DCSIMG

Caribbean PMs seek reparations for slave trade

The Oscar-winning film 12 Years A Slave (pictured) highlighted the issue of slavery. Picture: Contributed

The Oscar-winning film 12 Years A Slave (pictured) highlighted the issue of slavery. Picture: Contributed

  • by DAVID MCFADDEN
 

Leaders of Caribbean nations have unanimously adopted a broad plan on seeking reparations from European nations for the lingering ill-effects of the ­Atlantic slave trade.

A UK human rights law firm hired by the Caribbean Community group of nations said that prime ministers had authorised a ten-point plan that would seek a formal apology and debt cancellation from former colonial powers such as Britain, France and the Netherlands.

The decision came at a closed meeting in St Vincent & the Grenadines. According to the Leigh Day law firm, the Caribbean Community also wants reparations to repair the persisting “psychological trauma” from the days of plantation slavery.

The community is also seeking assistance to boost the region’s technological know-how since the Caribbean was denied participation in Europe’s industrialisation and confined to ­producing and exporting raw materials such as sugar.

The plan further demands European aid in strengthening the region’s public health, ­educational and cultural institutions such as museums and ­research centres.

It is also pushing for the creation of a “repatriation programme”, including legal and diplomatic assistance from European governments, to potentially resettle members of the Rastafarian spiritual movement in Africa.

Repatriation to Africa has long been a central belief of Rastafari, a melding of Old Testament teachings and Pan-­Africanism whose followers have long sought reparations.

The law firm’s Martyn Day called the plan a “fair set of ­demands on the governments whose countries grew rich at the expense of those regions whose human wealth was stolen from them”.

Mr Day said a forthcoming meeting in London between Caribbean and European officials “will enable our clients to quickly gauge whether or not their concerns are being taken seriously”. It was not immediately clear when the meeting to potentially seek a negotiated ­settlement would take place.

The idea of the countries that benefited from slavery paying some form of reparations has been a decades-long quest but only recently has it gained ­serious momentum in the ­Caribbean.

Caricom, as the political grouping of 15 countries and dependencies is known, announced in July it intended to seek reparations for slavery and the genocide of native peoples and created the Caribbean Reparations Commission to push the issue and present recommendations to political leaders.

It then hired Leigh Day, which waged a successful fight for an award compensation of £19.9 million for surviving Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 1960s.

The commission’s chairman, Hilary Beckles, an academic who has written several books on the history of Caribbean slavery, said he was “very pleased” the political leaders adopted the plan.

In 2007, then prime minister Tony Blair expressed regret for the “unbearable suffering” caused by the United Kingdom’s role in slavery but made no ­formal apology.

In 2010, then French president Nicolas Sarkozy acknowledged the “wounds of colonisation” and pointed out France had cancelled a €56 million (£47m) debt owed by Haiti and approved an aid package.

The Caribbean Reparations Commission said on Monday that far more needed to be done for the descendants of slaves on struggling islands, saying it sees the “persistent racial victimisation of the descendants of slavery and genocide as the root cause of their suffering today”.

 

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