In 2013 Caribbean Heads of Governments established the Caricom Reparations Commission [CRC] with a mandate to prepare the case against the Government of Great Britain and seven other European countries that benefitted from the enslavement of African peoples for reparatory justice for the region’s indigenous and African descendant communities who are the victims of Crimes Against Humanity [CAH] in the forms of genocide, slavery, slave trading, and racial apartheid.
Three years down the road, after several presentations, conferences and conclaves, there appears to be no visible progress made towards achieving even an acknowledgement of the legality of the claims. Late this week, the Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, announced the launching of a web site that is supposed to make citizens in the Caribbean and further afield, more aware of the issue. “We are very pleased to launch our new Web site and social media platforms in this week of Emancipation celebrations, a time when our people all over the region are marking the end of chattel slavery, apprenticeship and indenture in the 19th Century,” said Beckles.
The case for Reparations comprises of ten claims basically asserting that slavery has left a lasting negative legacy of structural racism which has led to underdevelopment and under-investment in the Caribbean. While seeking a full apology, and financial compensation, CARICOM highlighted six issues it sees as priorities for a program of reparations: Public Health, Education, Cultural Institutions, Cultural Deprivation, Psychological trauma, and Scientific and technological backwardness. In addition they have asked for support for a repatriation program to Africa. The need for action on each of these issues has resulted from the “crimes against humanity” practiced by colonial powers through the sanctioning of slavery.
In seeking reparations, CARICOM has relied on the definition of crimes against humanity as set out by the United Nations in the “Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparations for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law.”
At this time, none of the European countries has even agreed to issue an apology as demanded, obviously fearing this would open the floodgates from other colonial entities that had also suffered depredations at the hands of the European powers. For instance, in 1999, the African World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission had called for “the West” to pay $777 trillion to Africa within five years. In 2004, Lloyds of London was sued by the descendants of African slaves. The case was not successful.
In the view of one set of experts, “Despite the best efforts of the Reparations Commission to link the crimes of the past to current economic and social problems, it is unlikely that the legal route will be successful. However, concerted diplomatic efforts could possibly create enough pressure for European countries to reassess development policies towards the Caribbean, which have become less supportive over the last two decades.”
However, while the CRC has not been making much visible headway , the local Reparations Committee – one of twelve formed after the 2013 launch of the main ‘CariCom’ body – has taken a tack that appears quite at variance from the claims of the Central Organisation. Rather than just focusing on the claims against the European colonial countries, they have turned their sights on the Guyanese state to demand Reparations on the grounds that the Indigenous Amerindians have been allocated 14% of land in Guyana and Indian Guyanese received land in lieu of their return passage to India which was guaranteed them by their indentured contracts.
We advise that this approach does not serve to increase social cohesion which the government has established as its goal.