward to the Governor -General a half-yearly report on these questions, containing the observations and proposals of the members of the Commission on the subject. This half-yearly report would also deal with the working of the Commission, the acts of violence definitely established by the members, the complaints made, and the results achieved.
I have to request you to keep me informed of the manner in which the new Decree is carried out, and to acquaint me with the definite constitution of the Commission.
The terms of the Decree seem calculated to afford the natives a real guarantee. In order to strengthen this still more, the Government have decided that all offences against the persons of natives, and all attempts against their liberties committed by Europeans, shall be remitted exclusively to the Court of First Instance at Boma, that is to say, before a Court sitting under the fullest conditions of publicity and control. I therefore request that you will instruct the Public Prosecutors (Parquet) to bring offences of the kind before that Court, instead of sending them to the territorial Courts, reserving of course the special jurisdiction which the law gives to military Courts (Conseils de Guerre) in the case of soldiers.
Believe, etc.
The Secretary of State (signed) Edm. van Eetvelde








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