Although Belgium’s colonial empire was comparatively small it was also one of the most brutal of the period, with numerous crimes against humanity and possibly genocide taking place under the rule of Belgian King Leopold II and the Belgian government. Belgium controlled two major colonies and some minor territories; the largest was the Belgian Congo, first owned privately by King Leopold II as Congo Free State, where a ruthless and violent regime of economic extraction was set up. Some of these practices ended when Belgian government annexed the state in 1908, however due to famine and disease the Congo continued to suffer a plummeting birth rate and a sharp decline in population, estimates range from 1-15 million deaths during this colonial period.
Under the Congo Free State rubber plantation companies were allowed to do as they wished to maximise profits, which resulted in forced labour and the establishment of a native paramilitary army, the ‘Force Publique’, who shot, removed hands, and destroyed entire villages of those who refused to work. Pictures of Congolese with missing hands created such disgust internationally the Belgian government relinquished control from the king, establishing Belgian Congo in 1908, and ended many of the abuses. However continued mis-governance led to the modern state of the Democratic Republic of the Congo been widely seen as a failed state, and one of the most dangerous countries on earth, demonstrating the brutal legacy of Belgian colonialism. Belgium therefore created the most unforgiving colonial empire of history.