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Sunday 21 January 2018

Caribbean seeks slavery reparations

Holidays were cancelled
Holidays were cancelled

Leaders of Caribbean nations have adopted a plan on seeking reparations for what they say are the lingering ill-effects of the Atlantic slave trade.

A British law firm hired by the Caribbean Community says the regional leaders have authorised a 10-point plan that would seek a full apology and debt cancellation from former colonisers such as Britain, France and the Netherlands.

The decision was made at a summit in St Vincent.

The Leigh Day law firm says the group also wants European help in strengthening cultural, health and educational institutions.

Lawyer Martyn Day says the programme is 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".

Leigh Day said the Caribbean Community grouping of nations also wants reparation payments to repair the persisting "psychological trauma" from the days of plantation slavery and calls for 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.

It is also pushing for 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 pushed for reparations.

Mr Day said a meeting in London between Caribbean and European officials "will enable our clients to quickly gauge whether or not their concerns are being taken seriously".

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 that 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 their recommendations to political leaders.

They hired Leigh Day, which waged a successful fight for an award compensation of about 21.5 million US dollars (£13 million) for surviving Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government during the so-called Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 1960s.

The commission's chairman, Hilary Beckles, a scholar who has written several books on the history of Caribbean slavery, said he was "very pleased" that the political leaders adopted the plan.

In 2007, then British prime minister Tony Blair expressed regret for the "unbearable suffering" caused by his country'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 multimillion-euro debt owed by Haiti and approved an aid package.

The Caribbean Reparations Commission said far more needs 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".

Press Association

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