By Shamkoe Pilé
KINGSTOWN, St Vincent (BGIS) -- The challenges that have resulted from slavery and the slave trade cannot be brushed aside because this will restrict the development of future generations of descendants of African slaves.
Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth, Stephen Lashley
So said Barbados minister of culture, sports and youth, Stephen Lashley, as he addressed the regional reparations conference in Kingstown, St Vincent, on Sunday.
Reiterating Barbados’ call for reparations, Lashley confirmed that Barbados supported concrete and tangible measures to make this possible.
“For us, it is not a matter of retribution, but a just cause… All around us, the reality of our economic, political and social circumstances point to historical developments that have resulted in inequality and deprivation of the descendants of African slaves,” he said, adding that this has led to structural and economic challenges which “plague our societies to this day”.
He further emphasised equity needed to be introduced to the emancipation process and stressed that reparations provide closure “to the criminal activity that was racial chattel slavery”.
The culture minister outlined that reparations should come in the form of funding, which would target specific components of national economic development. He added that resources should be provided to support social programmes designed to strengthen the identity and self-confidence of people of African descent.
Moreover, he pointed out that the United Nations had agreed in 2001 that slavery and the slave trade were crimes “against humanity and should always have been so”, and he noted that the Durban Declaration called on the perpetrating countries to find appropriate ways to contribute to the restoration of the dignity of the victims.
Reasoning that Britain’s arguments against the reparations movement “are flawed”, Lashley pointed out that Britain, as “the largest beneficiary of African chattel slavery is still opposed to the question of reparations, arguing that no court is currently competent to handle such claims”.
“This argument is quite flawed, since the reparations movement has pointed out repeatedly, [that] international institutions are innovated enough to establish a competent tribunal to handle the claims. British laws, at the time, also recognised slavery as being repugnant to the laws and customs of the realm and there are no legal barriers to descendants making claims in some instances,” Lashley contended.
Also insisting that the UN recognised slavery and its resulting atrocities as crimes against humanity, he said this “strengthened the case for establishing a global reparations agenda and promoted the need for meaningful dialogue about repairing the damage caused by slavery and colonisation within the context of international law.”
The culture minister indicated that Britain also argued that, when it was instituted, slavery was not a crime; that slavery was “too far in the past”; it was impossible to establish defendants in the 21st century; and reparations, in this case, are too complex a claim to be settled.
Adding there was opposition locally and regionally, he said some persons believed pursuing reparations would lead to confrontation and divisions in society and would result in a breakdown of racial relations. Furthermore, he said naysayers argued that Africans also participated in the transatlantic slave trade and that the pain and shame of slavery could not be valued.
“…Many of our historians, legal minds and Pan-Africanist scholars on the matter agree that none of these things mentioned diminishes the moral or legal force of argument in favour of reparations.
“In light of these facts, one can understand why a statement of regret is deemed inadequate as an indication of any moral abhorrence to the transatlantic trade in Africans and their enslavement. There is really the need for an apology which would legally imply acceptance of responsibility and a commitment to repay,” Lashley affirmed.