The Congo Reform Bill
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The Congo Bill Reform is an article published in The Times on 9 november 1909.
The Congo Bill Reform
A largely-attended meeting on the Congo question was held in the Town Hall, Newcastle-on-Tyne, last night, at which the BISHOP of NEWCASTLE presided, supported by the Bishop of Durham, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mr. E. D. Morel, and numerous clergy and ministers of all denominations.
The CHAIRMAN said that they must demand that the Government should take immediate steps to make it perfectly clear that Great Britain would have no complicity whatever in the horrible outrages in the Congo.
Sir ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE said that the statement that the great depopulation of the Congo country was due to sleeping sickness was a feeble excuse. The motive of the monstrous crime was sordid love of wealth, the desire to pile up gain upon gain; the objects put forward were hypocritical and blasphemous. It was to the eternal disgrace of England that we had not interfered long ago.
Mr. MOREL, dealing with the proposals put forward ten days ago by the Belgian Government, together with the Congo Budget for 1901, said that in these proposals they, abandoned in principle what since 1892 had been the very bed-rock of the Congo system, the claim of the Congo's European rulers to own the produce of the land, and announced their intention of throwing open the Congo to legitimate trade in this produce between the natives and the outer world. The abandonment of this claim, the enforcement of which had been such an awful curse to the native races, was matter for unfeigned rejoicing. It was the most striking admission which could be conceived of the soundness of the case Congo reformers in this and other lands bad placed before the world. It should, although he hardly supposed it would, silence for ever the voles of calumny or detraction which not in Belgium only, but oven in certain quarters at borne, as a recently published correspondence showed, was still raised in a vain endeavour to decry the work, carried out in the teeth of immense obstacles by the Congo Reform Association and its branches throughout the country. But the satisfaction they might feel at the surrender in principle by the Belgian Government of a policy incompatible with modern ideas and international treaty obligations was considerably impaired both by the conditions and the limitations by which it was proposed in actual practice to give effect to this surrender, and by other features in the proposals of which this foreshadowed change was part. The system, they were told, was to endure six months longer in the whole of the Congo, at the expiration of which period it was to be abolished in one-half of the territory. Of the remaining one-half, the system was to exist in one-third of it for one year and a half more; in another third for two years and a half more; while in the remaining third, handed over to certain concessionaire companies in which the Belgian Government was the principal shareholder, no time limit was so much as hinted at. Each one of those thirds was larger than the United Kingdom. It appeared to him absolutely impossible that they could agree with proposals such as these.
In conclusion, he submitted that after all that had happened, after the terrible experiences the Congo races had endured in the course of the last 17 shameful years; after the long neglect of their duties by the civilized Governments of the world, notwithstanding the solemn pledges they took in 1885; after the open defiance by King Leopold of five years' continuous representations from the British Government; after the failure of successive Belgian Governments to bring pressure to bear upon the Congo authorities; after the delays which had occurred in effecting any substantial changes since Belgian annexation took place — it was the unmistakable duty of the civilized peoples of the world, and especially of the people of this country, to insist upon at least two things in regard to the future of the Congo. First, that not one stone should he left upon another of a system which, while it lasted, was destroying human life and outraging civilization. Secondly, by ensuring that the economic rights and human liberties of the native races be placed upon a footing of permanent security, to make the recurrence of so great a clime for ever impossible. And, having submitted that, he asked, could they ho content with the proposals of the Belgian Government as now formulated ? The answer must surely be in the negative. There was a notable, a welcome, surrender in principle of an untenable claim to the natural wealth of the country, but under conditions of delay which should not be accepted. There was no rejection of the claim to the land which, while it remained, must seriously impair belief in the permanence of the abandonment in principle of the former claim. Them was an absence of that most searching of all tests, a grant-in-aid from the Belgian Exchequer to alleviate the crushing burden upon a native people Impoverished and decimated by 17 years of unbridled exploitation under the personal administration of the Belgian King. There were a number of other features in the proposals which inspired grave doubts. He ventured to hope that public opinion not only would not sanction a recognition of the Belgian annexation of the Congo until better terms were forthcoming, but that, failing early satisfaction, public opinion would earnestly press forward the great principles of the rights of the natives of the Conventional Basin of the Congo in their land and its produce to the judgment bar of an international conference of the Powers which recognized the African flag of King Leopold II, as the flag of a friendly Government.
A resolution was passed urging the Government to demand, as entitled by treaty, a total suppression of the existing system, the throwing open of the whole lit the Congo to legitimate trade without further delay, and the abolition of compulsory labour.