On February 5, 1885, Belgian King Leopold II established the Congo Free State by brutally seizing the African landmass as his personal possession. Rather than control the Congo as a colony, as other European powers did throughout Africa, Leopold privately owned the region. (Colonizing other peoples, regardless of the justification, is wrong. The people being colonized are robbed of their land, resources, and freedom.) Leopold financed development projects with money loaned to him from the Belgian government.
 
The king’s stated goal was to bring civilization to the people of the Congo, an enormous region in Central Africa. (Believing one people is more civilized than another is wrong.) Leopold’s reign over the Congo Free State, however, has become infamous for its brutality. The people of the Congo were forced to labor for valued resources, including rubber and ivory, to personally enrich Leopold.
 
Estimates vary, but about half the Congolese population died from punishment and malnutrition. Many more suffered from disease and torture. Among those who weren't killed, many were punished by having a hand and/or foot amputated.
 
The people of the Congo did not suffer these injustices without fighting back. Several rebellions were mercilessly put down under Leopold's direction.
 
As the realities and suffering within the Congo Free State became more widely known, many European people spoke out against these abuses. Demonstrations and protests demanded that Leopold end human rights abuses in the Congo Free State. In 1908, international pressure forced the king to turn the Congo Free State over to the country of Belgium. The newly named “Belgian Congo” remained a colony until the Democratic Republic of Congo gained its independence in 1960.

amputate
Verb

to surgically remove a limb.

brutal
Adjective

extreme, harsh, or cruel.

Noun

complex way of life that developed as humans began to develop urban settlements.

colony
Noun

people and land separated by distance or culture from the government that controls them.

development
Noun

construction or preparation of land for housing, industry, or agriculture.

disease
Noun

harmful condition of a body part or organ.

enormous
Adjective

very large.

enrich
Verb

to supply with valuable material.

establish
Verb

to form or officially organize.

finance
Verb

to fund or provide money to an organization or individual, usually for a specific purpose.

government
Noun

system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

human rights
Noun

basic freedoms belonging to every individual, including the rights to social and political expression, spirituality, and opportunity.

independence
Noun

state or situation of being free.

infamous
Adjective

having a very bad reputation.

malnutrition
Noun

lack of a balanced diet.

protest
noun, verb

demonstration against a policy or action.

rebellion
Noun

organized resistance to an authority.

Noun

any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

reign
Verb

to rule as a monarch.

resource
Noun

available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.

torture
Noun

inflicting pain to force a victim to provide information.

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