The 15 member states of the Caribbean Community common market organisation CARICOM, have unanimously approved an action plan seeking reparations from
and several other European
Estimates vary, but it is thought that Europeans forcibly moved at least 12.5 million African slaves to the
New World, mainly to
toil in colonial plantations and mines. The multi-national trade reaped huge
profits throughout the 17th century, and peaked towards the end of the 18th when
100,000 slaves a year were being transported.
The destination for most of
trafficking was .
Brazil Portugal also helped supply
slave labour to ’s
American empire. It was less directly involved in trade with the islands of the
Spain Caribbean administered by the British, French,
Dutch and Scandinavian colonialists.
The wealth accrued from slave labour was vast. It helped finance
Industrial Revolution. With their sugar plantations, the British West Indies
were among Britain ’s
most valuable colonies. Britain
Ships sailing the triangular route from Europe to West Africa, across to the
World and then back home, were always heavily laden. The central
‘cargoes’ were people shackled in chains.
Such were the horrific conditions on board ships making the so-called ‘middle passage’ westward, that an estimated one in seven slaves died of disease or malnutrition before making landfall.
The action plan approved by the CARICOM Reparations Commission meeting in
Vincent highlights ten points, “to achieve reparatory justice for
the victims of genocide, slavery, slave trading, and racial apartheid.”
Top of the list of demands is a “full, formal apology.”
The chairman of the commission, Sir Hilary Beckles, said: “Reparations for slavery, and the century of racial apartheid that replaced it into the 1950s, resonate as a popular right today in
because of the persistent harm and suffering linked to the crimes against
humanity under colonialism.”
Martyn Day, a lawyer who is advising the commission, said: “This is a very comprehensive and fair set of demands on the governments whose countries grew rich at the expense of those regions whose human wealth was stolen from them.”
So far, the plan has attracted little international attention – certainly nothing to compare with the publicity bestowed on the Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave.
If the Europeans decline to negotiate, which seems likely, a long-drawn out process in the UN International Court of Justice may be the only option open to the Caribbean Community.
The commission insists its main objective is not to exact huge sums from European taxpayers. And it is not looking to be compensated for slavery itself, but rather slavery’s lasting legacy.
Referring to one of its 10 demands - ‘Debt Cancellation’ – the commission says: “
Caribbean governments that emerged from slavery and
colonialism have inherited the massive crisis of community poverty and
institutional unpreparedness for development. These governments still daily
engage in the business of cleaning up the colonial mess in order to prepare for
Other demands focus on cultural, educational, psychological and public health issues, and also on a repatriation program for descendants who wish to resettle back in their ancestors’ countries of origin.
At first glance, the apology demand would seem to be the easiest to satisfy. Some governments have already issued ‘statements of regret’ rather than full apologies, but in the commission’s view these are unacceptable because they “represent a refusal to take responsibility for the crimes committed.”
Cash-strapped European nations such as
will fear that making full apologies and paying reparations would set a
precedent under which they could be expected to compensate all of the nations
they exploited in colonial times. Portugal
In other words, saying sorry could open up an expensive Pandora’s Box of wrongdoings in bygone empires.