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Moving ahead for slavery compensation


Ricky singh

Moving ahead for slavery compensation

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FOR MANY years since the dawn of political independence from Britain 51 years ago this month, first in Jamaica and secondly in Trinidad and Tobago, there have been recurring calls by politicians, academics and cultural personalities for compensation by former colonizing powers for slavery.
Today, for the first time since the celebration of Emancipation Day, there are member states of our Caribbean Community that have in place initial work plans to provide support for a high-level committee to address the modalities of compensation for slavery and genocide by the trio of former colonizers – Britain, France and The Netherlands.
This initiative is based on an historic decision by CARICOM Heads of  Government at their 34th regular summit in Port-of-Spain last month when they considered the sensitive issue of “Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide”. It was done in the context of submissions received from the pro vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Professor Hilary Beckles and a legal team that facilitated the Heads’ deliberations.
Aware that this would be a long intellectual and legal battle to move the governments of the concerned three former colonizing powers, the CARICOM leaders agreed to the creation of a special committee to guide them in further decisions and relevant actions.
Barbados’ Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart, was chosen to chair this advisory committee that comprises Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines (current CARICOM chairman); and the Presidents of Guyana (Donald Ramotar), Haiti (Michel Martelly) and Suriname (Desi Bouterse).
The committee will oversee the work of a CARICOM Reparations Commission comprising the chairpersons of national reparations committees plus a representative of the UWI’s Research Unit to specifically “drive the issue”, according to the Caribbean Community Secretariat.
According to a report in The Guardian of London, CARICOM has already engaged the British law firm of Leigh Day & Co which had waged a “successful fight for compensation for hundreds of Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government during the so-called Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 1960s . . . .”
Prime Minister Gonsalves, who has been an eloquent advocate for slavery compensation, has argued that the legacy of the abomination of slavery includes widespread poverty and under-development prior to independence, factors that continue to pose serious problems today for economic and social advancement.
CARICOM countries without national reparation commissions are expected to speed up arrangements to establish their own. As recorded in his famous work, Capitalism and Slavery, Trinidad and Tobago historian and long-serving Prime Minister, the now late Dr Eric Williams, had pointed to Britain’s payment of 20 million pounds sterling to British planters at the time of emancipation in 1834.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist; [email protected]

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