Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders is coming under criticism for appearing with a blackened face at a charity event, raising questions about Belgium's sensitivity toward racism.

Reynders insisted he blackened his face only as part of a century-old tradition that is part of a charity event for the poor. But human rights groups were outraged by his action over the weekend.

"This man presents an image of our nation abroad," said Wouter Van Bellingen, head of the Minorities Forum. "This in unacceptable."

Reynders said on his Facebook page that he likes "being part of folklore at Carnival time ... as tradition wants it."

Belgium has also come under criticism for using a character called Black Pete — seen by many as a grotesque black stereotype — as Saint Nicolas's helper.