§ MR. HERBERT SAMUEL (Yorkshire, Cleveland)
said, on moving the Motion standing in his name, it would naturally be asked what was the right of intervention which the Government of this country had in the affairs of the Congo Free State. The Motion asked the Government to intervene in the affairs of that country for the purpose of mitigating the evils under which the Congolese suffered at the hands of the Government of the Congo Free State. The Congo Free State stood in a position unique in the history of the world. It was not a State created by gradual evolution or by right of conquest, or by fission from some pre-existing State, but it had been created by common consent of all the great Powers, and had been entrusted not to any of the existing Powers but to an individual. A large area in West Africa belonged to no Power, and the Powers of the world assigned it to the King of the Belgians, chiefly in order that none of the other Powers should possess it. But it was assigned under certain conditions, first of which was the furtherance of the moral and material well-being of the natives, and second that the trade of all nations 1290 should enjoy complete freedom. Article 5 of the General Act of Berlin said—No power which exercises or shall exercise sovereign rights in the above mentioned regions shall be allowed to grant therein a monopoly or favour of any kind in matters of trade.And again—The trade of all nations shall enjoy complete freedom.Those conditions were solemnly made by the Powers in conference at Berlin, and this country is one of those Powers and had a right to insist on those conditions being carried out. Moreover, the Congo Free State adjoined no less than four of our African possessions, Rhodesia, British Central Africa Protectorate, the Uganda Protectorate, and the Soudan. At one point its territories not merely adjoined our own but overlapped, for the Lado enclave was an area belonging to Britain which was leased to the King of the Belgians. Everything which happened in a country which was so closely connected with our possessions could not be a matter of indifference to us. With regard to the question of trade rights and infringement of those rights, he would deal with that first as being the less important and the easier to deal with. As soon as the Congo Free State was created, steps were taken by the Government of that country to annex to the Government all vacant land within the area of the State; that meant all lands except those actually occupied by natives for their villages and plantations, and a few small patches of soil in the occupation of Europeans. By a series of decrees from 1885 to 1889 all land was vested in the Government. In 1892 what was called the Domaine Privé was established. Out of 900,000 square miles of this territory, no less than 800,000 now formed what was called the 1291 Domaine Privé. The whole of the Congo Free State, with the single exception of a very small portion west of Stanley Pool, was regarded as a private possession. Measures were soon adopted for exploiting this vast area. A large amount of it was worked directly by the State, which had the rubber collected and brought in to its officers, and large tracts had been let to concessionary companies, in which the State held half the shares; and within the area assigned to those companies no outside trader was allowed to carry on his business—in direct defiance of the Article 5 of the Treaty of Berlin. There was an absolute monopoly in all these huge areas. A proof of that had been furnished by the Parliamentary Paper issued last night. An unfortunate man named Rabinek was arrested on a British ship and was sentenced to a year's imprisonment and a fine. He never served the imprisonment because he died from exposure to the effects of the climate, but he was convicted, as was definitely stated in the official papers, of trading in a district in which public trade was forbidden. British merchants were constantly complaining that it was absolutely impossible to carry on a legitimate trade. The exports of the Congo Free State amounted to £2,000,000, the exports to Belgium, £1,860,000, and to England, £11,400, which were considerably below what they were in 1888. It was interesting to contrast those figures with the French West African possessions, where it would be remembered there was no free trade except in part of the French Congo. The total trade there was £6,880,000, of which the trade with Great Britain was £936,000, or 14 per cent. The population of French West Africa was about the same as that of the Congo Free State, estimated at rather over 20,000,000. On the other hand, the Congo Free State was supposed to be under a free trade régime. It had a total trade of nearly £3,000,000, of which the trade with the United Kingdon was only £104,000, or 3.5 per cent., so that in French West Africa, under a protective régime our trade was four times as large in proportion as it was in the Congo Free State. This was sufficient to show how completely the conditions were violated as regards Free Trade to all nations.
He would now turn to the treatment of the native population living under the dominion of the Government of the Free 1292 State. When the Congo Free State was founded the world looked on with sympathy, and philanthropists with enthusiasm. At last, it was said, we should have a State with a humanitarian on the throne; in these vast regions philanthropic principles would have full scope. At the Berlin Conference, Baron de Courcel spoke of "the generous aspirations" with which this State had been founded. Sir Edward Malet said its founders were "dominated by a purely philanthropic idea," while Bismarck spoke of the "noble efforts" which would "render great services in the cause of humanity," and King Leopold himself said "our only programme is the work of moral and material re-generation." An atmosphere of goodwill and high principle surrounded all these proceedings, and it was expected and believed that the Congo Free State would play the part of a kindly guardian, govern its subjects with infinite kindness, guard them from the evils from which they had suffered, and lead them to the light of civilisation. At the present moment there was forced labour of many kinds authorised by law; forced military service; cannibal troops had been let loose to raid their neighbours, and there had been a never-ending tyranny and constant atrocities. Guizot said of the French Republic of 1848, that it began with Plato and ended with the gendarme. The same might be said of the Congo Free State. Men required for carriers were kidnapped in the woods, and the rubber companies coerced natives to work in the same way. Soldiers were needed for the great armies raised; they had been demanded from the chiefs and enlisted by force, and carried off to distant parts of the country, and compelled to serve for five years in the regular forces and two years in the reserve. Out of 16,000 men 11,000 were obtained in this fashion. It was a very different thing to conscription in a European country, where a man was called upon to perform a patriotic duty to the State to which he was usually devoted, and for a limited period. In the Congo natives were forced to enlist, and were sent 500 or 600 miles away to distant parts of the territory, among people who were practically foreigners to them, and kept 1293 there for five years. For the collection of rubber there was introduced a system known as the sentry system, under which native soldiers, without the control of white officers, were stationed in the villages with the duty of compelling the natives to work. The consequences of all this were continuous resistance, smuggling, mutinies, wars, punitive expeditions, constant seething turmoil, and barbarous acts of repression.
The House would naturally expect some instances of the evils of which he now complained. He would first take the case of Mr. Morrison, of the American Baptist Mission, who was seven years in the Congo, who had lately returned, and who had furnished a statement which was now in the hands of the Foreign Office. He said:—In the months of August and September of the year 1899 occurred, about three days from Luebo, one of the most shameful affairs that has come within my knowledge. By way of explanation it is necessary to say that at the State post of Luluaburg, which is about five days march from Luebo, is located a large village of people called Zappo-Zapps. They are cannibals, and were brought from far to the east, and settled there by a State officer named Paul Le Marinel about the year 1890. Ever since their coming to Luluaburg they have been a terror to the whole surrounding district. In fact, having guns and being known to be cannibals and very brave warriors, they have all these years been the great slave-dealers and slave-raiders of the district.During the last days of July, 1899 (or about that time), news reached us at Luebo that a large band of Zappo-Zapps, under a famous warrior chief named Mlumba Nkusa, was proceeding into the Bena Pianga country, not far from one of our Mission stations, in order to collect tribute and get stores for the State. Upon hearing this news I wrote at once to our missionary at Ibanj, the Rev. W. H. Sheppard, F.R.G.S., warning him to be on the look-out for trouble. He had not long to wait, for soon the news began to come in from the region only one day from the station that the Zappo-Zapps had established themselves in a strong stockade near a village named Chinyama, from which they were almost daily sallying forth to catch slaves, demand tribute from villagers, and kill all who dared oppose them. This condition of affairs went on uninterrupted by the officer at Luluaburg, though only four—or at the most five—days distant. The greatest terror prevailed throughout the whole region, extending even as far as Luebo and beyond. Many thousands of people had deserted their villages and fled to the forests for safety.At last word came to Mr. Sheppard that the Zappo-Zapps had treacherously invited a large number of the prominent chiefs of the region to come inside the stockade, and that there they had been shot down without 1294 quarter. The mission than asked Mr. Sheppard, who was also a friend of many of the Zappo-Zapps, to go and carefully investigate the whole affair, taking with him some reliable native men, who could, if necessary, corroborate the statements he made.Mr. Sheppard saw along the way several burnt vilages, also some wounded persons. He reached the well-arranged stockade, and was received in a friendly way by Mlumba Nkusa and his 500 or more followers. Inside the stockade Mr. Sheppard saw and counted eighty-one human hands slowly drying over a fire." [He might explain that what the scalp was to the North American Indian the hand was to the Congo native—the proof that his enemy had been killed.] "Outside the stockade he counted more than two score bodies piled in a heap. Some of these bodies had the flesh carved from the legs. Upon asking what this meant he was informed by Mlumba Nkusa that his people had eaten the flesh. Mr. Sheppard also saw several Albini rifles and a pistol, with cartridges—all of which natives are forbidden to have. Mlumba Nkusa said plainly that he had been sent by the State officer at Luluaburg, and that he had already despatched to him sixteen slaves.An inquiry was held into the matter but none of the Belgian authorities were punished. Another missionary, whose name he was not at liberty to give, confirmed Mr. Morrison's statement and added—These men had been pillaging and murdering with the same place as headquarters for over a month, three days easy march from the headquarters of the Chef de Zone.And he went on to say that "the native chief of the expedition was kept under arrest for a short time and then turned loose, which I believe is not far wrong, as he being only a savage chief was simply doing what his chief officers had ordered him to do. I understand to his credit, moreover, from reliable information, that the State wanted him to go out on another such expedition and he refused to go." He would now continue Mr. Morrison's statement—During the months of June, July, and August of last year we had at Luebo—and in fact throughout the region between Luluaburg and Luebo—another reign of terror. A new officer, named Deschamps, had just come into power at Luluaburg. During my absence he came to Luebo, and there, without a warning to the chiefs or villagers, sent out his soldiers to catch men by force wherever they could be found. The people fled at once to the forests for safety; some of the women and children, as is their custom in such times of fear, found refuge about the Mission premises. He went away with a number of men thus caught. Upon my return to Luebo, only a few days after the departure of the officer, and finding the whole community naturally in a state of unrest, I made complaint to the authorities 1295 about the matter. Scarcely had my letter been despatched when another officer, named Ducès, sent by Deschamps, came to 'recruit' soldiers, as he said. I went to him, and in person demanded protection for the natives, and urged that none be taken by force. This M. Ducès promised, and I in turn told the natives what he had said. Within a few days, however, he received imperative orders from his chief, Deschamps. Consequently he began catching the people by force. They fled to the forests for safety; but day after day, for perhaps a week or ten days, the soldiers scoured the woods in search of men. They succeeded in catching about eighteen or twenty, and these I saw taken away under guard, tied about the necks with ropes.This whole affair I reported to the Native Protection Commission appointed by the King some years ago, of which the Rev. George Grenfell is the secretary, asking it to see that the natives were protected in their rights. The only answer I received was that the State had established forced labour by law, and that doubtless the officers were acting entirely within their powers, the Commission thus sheltering itself and the officers guilty of these outrages under a form of legality.Mr. Morrison's statements were confirmed by eight witnesses, whose names he had seen, but which, for obvious reasons, he was not able to give. Another case was that of Mrs. Banks, who described in 1895 how "she saw a native sentry beating and loudly abusing a poor woman who was crossing the station with a basket on her back. On investigating the cause of the disturbance she found that the basket was full of hands which had been cut off in one of the rubber palavers, and that instead of nineteen hands only eighteen could be found, the woman having dropped one en route. Mrs. Banks herself counted the smoked hands, and found some of them to belong to children, others to women, and to men. Many of the victims were relations of the poor creature who was bearing the basket to the local agent." He had seen letters from a missionary, who was stationed in the Bangala district, written within the last year, but whose name he was not able to give, for he said—I am not afraid of what the State may do to me personally, but I fear that some officers might try and worry me through the people with whom I work—hence my reticence in appealing in any of these matters.Those who were interested in this matter felt that this was a most unfortunate thing, as there were many missionaries who had not the courage to speak out as to the facts. The Armenians had a 1296 saying that when a man told the truth he must mount his horse and ride as far as he possibly can from the person to whom he has spoken the truth. Apparently some of the missionaries held the same view. That missionary went on to speak of the taxes, and described the meaning of the sentry system. "The State has every two miles a sentry, with a subordinate or two, and two or three servants from the locality. It is a part of his duty to see that the tax is taken up regularly, and if he does not do so he is severely rebuked by the commissionaire. Now, a keen-witted soldier will see that he is not reprimanded, and an unprincipled soldier will do anything to the people to get the tax out of them rather than run the risk of a reprimand and so making himself a marked man in the commissionaire's book. I leave you to imagine all the oppression and misery which arises out of this system." But the evidence they had was not only from missionaries. Mr. Pickersgill, who was British Consul in 1898, said—A sentry on the Congo is a dare-devil aboriginal chosen from troops impressed outside the district in which he serves, for his loyalty and force of character. Armed with a rifle and pouch of cartridges he is located in a native village to see that the labour for which its inhabitants are responsible is duly attended to. If they are india rubber collectors, his duty is to send the men into the forest and take note of those who do not return with the proper quantity. When food is the tax demanded, his business is to make sure that the women prepare and deliver it; and in every other matter connected with the Government he is the factotum, as far as that village is concerned, of the officer of the district, his power being limited only by the amount of zeal the latter may show in checking oppression.Some years ago many hundreds of British subjects from Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast were recruited as labourers and artizans in the Congo Free State. Those that went sent home such frightful accounts of what they suffered that in 1896 our Government had to stop the recruiting. In 1896 the present Colonial Secretary said in that House that—Complaints had been received of these British subjects having been employed without their consent as soldiers, and of their having been cruelly flogged and in some cases shot. They were engaged with the knowledge of Her Majesty's representative, and every possible 1297 precaution was taken in their interests, but in consequence of the complaints received the recruiting for the Congo and the West African colonies had now been prohibited.Mr. Robert Codrington, the Administrator of North Eastern Rhodesia in 1902, reported that there wasNo trade properly so-called on the Congo coast of Tanganyika, but that all rubber and ivory are regarded as the property of the State, and have to be surrendered by the natives in fixed quantities annually; the natives are, however, continually in rebellion, and the country is unsafe, except in the immediate vicinity of the military garrisons and within the sphere of influence of the missionaries.When they could do so, the natives fled to the territories governed by other Powers. M. de Lamotte, the Governor of the French Congo, said in his evidence before a Commission on Colonial Concessions held in Paris in 1900—'The agents of the Abir (one of the great rubber companies) have used their powers to such effect that they have succeeded on inducing 30,000 natives to leave their territory and take refuge on the French bank of the Congo.'Mr. Hall, a missionary who had recently returned, said that those natives who lived near the Portuguese boundary were steadily migrating into Portuguese territory. When he was in Uganda a year ago he was told by a British official that it was a frequent occurrence for natives to cross over to British territory in order to be free from the treatment to which they were exposed across the border. Those instances were very far from being the whole of the cases that could be quoted. Were he to read all the instances he should keep the House until the late hours of the next morning. There were very many witnesses who had testified to these atrocities. [Mr. Herbert Samuel here read the names of a large number of persons whose evidence might be consulted.] When they remembered that no one had an interest in exposing these misdeeds, while many had an interest in defending the Congo Free State, when they remembered that it was almost by chance that these things had come to light, they might shudder at the thought of how many crimes had been committed in secret in the darkness and silence of the great forest. He was not one of those short-sighted philanthropists who thought that the natives must be treated in all respects on equal terms with white men. In the speeches he had made on behalf of the negro population of Africa he had never put forward such excessive 1298 claims. But there were certain rights which must be common to humanity. The rights of liberty and of just treatment should be common to all humanity, and especially should those rights be received from a State which was avowedly founded for the purpose of elevating the negro population, and introducing among them the benefits of civilisation. If the administration of the Congo State was civilisation, then he asked, what was barbarism? Financially the activity of this government had been a brilliant success. There was never a deficit in the finances. The companies which had been founded to exploit the rubber industry had prospered amazingly, and the State had a share of the enormous profits which they had made. One great company, which started with a capital of £1,000,000, paid a dividend in 1899 of 270 per cent., in 1900 470 per cent., and in 1901 245 percent. When it was remembered that the State held half the shares and received half the profits it was obvious that the Congo Free State had proved a remunerative undertaking. King Leopold had said that "the wealth of a Sovereign consisted in the prosperity of his people." They might suspect that there were sometimes other sources also!
He had done his best not to exaggerate the case. He had been anxious not to do injustice. It was only fair to say that the Congo State had done good work in excluding alcoholic liquors from the greater part of their domain, that they had established a certain number of hospitals, had diminished smallpox by means of vaccination, and had suppressed the Arab slave trade—although, in the words of our consul, Mr. Pickersgill, the system that had been introduced was "a mere modification of the evil that had been attacked." He could not but believe that King Leopold would desire that these atrocities should be stopped, but they were the invitable outcome of the system which was authorised. In punishing those who were guilty of those atrocities they were merely dealing with symptoms and not causes. They could not have forced labour, heavy taxation, the sentry system, and these immense profits without disastrous results. Even under the best circumstances this would be so, even with officials of the very highest standard. But Belgium had no colonisation experience, and the class of Belgian officials was not 1299 of the type which many of them would wish to see placed in command of large native populations. These officials were scattered over vast areas and were subject to the influence of a deadly climate, affected by malaria, were depressed by loneliness, and were entrusted with despotic power over greatly inferior peoples. Therefore, it was not to be wondered at that the results were disastrous. He was glad to think that public opinion was waking up to the evils of which they complained. The Associated Chambers of Commerce of England last March passed a resolution asking the Government to take action on behalf of British merchants. The Free Churches had passed resolutions. In Germany a congress had been held last year which called for international action. The exact course which should be adopted was a matter for those in authority. The Act of Berlin provided that an International Commission should be appointed, primarily to regulate the navigation of the Congo, but also to investigate any charges made of breaches of the Act. That Commission had not been appointed. His Majesty's Government might propose to the other Powers concerned that that International Commission should be established and that through its agency steps should be taken to abate these evils. It would shortly become necessary for the Powers to decide whether the duties on goods imported into the Congo State should be allowed to continue, and His Majesty's Government would then have an opportunity of taking action in concert with the other Powers. He trusted the Government would realise that in this matter apathy and delay were intolerable. Even on commercial grounds the Government could not refuse to take action. But there were many people who were stirred more by consideration of the sufferings of the negro populations than by the material considerations of matters of trade. It was to those people, inside and outside of the House, that he appealed. It had always been the boast of this country, not only that our own native subjects were governed on principles of justice, but that, ever since the days of Wilberforce, England had been the leader in all movements on behalf of the backward 1300 races of the earth. Here was an occasion when those responsible for our policy, basing themselves on a treaty publicly and solemnly made, publicly and flagrantly violated, might pursue those great traditions, and by taking the initiative in this matter might add to the annals of the good deeds of our country. He begged to move the Resolution standing in his name.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said it must not be supposed that the vast district of the Congo was unknown to British trade and British missions before the King of the Belgians went there. In 1874 Lieutenant Lovett Cameron traversed the territory from end to end, and made treaties with the chiefs in the upper and lower portions of the Congo for the annexation of the Congo basin. Those treaties were subject to ratification by the Cabinet. They were submitted to the Cabinet by Lord Carnarvon, but assent was refused. In a despatch of 1876 the Government laid down the position with regard to our trading rights in the Congo State. They directed Sir William Hewett to make fresh treaties with the chiefs on the south bank of the Congo for absolute free trade, and similar treaties were made by other naval officers on the north bank. Those treaties would be found in Hertslet's "Map of Africa by Treaty," and they were intended to make it clear that we should continue to have in future and for all time those large rights by which we had profited up to that time. In 1876 Sir T. F. Buxton and the right hon. Member for the Honiton Division took part in starting at Brussels the International African Association. In 1880–81 De Brazza for the French and Mr. H. M. Stanley for the King of the Belgians made treaties on both banks of the river; and in the struggle that developed assurances were given of the utmost freedom for all who wished to extend their trade there in almost the terms of the Berlin Act. The personal assurances of King Leopold were as could be conceived. In 1882 the King informed us that hisSole object was to open Africa to the trade of all nations and to allow the penetration of civilisation.1301 His association had "no commercial character" but wasAn association of wealthy philanthropists who, in the disinterested aims of civilisation and for love of progress, sought to open the basin of the Congo.That was the first solemn assurance, and that "sole object" was put before all the trading classes in this country. The Commercial Department of the Foreign Office was directed to give assurances to Hatton and Cookson, of Liverpool, who had great interests there, and to Holt, of Liverpool, and the Cumbers of Commerce of Liverpool and Manchester, that continued complete freedom of trade would be in any case maintained. The Government were a party to these assurances; and it was their bounden duty to see that these assurances were continued and maintained. King Leopold was in the position of despotic ruler in the country, and could not approach the Government through his Belgian Ministers. He could only approach the Government in a private way. Sir William Mackinnon, whose philanthropy could not be doubted, was the intermediary, and on behalf of King Leopold he informed all the Chambers of Commerce of the personal pledge by the King as to his "sole object." The King offered an International Commission upon which we were to be represented, the King being first President. The Portuguese then offered a similar plan. M. de Serpa, the Portuguese Minister, used language which confirmed the view which he had put before the House on this subject, for he said—There exist already there commercial interests without privilege and without distinction of nationality. The Congo is already the seat of an important commerce and of European establishments.Those were the establishments well known in Liverpool and Manchester, and they were almost all British. That was the situation then. In 1884 Sir W. Mackinnon was the intermediary, and he, on behalf of the King, promised "absolute freedom of trade" and "absence of privilege."
In 1884–85 came the Berlin Conference. Sir J. Pauncefote was sent direct from the Foreign Office. Sir E. Malet was our principal plenipotentiary, and Baron de Courcel was the principal French plenipotentiary; and the two 1302 latter were still living and could confirm the statement that the assurances were repeated. The basis of the Conference was "freedom of commerce within the basin of the Congo," and, "to bring the natives within the pale of civilisation." Note was taken of the declarations of the King by the Berlin Act and protocols, and two sets of words were used. One declared against "monopoly or favour of any kind in matters of trade," and the other form was "no monopoly or privilege of any kind in commercial matters." Baron de Courcel, on behalf of a Committee of the Conference, explained that this included trade in "all products of the soil." The House would now see the importance of that admission when it was remembered what was the subject of those concessions and monopoly rights of which they had heard to-night. There was one point not referred to by the hon. Member for the Cleveland Division. The House had seen the correspondence with regard to missions asking for stations. There was a distinct expression of the right of foreigners to acquire "immovable possessions" in the Congo Basin. But they did not rest their case on personal assurances, or even on the protocols of the Conference; this country had a Convention with the Congo State embodying the conditions of our recognition of the existence of the State. That Convention, in language which he would have thought strong enough to cover anything, gave British subjects the "right of buying, selling, letting, or hiring lands," and from this it was evident that missionaries ought not to be obliged to beg for land; they had the most complete right to acquire stations. In the American Convention the words were equally strong, though in a different form. Our Consuls had reported to the Government on these matters, and in reply to a question with reference to representations from the Chambers of Commerce of Manchester and Liverpool, the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs said these matters "had been the subject of repeated attention by the Consul." But these things had been going on for a long time, and it had been notorious to the world that there had been violations, not only of plighted word, but of solemn treaty 1303 engagements. It was not enough to say the subject had had attention. There must be Reports on the subject, but the House had not had them. Undoubtedly, for one reason or another, there had been a certain timidity on the part of the Government in regard to taking action.
The decrees of the State had been alluded to, and these decrees in effect made the whole land and all the products of the soil in this vast region the personal property of King Leopold. More than that, as though that were not enough by way of monopoly, almost the whole field had been covered by nine concessions to large companies. It was not a question of diminishing trade; our trade had been killed by these operations. There was nothing but monopoly; no open trade was left. These concessions covered everything worth having in the Congo Valley. One of the concessions extended even to the Bahr-el-Ghazel in the Anglo-Egyptian sphere, though this was not now being worked. It was a theoretical concession, but it showed that there was no limit to the pretensions of the Congo State. As regarded seven out of the nine concessions, the 50 per cent. arrangement prevailed; there was one about which little or nothing was known. But even in regard to those in which the State took 50 per cent., a large proportion of the remaining shares were held by the other companies. They were all tied together—a mode of operation well known in the least reputable financial quarters. There was one exception. In the case of the Katanga concession the State took two-thirds of the whole of the shares. That was a gigantic concession covering the whole of the district nearest to our own possessions, coming right up to our territory, and therefore having a closer and more immediate bearing on the development of our own territories than any other. As a specimen of the way in which this Katanga concession was likely to work in the neighbourhood of our possessions, let the House take the Rabinek case, the Papers in which had been laid on the Table. This man was arrested for the crime of desiring to trade, not in arms, not in liquor, not in any of the prohibited articles, but for 1304 merely desiring to trade. There was, it seemed to him, the most absolute monopoly in these cases of the products of the soil, and the most absolute and direct violation of the principles laid down by Baron de Courcel. He could not imagine that the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs would deny that there had been a complete violation of the Berlin Act; and, if he admitted that, he thought they had established a case where we must insist on our treaty rights being fulfilled. It would not do for years to go on without anything being said in the matter by the Government.
As to the question of the natives, the whole anti-slavery world had been swindled by the Administration of the Congo State. There could be no doubt that the founders of the State—especially this country, the mother country of the liberty of the native, and the leader in the abolition of slavery—were honest in their original intention; they desired to improve the condition of the natives, but, as he had said, they had been swindled by the Administration of the Congo State. In 1897 he raised a debate in this House on that question, the only occasion on which the Congo question had ever been debated. At that time they had no evidence before them of the horrors of which they could now speak. They went upon what they knew must be the state of things from the decrees. It was obvious that there was a complete enslavement of the whole population, and that it could lead to nothing but a system of horrors. They had the facts of the military system before them, because Captain Hinde had written a book showing with awful simplicity that the military system in the Congo State consisted of bringing in cannibal tribes, marching them without any commissariat through the country to be attacked, and rationing them on the bodies of the killed, carrying dried bodies with them for the purpose. The Congo State had palliated, but had never attempted to deny, the charges incidentally made by Captain Hinde. Within a month they received evidence that they did not possess at the time of the debate. There came to this country the Swedish Baptist missionary, Sjöblom—a man whom everybody who heard him believed—and he 1305 told them that everything that had been foreseen, as the result of the decrees, had existed and did exist. He described to them the sentry system, under which a wild man was brought a long distance and put down in a native village with instructions that so much rubber was to be brought to him every day. The people were given to understand this, and if any went fishing they were shot down as a warning to others. When the rubber in that particular district was exhausted, the wretched people were driven to raid the territories of neighbouring tribes, and horrible scenes of bloodshed were the result. Then a force of twenty or thirty men, armed with repeating rifles, would be sent among the people, and they would preserve the hands of the people shot to show how many had been killed. Although the Congo State had been spending money like water within the last few weeks in publishing denials of all sorts of things, and in sending lying books to Members of this House, no attempt had been made to answer the charges either of Dr. Hinde or of Mr. Sjöblom. Missionaries had been blamed, perhaps with justice, but at all events they had something to say for themselves in this matter. It was not a climate in which men would lightly take the responsibility and run the awful risk of making such charges. Mr. Sjöblom was threatened. In one book, "By a Belgian," defending the Congo State, it was said that "no clear and precise statement had ever been made to the administration of justice, and that no one would take openly the responsibility of the charges." Mr. Sjöblom did take openly the responsibility, and he had never been contradicted. But while in the State he was threatened by one of the highest officials. He was accused of having told the natives not to bring in rubber. Answering that he had never done such a thing, these words were used to him—If you go on with this, that charge will be brought against you, and that means five years penal servitude.On pages 71 and 72 of the same book there were quoted as defending the State, men who would be shocked to see their names used in such a connection. Sir Harry Johnston, who had never been through the State, and had simply said some civil things about a station on the edge of the State, was cited as if defending 1306 it. He ventured to say that Sir Harry Johnston would be the first to condemn such proceedings. Among those quoted as having spoken for the Congo State was Dr. Grenfell, the Baptist missionary, who had been put on to the Commission of Inquiry. The quotations were from a letter which he wrote in i896, before definite charges were made. But in 1897—and this was not quoted in the book—Dr. Grenfell wrote to Mr. Sjöblom, and said—I am very sorry to learn that my letter of a year ago has been used to throw discredit upon your communication … So far as I am aware, the State has not seriously denied the truth of the statements you made.… I think you may congratulate yourself for having very effectively discharged a very onerous responsibility and … materially contributed to the commencement of a new and better régime."But the letter repudiated in these words was still quoted against Mr. Sjöblom. What evidence was there of the improvement of the new régime? What was said to have taken the place of the horrible régime of the past? Not one of the horrible decrees had been withdrawn. All these new concessions had been added, and the collection of rubber, out of which the sentry system grew, had been extended to the whole territory. The new régime was thus an extension of the old. Concerning the responsibility of this country, he suggested we were responsible in a higher degree than others. As the suppressers of slavery and the slave-trade we had always led Europe, and had the highest degree of responsibility under the engagement of the Bowers at Berlin to watch over the execution of the Berlin Act for the protection of the natives. The Congo State, as he thought, had acted treacherously in the matter of the leases granted in 1894. We, through their treachery, had failed to receive the considerations for which those leases were granted, and had left the Congo State in occupation of the Lado enclave in the Anglo-Egyptian sphere. Possibly what had made us hold our hands and rather shamefully neglect to do what otherwise any British Government must desire to do might be timidity as to what might happen to the Congo State if we interfered. As an unofficial Member he could face the delicate question in a way an official Member might hesitate to do. He would say, speaking for himself, that 1307 if the choice lay between the Congo Valley going to France and the present state of affairs continuing, it would be better in our own interests, and in the interests of the natives, that it should go to France. We did not desire this vast territory; we had declined it. All we desired was security for the natives, regard for their rights, and security for British trade against monopoly and restriction. He begged to second the Resolution.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Government of the Congo Free State having, at its inception, guaranteed to the Powers that its native subjects should be governed with humanity, and that no trading monopoly or privilege should be permitted within its dominions, and both these guarantees having been constantly violated, this House requests His Majesty's Government to confer with the other Powers, signatories of the Berlin General Act by virtue of which the Congo Free State exists, in order that measures may be adopted to abate the evils prevalent in that State."—(Mr. Herbert Samuel.)
§ SIR JOHN GORST (Cambridge University)
said he hoped the Government might be able to accept this Motion, and that, strengthened by resolution of the House of Commons, they would take some practical step for the deliverance of the Congo territory from the evils which had been described. He did not think anybody now could doubt the substantial accuracy of the description given by the hon. Member who moved the Resolution of the condition of the natives in the Congo State. The evidence was perfectly overwhelming. In his early days he was in a position to test the accuracy of the evidence of missionaries as to semi-civilised races, and he formed the opinion that on the whole they could not have more reliable testimony as to anything which had happened among semi-civilised people than that given by missionaries, and in this case their evidence was amply confirmed. In that particular case one could well understand the reticence of the missionary, and he thought that what had been stated by the mover and seconder of the Resolution would convince the House that a man required a great deal of 1308 courage and resolution to enable him to make a definite complaint while he had still to live in such a country. Besides his own safety, he would probably be animated by a fear that any hostile action on his part towards the Government might lead to reprisals against the natives. But in this case the evidence of the missionary was abundantly confirmed by natives from our own provinces, by Rhodesian officials, by the emigration of natives from this territory into French and Portuguese territory, and by perfectly independent travellers passing through Congoland and noting the extraordinary diminution of population. All this amounted to a volume of testimony which nobody could fail to credit. He would like to ask the House to consider that not only was that what was to be expected, but that things would go on growing worse unless some steps were taken to alter the state of affairs. There were plenty of such lessons in history, if people would look back on similar occurrences. There was the great example of what happened when the discovery of America took place. At that time there was no desire to enslave or exterminate the populations of the territories occupied by the Spaniards. But there was a necessity, arising out of the desire for the acquisition of property, to make use of native labour. The Spaniards first endeavoured to induce the natives to work, but when mere inducement failed, they began to try force, and when force was not altogether successful, they degenerated into a system of slavery which became so cruel that the greater part of the natives in those territories were exterminated. And that was so in spite of the most earnest efforts made on behalf of the people by the King of Spain, Emperor Ferdinand, Queen Isabella, and Charles V. All these made the most desperate efforts to prevent the enslavement and extermination of the natives. But they failed because they could not stop the covetous desire for gold and furs. The colonists said, "We must get these articles, and the only way to get them is by enslaving the natives and forcing them to work"
It appeared from the statement which had been made that the Government had power to interfere in this 1309 matter, and they not only had the power, but they also had the right to interfere on behalf of the natives under the terms of the Berlin Act. The treaties made between the Congo State and ourselves had undoubtedly been overridden, and therefore he supposed the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs would not deny their right to interfere. Then arose the question, was it expedient that they should do so? His answer to that was in the affirmative. He believed it was not only expedient, but it was also in the interests of our trade to interfere. We had a duty as well as a right to do so, because of our Imperial position, and of the policy which we had always asserted in the face of the world as regarded the slavery and treatment of native races. We had an Imperial position, and we ought to assert our Imperial right, and to stand forward in the face of the world as the protectors of these tribes, for whom we had, in some sense, made ourselves responsible In the interests of our trade, and in fulfilment of our duty as a great Imperial Power, toward those natives races, we had, he asserted, an undoubted right to interfere. As to what course the interference should take, that was a matter for the Government, on which he would not venture to give a positive opinion. Clearly we had to remember that other Powers were nearly equally responsible with ourselves, and possibly a conference of the Powers, or an appeal to those Powers who were parties to the Berlin Act, would be a perfectly legitimate and inoffensive step to take in the first instance. The President of the United States, who were not parties to the Berlin Act, had, he believed, taken some steps to protest against the condition of affairs in Congoland. The interest of America in the preservation of the lives of American missionaries seemed to the President of the United States a sufficient ground for intimating the interest which they took in this question. And if a Power like that, which was not a party to the Berlin Act, deemed it right to interfere, surely we, who were responsible under the Berlin Act, and who were responsible for the existence of the Congo State, had a perfect right to take such steps as might 1310 bring this dreadful state of things to an end.
§ MR. EMMOTT (Oldham)
rose to say a few words in support of the Motion of his hon. friend the Member for the Cleveland Division. Both the mover and the seconder, as well as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Cambridge University, had borne ample testimony to the truth of the stories which had come to us from the Congo State—and ghastly stories they were, of murder, mutilation, and atrocities of every kind. To many hon. Members they were far too familiar, and he would ask hon. Gentlemen, who, on first hearing them deemed them to be so horrible as to be untrue, to investigate the history of these statements themselves, for he knew they would be as convinced as he was of the iniquities which were being perpetrated there at the present time, and which had been going on for some years past. A few months ago he knew nothing about this matter at all, and when it did reach his ears he was utterly incredulous. But friends of his, to whom he expressed his doubts, begged him to investigate the matter for himself, and it was because he had done so that he felt and spoke so strongly. He did not want to deal further, for the moment, with those horrors, nor would he dwell on the Stokes affair or the Rabinek affair. The Stokes affair was closed, but it afforded a good illustration of the kind of justice and fair play which one got in the Congo State, while the Rabinek affair was significant, because it showed that the only crime with which he was charged was that of trading in the territory monopolised by the Katanga Company. He believed these atrocities to be the direct, necessary, and inevitable result of a wrong system. The state of affairs in the Congo was not a case of the white agents who were in charge there being specially inhuman. It was due to a system which could only be worked successfully from a financial point of view by inhumanity, and that system brutalised both natives and white agents. He knew that the problem before Europe with regard to tropical Africa was one of great difficulty. They could not get rid of the negroes if they would, and did not want to if they could, because they were the only people 1311 who could do hard manual labour there. But the problem, though difficult, was not insoluble, because the methods which were best for the negroes were also beneficial for our own people at home. The best method of civilising natives was by trade, by the gradual permeation of honest and upright trade methods. These people had old laws and customs of their own, which, in many cases, were far better than supposed by the young soldiers or supercilious civilians who were sent out from Europe to govern them. These tribes were often born traders, and he believed the right policy in regard to this question was to stand at the back of our John Holts, and men of that kind, and to help them to develop their trade—to help them here and there with railways and steamers, so as to get rid of the present deficiencies of carriage. He for one did not like the great tendency to military civilisation. These military punitive expeditions, of which there had been so many in Africa, and many of which might have been avoided by more careful treatment, caused debt, debt caused taxation, taxation sometimes brought about revolt, on top of revolt came fresh military expeditions, and following them was more debt. Yet in spite of too many military expeditions both France and ourselves had done much in Africa in building up trade.
The essence of trade in these tropical countries was that they should have materials which could be exported, otherwise no trade was possible. We had made our trade, not by taking the land of the natives without compensation, but by encouraging the natives to produce on their own lands, and thus by slow degrees we had expanded the trade and given it that sure and permanent basis which, after all, was the only method of developing the country. Judged by this standard, or by any decent standard, what were they to say of the Congo State? Look at its system. First there was the expropriation of the natives from the land without compensation; secondly there was a monopoly of the products of the soil; thirdly, the natives were forbidden to collect the products of the soil except for sale to the State; fourthly, there was a forced collection of those products, and the forced sale, at most unsatisfactory prices, to the State. The forced collection of the products necessitated 1312 the employment of a cannibal army, while the whites had been ordered to devote all their energies to the collection of the products of the soil. They were at one time paid a commission on what was collected, but he was glad to say that that system had now been stopped. In addition to that, there was a system of forced levies, both for the army and for the huge number of labourers employed on the plantations of the State. Now he ventured to say that that system was not trade at all, and it was wrong to call it trade. The land was the property of a small clique, and the products of the land belonged to the State or to that clique. No satisfactory payment was made for the collection of rubber; the natives were given about 1d. per lb., although it was worth 3s. or 4s. in Europe, and, as a consequence of their being so imperfectly paid, they had nothing wherewith to buy. There was as a result no legitimate trade, and even our Rhodesian merchants could not go into the Congo Free State in order to conduct commerce. This system of so-called trade rested upon force, and that it was profitable was shown by the fact that one of the Belgian companies paid 250 per cent. per annum. Let them compare that with the profits which the French companies were making in the French Congo, where he regretted to state the same monopoly system was being introduced. The French companies were for the most part making a loss, while the Belgian companies were making a huge profit in the Congo Free State, because the former did not enforce collection while the latter did. Stanley, speaking in Manchester, he believed in 1884, promised that, in a comparatively short number of years, the Congo Free State would require from this country £25,000,000 worth of cotton cloth per annum. At that time our trade with the Congo amounted to £180,000 a year, but it had now decreased to about £100,000. We were promised free trade in the Congo State, but that free trade had proved to be the forced collection of the products of the soil and the sale of them in Europe.
What about the condition of the country? He did not for a moment maintain that it was a paradise at any time, but he did venture to say that, 1313 on the whole, that condition was ten times worse now than it was before. Here and there there might be spots where law and order prevailed, but the greater part of the 900,000 square miles of territory was in a worse condition than ever. There was no safety outside the stations, large districts of the country were in revolt, and the authorities had been unable to put down those revolts for many years. Apologists said that the stories with regard to the Congo Free State were exaggerated, but he would ask why had £200,000 worth of arms and ammunition been imported into that territory during the last four years? For what purpose had it been used? It could not have been wanted in such large quantities for any other purpose than to employ force with the populations. The whole industrial system of the country rested on force. Villages were burnt out, large districts were depopulated, some of the natives were terrorised, and others terrorised the whites. Slavery went on unchecked under the system of forced labour, and slaves were even offered openly for sale in certain parts of the State, as had been stated by the Missionary, Mr. Morrison, who was recently in this country. There was something which was much worse than the slavery of men; there was the slavery and prostitution of women. He had had sent him three sworn statements on this subject, none of which he believed had yet been published. They were all from the South-Eastern portion of the State. The first was by Mr. Yule, who said:In the daytime they (the women) do all the usual station work, such as carrying water for the Government officials, cleaning their rooms, etc, etc., and during the night they are obliged to be at the disposal of the soldiers. The soldier must live with the woman as long as he is at the station; should he be removed, the woman must remain at the station whether she has children by him or not. The women are slaves captured by the Government soldiers when raiding the country, they are there to facilitate the ordinary requirements of labour, and to prevent the soldiers from their usual customs of raping in the native villages.The next sworn statement was that of a woman which had been translated, and which showed how the women were treated. This woman said:My name is Chewema, and I belong to the Mahusi Tribe in the Congo Free State. I 1314 remember my mother, the people in our village, but have forgotten its name. When we were transported to Lukafu we were fastened together by a rope round our necks, and at night-time our hands and feet were tied together to prevent us from escaping. At Lukafu the elder women were forced at first by the soldiers to sleep in their huts until Commandant Kasiera prohibited this. At M'pwetu I witnessed the killing of two natives who had stolen rubber from the Government stores. By the order of the white man called Lutina, the two natives were beaten by his soldiers with a hippo-hide whip, after this they were made to stand up, the soldiers then threw bricks on them till they died. One native was from Chewer chewera's village, very near M'pwetu, and was buried by his relations; the other, who had no relations so near, was thrown into the Lake Mweru.The third sworn statement was by two natives, John and Johan, and it was dated the 19th March, 1903. It was as follows—We, John and Johan, natives of Karonga, Lake Nyasa, British Central Africa, do hereby declare that about four years ago we were engaged by Mr. Mohun to serve him as soldiers for the period of three years, during his constructing of a telegraph line in the Congo Free State.On our arrival in the Congo Free State we learnt from the inhabitants and the Government soldiers that there is always war between the white men, the soldiers and the natives. The reason of a war and the constant troubles are as follows:—Long ago the Belgium officials hanged the soldiers for their bad behaviour. They hanged so many that this created a vengeance to such an extent that all soldiers formed a ring under the headman, at that time the sergeant called Yankoffu, with the object to kill all officers at the different stations on or near the Lake Tanganyika. This they did and tool all the guns and ammunition. They then formed a stockade and made Yankoffu their chief. Later on they were attacked by a strong force of the Belginms, also we under Mr. Mohun attacked them, we killed many people but could not get Yankoffu. Most of his people crossed the Lake to German Territory taking with them the captured guns and ammunition. After this other Belgium officers re-occupied the plundered stations, but from that time the officers became afraid of the soldiers. When we were there one officer of Marabu station, about ten days from Lake Tanganyika, thrashed a soldier with a hippo-hide whip. Sometime later the same officer received from the same soldier a letter and when reading the same the latter shot him dead. We, too, and many other soldiers, were given orders to catch the murderer, we went after him for many days but could not find him. The white men are so afraid of the soldiers that they let them do whatever they like, they rape, murder and steal everything of the inhabitants, and if the chief or villagers object they are often shot dead on the spot. The officers all know this, but they never take any notice of it as they are afraid to punish the soldiers.1315 These were serious statements showing the kind of thing that was going on in that country. They shed considerable light on the results of this system. They showed that the efforts of white men who were trying to do their duty were unavailing. That would continue to be the case, for the system was founded on what he could call by no other names than theft, forced labour, and forced collection under cannibal soldiery. Such a system was an offence to gods and men.
He would say a word in regard to the interest of Europe in this question. He believed that the system would break down, and that, when it did, there would be danger to ourselves and to other European Powers. He believed the monopoly system was illegal, but whether it was illegal or not, it was certainly entirely against the spirit of the Berlin Act. But even if it was in accordance with the spirit of that Act, be believed it was still the duty of Europe to intervene. The system was self-destructive. All depended on rubber, which formed four-fifths of the exports. The revenue of the country amounted to £1,120,000, and of that sum £660,000 was received from the domains privé £240,000 from Customs, and £120,000 for transport. The cost of the force publique was £310,000 per annum, which was greater than the whole expenditure of the country in 1895. He thought that was a significant comment on the whole system, and showed that it rested on force. He believed that, owing to the forced collection, the resources of rubber were being dried up. He believed that before the replanting could be effected, the whole State would collapse. In other words, the State was exploiting its chief natural resource, and there would be nothing left to trade upon. In this, as in other tropical countries, they must develop the exports, but what would be left when the collapse came if Europe did not step in? A vast region inhabited by fierce Bantu tribes, who had an undying hatred of the white man, and a cannibal army amounting to about 25,000. These would be anything but comfortable neighbours for us in the Bahrel-Ghazel, Uganda, and British Central Africa. What Europe ought to do was perfectly clear. He thought we could 1316 do something alone, and that aspect of the question had been well treated by his hon. friend. In any case two things must be born in mind. First, the system must be changed, root and branch, if any good was to be done. The finance and other things rested on this system of monopoly and of forced collection of rubber, and when these were stopped the State must collapse. Next, if we did not intervene now we would be compelled to intervene soon. He would conclude with the eloquent words of Mr. Morel:—There can be no half-way house. Slavery relying upon the rifles of thousands of native levies, or commerce, based upon the recognition that the Negro has the rights of a man to his freedom and property—that is what the European Statesman will shortly be called upon to decide. And as they decide, so the structure which the white people are endeavouring once more to raise up in the land of the Negroes will remain, or the great black wave—inscrutable, mysterious, enduring—will once more roll sullenly forward, even into the ocean, obliterating every trace of a civilisation which, professing to act in the name of the Most High God, has permitted the violation of every law human and Divine.
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Lord CRANBORNE,) Rochester
said that he was in a peculiar position, because no general attack had been delivered against His Majesty's Government. He thought it would be agreed that for the most part the debate had consisted of an attack on the Government of the Congo Free State. He was not there to represent that Government, and he could take no responsibility for the acts of that Government. But he asked himself what was the attitude which the representative of His Majesty's Government ought to take in dealing with a discussion of this kind. He did not desire for one moment to defend or to extenuate anything which might be proved to be amiss in the Congolese Government. He wished to approach the question from an impartial and quasi-judicial point of view becoming the Government of this country, which was in amity with the Congo Free State and its ruler. First of all, what right had this Government to deal with the state of things in the Congo Free State? We had undoubtedly a legitimate locus standi, not so much by virtue of the special treaties which the right hon. Baronet the Member for Forest of Dean had referred to as of 1317 the General Act of Berlin, which really was more precise and which went further. We had the locus standi which every signatory to the Berlin Act possessed. But the right to comment on the state of things in the Congo Free State did not infer, as some hon. Gentlemen seemed to believe, an obligation to interfere with that Government, except as far as every right did to some extent connote an obligation. There was no question that the Congo Free State had entered into certain obligations towards us; but we had entered into no obligations whatever as to the Government of the Congo Free State. There was nothing more than the duty which belonged to every signatory to the Act of Berlin. Upon what subjects and in what directions did these obligations of the Congo Free State extend? He would treat the subject from the points of view of trade and of government. As to trade there was upon record a clause in the Act of Berlin which bound every signatory, wherever they possessed sovereign powers within the area affected by the treaty, not to grant a monopoly or favour of any kind in matters of trade. The language was very general, but in treaties it would be found that the language always was very general. He could not agree with several speakers who thought that the interpretation of that language was a matter of universal consent. His Majesty's Government were disposed to think that the system which had been established, and which was prevalent in the Congo Free State, was not altogether in accordance with the obligation into which the Congo Free State had entered. But that contention was not universally admitted. On the other side it was contended that, as long as every one was free to buy and sell in the Congo Free State the obligations of the Berlin Act were fulfilled. But the question was whether every one was free to buy and sell. He thought that a monopoly might be said to be created, when in a specified area competition was excluded and a person or a society, or even the State itself, was constituted the sole medium through which any one might buy and sell. He thought that that was not an unfair definition of a monopoly, and, taking it as the criterion, he confessed that it was difficult to escape from the conclusion that the 1318 present administration of the Congo Free State did not satisfy the prescribed conditions. It was true, of course, that every concession was in its nature a monopoly; and he begged the House to realise that concessions were really essential to the development of any of these territories, and that it was merely a question of degree how far concessions violated the spirit of such an Act as the Berlin Act. But, of course, the concessions of the Free State were very large; they had been established with special assistance from the State; and they were under special State control. Their privileged position had been brought about largely by the power which the State possessed of disposing of unoccupied land; and he thought it would be fair to say that the administration of these large areas was as much conducted with a view to the profit of those in whose interests the concessions were held as of the natives. He thought the House would admit that it was clear that, on the same principle, the policy pursued in the Congo Free State might have been extended very much further, and that it might have embraced the whole of the State. That would have constituted an absolute monopoly.
He had said that, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, they could not admit that the administration of the Congo State was in harmony with the prohibition of monopolies contained in the Berlin Act. We did not, however, stand alone in respect of that Act. We were only one of a number of parties who were signatories to it, and he did not think it would be reasonable to expect His Majesty's Government to act alone in respect of it. They were bound to be guided by the views, not only of themselves, but of their co-signatories of the Berlin Act. The Motion which was before the House urged the Government, among other things, to take steps to find out the views of the other Powers who were signatories to the Treaty of Berlin. The Government could not assent to the Motion as it stood; but he thought that, considering the difference of opinion which existed among the signatories as to the precise effect of the Monopoly Clause of the Berlin Act, it would be a proper and 1319 reasonable course to institute an exchange of views with those Powers upon that particular point. He was able to assure the House that that course would be adopted by His Majesty's Government.
He would turn now to the more important matter of the condition of the natives. There was no question whatever that the civilisation of the natives afforded one of the main grounds, if not the principal ground, of the provisions of the Berlin Act, and that the Powers who signed it bound themselves severally to place in the forefront of their administration of the various areas under their control in Africa, the study of the well-being of the native races. As several speakers had reminded the House, an assurance was given to Europe that that would be the main object of the Government, not only of the Congo Free State, but of all the other territories which were within the purview of the Berlin Act. If the laws of the Congo State were regarded, he thought it would be found that very little was left to be desired, so far as their provisions were concerned. The laws were full of provisions intended to protect the natives from ill-usage and to further their material advantage. There was no doubt that the administration of the Congo Government had been marked by a very high degree of a certain kind of administrative development. There were railways, there were steamers upon the river, hospitals had been established, and all the machinery of elaborate judicial and police systems had been set up. Hon. Gentlemen in this debate had alleged that all this was a whited sepulchre, that the apparent administrative completeness of this system did not really correspond to good government. They said that the officials of the Congo Free State showed no due sense of their responsibility for the native races, and that their government had been accompanied by atrocities of a very heinous character. Now, were these things true? He did not think that the Congo Free State authorities denied the existence of these atrocities. But what they did say was that they had taken the ordinary steps of a civilised Government to punish the perpetrators, and had adopted measures to prevent the recurrence of these acts. It was undoubtedly true that in a large number of cases they had inflicted very severe 1320 punishments for atrocities that had been proved. He had had showered upon him within the last few days masses of literature as to the penalties imposed by the Congo Free State. The question was whether the penalties had been adequate and covered all the cases which they ought to have covered. Frankly, he told the House that he did not know. It was, he thought, this very doubt as to what was the real truth in regard to the government of the Congo Free State which made public opinion throughout Europe so anxious, and which he thought the Congolese authorities themselves ought to feel as calling for some action upon their part.
The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean had reproached the Government—and this was the only criticism which the Government had received in the whole course of the debate — that our Consuls had not afforded them fuller Reports, and that the Reports which the Consuls did send had been withheld from the House.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
said that what he had stated was that the Government evidently, by their own admissions, which he quoted, had received Reports from their Consuls but had not communicated them to the House.
§ LORD CRANBORNE
said that in answer to a Question he had stated that the Government had received Reports, but that they were hardly full and complete enough to be laid before the House. And for this very good reason—that we had only one Consular post in the Congo Free State, and that was upon the coast, and had not been occupied by the Consul for any long period. It must be remembered, in dealing with this case, that the Congo Free State had an enormous area, and that any one only living for a few months on the coast was not in a position to afford evidence of a very reliable kind of what passed in the far interior. He would urge hon. and right hon. Gentlemen not to overstate their case. No doubt there had been atrocities, but the Congo Free State was not the only part of the world where atrocities had been committed. 1321 It was much more misgovernment that was to be feared, and if possible corrected by the influence of European public opinion, than isolated atrocities. The question was, was there general misgovernment in the Congo Free State? The Congo Free State authorities urged as a reply to the accusations on this head that their system was a great improvement upon the barbarous government of the native tribes who preceded them. From some of the speeches to which they had listened, the House would hardly believe that that was the case, but he thought that was a somewhat exaggerated way of stating the situation. Of course, there had been great improvement on the former state of things, but that was not a sufficient defence at the present time for a civilised community. There was the question of compulsory labour. There had been charges that compulsory labour had been greatly abused. Then there were charges which had been brought against the armed forces of the Congo Free State, but an armed force—that was to say, a police force—was necessary to the Government of any community. Had this compulsory labour and had this armed force led to atrocities? He had some difficulty in giving a confident opinion about that, but he would refer to a passage in a book called—"The Truth about Civilisation in the Congo," which gave an account of an interview with the Father Superior of a mission in the Free State. This Gentleman was asked, "What do you think of the charges made against the officials of the State?" In reply, he quoted some observations which he said he had seen and which were to this effect. "Do not tell me that these evil customs are no longer prevalent. They are still carried on. Hands, ears, and even heads are cut off. Of course, soldiers with three, four, or five years' service respect our instructions, but can you forbid a young soldier, animated with a desire to show his prowess, to bring back some trophies?" [Cries of "Oh, oh."]
§ Lord CRANBORNE
said that it was precisely such a passage as that which 1322 made one doubt whether the authorities of the Congo Free State realised their responsibilities as the white governors of these barbarous regions. It was an instructive quotation because it was made by a man evidently speaking in perfectly good faith and speaking, of course, from the Congolese point of view. But he was an independent gentleman. He did not belong to the Congolese Government, and he evidently thought that the state of things he described was not a state of things for which any shame should be expressed. All would admit that no such state of things, and no such standard, would be permitted for one moment in any Protectorate of this country, and therefore it was that a feeling of general suspicion had been aroused throughout Europe, and especially in this country—and it had been very emphatically expressed in the debate—as to whether the Congo Free State authorities had really shown that sense of their responsibilities which might be expected from the white governors of a district in Central Africa.
How did the Congolese authorities meet these criticisms? They said in the first place, and he thought due weight must be given to that reply, that the standard of civilisation which we favoured was not the growth of a single day; that it required time and continuous effort to bring it about. There was some truth in that There was also some truth in their plea that where atrocities were proved they visited the perpetrators with condign punishment. They pleaded also that they had established a Commission whose function it was to investigate any atrocities and misgovernment which might be brought to their notice, and to provide remedies. He was bound to say, in defence of the Congo Free State authorities, that they had been very willing to give them all the information in their power in respect of the operations of this Commission, whose members consisted largely of independent persons, and which had held many meetings and made reports. An inspector had been appointed by the Commission, and it had all the machinery of a Commission such as this country would appoint if misgovernment had occurred. The Congo Free State had also expressed a perfect willingness to consider any suggestions which might 1323 be brought before them, and, if charges were supported by sufficient evidence, to investigate them. The Government thought it right to avail themselves of the spirit in which they had been met, and they saw no reason why all the evidence of misgovernment which might have been brought to the notice of the various signatories of the Act of Berlin should not be submitted for investigation to the authorities of the Congo Free State. He thought, therefore, that in the communication which the Government were prepared to make to their colleagues in the signature of the Act of Berlin the latter should be asked whether they had received any such evidence as had been laid before this country, and such as it would be suitable to lay before the Congo Free State for their consideration. He thought the Congolese authorities would be wise to do their best to satisfy public opinion, and that where definite facts were alleged in support of suspicions it would be well in their own interests, as well as in those of the subject populations which they controlled, that they should do their best to clear up and remove those suspicions and reassure public opinion which was sensitive on the subject. He did not regret the debate which had taken place; he thought it probable that what had been said might have considerable influence—
§ LORD CRANBORNE
said the Congolese authorities and the Belgian people with whom we were so closely associated for many years had always expressed the greatest regard for the opinion of this country, and especially for the opinion of the House of Commons, and he was fully persuaded that what had been said that evening would have a great effect 1324 upon them. He did not, however, think it possible for the Government to assent to the Motion in the form in which it was presented to them. They were asked not merely to indict the Congo Free State but actually to condemn them. He did not think that was an attitude they ought to adopt. Let them rather be content with bringing under the notice of the authorities the strong feeling which had been excited by the charges of misgovernment which had been brought against them. Let them be content to let the friendly advice which the British people had thought it right, through their representatives, to express have their full weight but not go the length of condemning the authorities of the Congo Free State without having in any way proved the extreme charges which had been alleged against them. The House would realise that he was not in any way sympathising with any misgovernment which might be proved against the Congolese authorities. Not at all; any British Government, as the right hon. Baronet the Member for Forest of Dean had said, would be anxious to set an example in condemning misgovernment of native races in whatever part of the world, or by whatever authority, it might be carried out. They were anxious to use all the influence they possessed to better the lot of these people. He recognised that the Congo authorities were bound by their signature to the Berlin Act to afford to the signatories of that Act every satisfaction: but the Government could not act alone. They were prepared, as he had said, to consult with their co-signatories as to the evidence of misgovernment which had been laid before them; and he was not doubtful that the strong expressions of opinion which the debate had called forth, voicing as it did public opinion not only in England but throughout Europe, would have its due effect and tend to remedy the evils of which they had, he was afraid, so much cause to complain.
§ LORD EDMUND FITZMAURICE (Wiltshire, Cricklade)
said that the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the opening of his speech stated that he was in a peculiar position because no attack had been made on His Majesty's Government at the moment the noble Lord said that he thought the observation was unnecessary, but as the noble Lord went on he began to feel afraid that possibly it was gradually becoming necessary that some attack should be made on the Government on this matter. They had had a debate which was no doubt long, but well sustained and exceedingly interesting, and dealt with a question of first rate importance. All those who had had the advantage of hearing the speech of his hon. friend who opened the debate, which unfortunately was delivered in a very thin House, would agree with him that it was an exceedingly clear and powerful statement of an unanswerable case. What was it that his hon. friend asked the House to agree to? He asked the House to request the Government to confer with the other Powers, signatories of the Berlin General Act, by virtue of which the Congo Free State existed, in order that measures might be adopted to abate the evils prevalent in that State. That was a very moderate request. The noble Lord said that those who had spoken from that side of the House had jumped to their conclusions, that they had taken every charge made against the Congo Free State for granted, and had generally excluded all other evidence. The noble Lord said that hon. Members on this side of the House seemed to take every statement against the Congo Free State as granted, and that they excluded all other elements. But if he had to sum 1326 up the noble Lord's speech he would say that it was rather a lengthy development of the well-known language which chairmen of Quarter Sessions and Judges of Assize were apt to use in criminal cases when they told the jurors that they were to give the prisoner the benefit of the doubt. But in the present case the House was not asked to pass a sweeping set of resolutions dealing with a series of counts.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
Read the Resolution.
§ LORD EDMUND FITZMAURICE
said that the words of the Motion were as follows:—
"To call attention to the administration of the Congo Free State; and to move, That the Government of the Congo Free State having, at its inception, guaranteed to the Powers that its native subjects should be governed with humanity, and that no trading monopoly or privilege should be permitted within its dominions, this House requests His Majesty's Government to confer with the other Powers, signatories of the Berlin General Act by virtue of which the Congo Free State exists, in order that measures may be adopted to abate the evils prevalent in that State."
They were not asking the Government to adopt every statement in the pamphlet which had been read to the House; but they said that there was an unanswerable prima facie case against the Government of the Congo State sufficient to justify the Government in bringing the facts before the signatories of the Berlin Act. He altogether denied that they could deal with the Congo Free State as if it was a 1327 State like France, Austria, Germany, or any other Power. The Congo Free State was an artificial creation; it was called into being in 1884–85 by the Berlin Act; and it was bound to carry out not only in the letter but in the spirit, the stipulations of that Act. The case against the Congo Free State was that neither in the letter nor in the spirit had it been able to carry out the duties which it undertook to perform under that Act. It was not necessary for his case in the least to assume that in everything the Congo Free State did, or omitted to do, it was actuated by positive malice or ill-will. It was quite sufficient for his case if he could show that it was so badly organised and so weak that it was unable to carry out a complicated a system of laws over a vast territory, and that, even with the best intentions, the Government of King Leopold—it was more regular to call His Majesty that than the King of the Belgians—had been unable to control their representatives in those distant lands. It would be unfair to make King Leopold or his Ministers personally responsible for all the outrages which had been committed by their subordinate officers. There might have been neglect on the part of the Belgian Government, but no one ever suggested that there was complicity, though they could not forget the judicial murder of Mr. Stokes, as to which, if time had allowed, he would have spoken. The result was that atrocities had been committed which curdled the blood, and made civilisation ashamed of its name.
He should like to refer to one observation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean. The right hon. Gentleman said that of 1328 the hon. Members now present, the right hon. Gentleman and himself were most concerned in the negotiations of 1884–85. Speaking for himself, he was sceptical at the time of the Congo State being able to fulfil its promises. He did not altogether share the beatific visions of universal peace, good-will, and prosperity set out in the preamble to the Berlin Act. The circumstances under which the Berlin Act came into existence were exceedingly peculiar. No doubt this country had very great responsibility; but, after all, the principal responsibility lay with Germany. The Conference was summoned by Prince Bismarck, when Germany, as he thought unfortunately, decided to denounce the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty, and to propose the alternative of some arrangement with the King of Belgians. It would be remembered that a treaty was signed between this country and Portugal on the basis of freedom of navigation, trade and missionary enterprise, and measures directed against slavery; and the Foreign Office realised that in dealing with Portugal this country would stand in a very favourable position. Unfortunately that treaty was not popular in this country in commercial circles. Very few voices were raised in support of it, and the opportunity was taken to denounce it and to drag this country unwillingly to the Conference at Berlin, where no doubt the British representatives, by the good will of the other Powers, succeeded in introducing all the clauses which Portugal had accepted, but they were to be carried out not under the supervision of this country, as was originally intended, but by this newly invented State which was launched with a great flourish of trumpets and which was to bring a message of peace and goodwill to all men. Was it or was it not a fact that 1329 the promises in the Berlin Act had been fulfilled? Had the Congo Free State carried out the undertakings they solemnly entered into in the face of Europe? They on that side of the House said "No," and with no hesitating voice they asserted that it was the duty of the Government to bring this matter again before the signatory Powers. They were not asking the Government to complain on their own account, as that might be represented as a selfish attempt to recover control of the country. It should not be assumed, because the Congo Free State was invented under certain circumstances in 1884–5, that it had an international right to allow the existing condition of things to continue, which, without adopting every statement that had been made, was undoubtedly a disgrace to civilisation. He would remind the House that there was a name which they all honoured, which was imperishably associated with the Congo. He meant the name of General Gordon. When General Gordon undertook his last and fatal expedition to Khartoum he was then at the time actually engaged by the King of the Belgians to go to the Congo, and he intended to spend the remainder of his life in promoting the civilisation of that vast region. The only thing that made him hesitate about going to Egypt was that his heart was in the Congo. What would General Gordon think if he knew that "the great philanthropic enterprise of the King of the Belgians," as it then was termed, had been turned into one of the most gigantic engines of oppression against the black races, and that the high hopes which he entertained had turned into failure and disappointment? After what the noble Lord had said he 1330 was afraid, unless a different complexion were put on the matter, it would be necessary to divide the House.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said he hoped that the noble Lord had not misunderstood an interruption which he made a little time ago, and that he did not think it rude. That certainly was not the intention. He was not inclined to dissent from the position which the noble Lord had adopted in respect to the course which his Majesty's Government ought to pursue on this question. The noble Lord stated, with perfect accuracy, the effect of the last part of the Resolution, and His Majesty's Government recognised, as his noble friend recognised, and as every speaker had recognised, the responsibility of this country as one of the co-signatories of the Treaty of Berlin. They recognised their duty, acting with their colleagues, and, of course, with the Government of the Congo Free State, to deal with the question which had been discussed. That was the practical proposal which had been made, and with that practical proposal they were in agreement. That was the only important matter before them; but there was a question of procedure, he had almost said of Parliamentary decorum, to which he wished to call attention. He did not think it was wise or judicious for them without inquiry to place upon the permanent records of the House a Resolution, not merely asking the Government to take this or that step, but to pass in explicit terms, condemnation upon another Government. Hon. Gentlemen had spoken in very strong terms about the action or inaction of the Congo Government in dealing with matters as to which they had convinced themselves—he expressed no judgment on the matter—that there was an overwhelming 1331 case. There was a very great difference in an individual gentleman coming to that conclusion and expressing himself strongly upon it and the deliberate procedure of the House of Commons. The House should not, without anything in the nature of judicial inquiry, and merely upon statements made in debate, commit itself to the condemnation of a friendly Government. It would be impossible for the Government to vote against the Resolution, because it indicated a policy the Government desired to follow. It would be more consistent with the dignity of the House to accept the assurance of his noble friend, which he repeated, that they meant to take action in this matter. He hoped the hon. Member would withdraw the Motion or put it in an amended form, free from the objectionable condemnation of a friendly Government. He suggested to the hon. Member to put the Motion in a somewhat different form, leaving out the condemnation to which he referred. He hoped his appeal would not be superfluous, and certainly it was not inimical to the objects the hon. Member had in view.
§ MR. HERBERT SAMUEL
said that in view of the request of the right hon. Gentleman, and the assurance that the Government would forthwith take action in the matter he would omit from the Motion the words, "and both these guarantees having been constantly violated."
By leaving out the words 'and both these guarantees having been constantly violated.'
§ Resolved, "That the Government of the Congo Free State having, at its inception, guaranteed to the Powers that its Native subjects should be governed with humanity, and that no trading monopoly or privilege should be permitted within its dominions, this House requests His Majesty's Government to confer with the other Powers, signatories of the Berlin General Act by virtue of which the Congo Free State exists, in order that measures may be adopted to abate the evils prevalent in that State."