GEORGETOWN, Guyana (GINA) -- Guyana's minister of culture youth and sport, Dr Frank Anthony, has said that the world must understand that the slave trade and the atrocities committed during the 400 years of slavery are indeed crimes against humanity. He made this statement during his presentation at the regional conference on reparations held in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Dr Frank Anthony
Anthony stated that the argument that such crimes were “legal” under the then European law is no longer valid under international jurisprudence. He expressed Guyana’s commitment to the cause of reparations, and said the country was prepared to join with the rest of the Caribbean in representing this case to the world at large.
Representatives of governments, civil society, academia and individuals fighting the cause of reparations for native genocide and slavery, met from September 15 to 17, for the first major event on reparations following the thirty-fourth conference of the heads of government of the Caribbean (CARICOM) in Trinidad and Tobago in July.
At the summit, heads of government agreed to the establishment of a national reparations committee in each member state with the chair of each committee sitting on a CARICOM reparations commission. The heads of government of Barbados (chair), St Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago were identified to provide political oversight.
Anthony told the conference, “We have to build consensus and alliances at three levels, starting in our own country with our national reparation commission, which should be the engine driving this process at the local level. We must also work more cohesively and consistently at the regional level. Not just mapping what must be done, but by timetabling the task that must be accomplished and by when.”
He observed that while the multilateral democratic process is time consuming, “if we allow time to consume us without concrete actions then another 175 years can slip by. So it is important that we set a timetable for action. The establishment of the regional reparation commission must be the catalyst to catapult us closer to our goal.”
Anthony urged the establishment of specialised committees in history, economics, diplomacy, public education and fund raising, observing that it would be difficult to advance this important work on voluntarism alone. He noted the need to make speedy progress through paying full time persons “to pursue this claim with the tenaciousness and resoluteness that it deserves.”
The minister also noted the need to build an international alliance through coordination of foreign policies to articulate the call at the multilateral levels. He called for the recruitment of international voices of reason, “men and women of influence that must add their voices to right this historic wrong. And we must keep knocking at the door.”
“Guyana agrees that we must look at this dark history in order to understand and move forward in the present. But apart from the duty to remember, we have the duty to ensure that just and appropriate measures are adopted to compensate for those wrongs. It is our hope that all delegations will show the requisite political will in the interest of a higher human good,” Anthony declared.
The Abolition Act of August 1833, eradicated enslavement throughout the British Empire from August 1, 1834. From this date, there was a six-year period of apprenticeship for field labour during which time they worked for their masters for a fixed number of hours each week. This status of semi slavery ended in 1838, two years earlier than provided for in the Act.
The planters of British Guiana were generously compensated for the 84,915 Africans who were now free. The emancipated Africans received no compensation for their years of labour.
Anthony said that in Guyana this injustice left a deep wound and the desire to right this wrong was a muted component of the anti-colonial struggle, and was openly discussed in the immediate post-independence era.
Subsequently several organisations, including Guyana’s African Cultural and Development Association, led the campaign for reparations and requested then President Bharrat Jagdeo to add his voice to the reparations campaign. They asked that the government sponsor a resolution in parliament calling on the UK government to pay compensation.
Jagdeo responded in kind when, in 2007, while addressing a commemorative ceremony for the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic trade in captive Africans, he observed: “Now that some members of the international community have recognised their active role in this despicable system, they need to go one step further and support reparation.”
In 2011, Jagdeo, in launching a year of celebratory activities commemorating the International Year for People of African Descent, restated his claim for reparations noting: “The international community was quick to recognise the Jewish holocaust, rightfully so. They must also now recognise that there was an African holocaust.”
This consistency was reflected in the tone of his successor when, in 2013, in launching the UNESCO Slavery Museum in Guyana, one of the many events on the year-long programme to commemorate the 250 anniversary of the great 1763 Berbice Slave Revolt, current President Donald Ramotar recommended the establishment of a National Reparations Committee to collaborate with regional bodies to advance the case for compensation.
“Having defined what a crime against humanity is, I think that we will have little doubt that the capture and enslavement of Africans, the dehumanization, the liquidation of their language and culture, the cruel and degrading condition in which they worked constitute a gross violation of international law. As was said before we must not be distracted, we have to gather the material and make our case,” Anthony stated.