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CARICOM urged to set up task force to address slavery
Published on February 13, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (GINA) -- A call was made on Monday evening by Professor Sir Hilary Beckles for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to begin efforts aimed at seeking some form of reparation from Western countries for slavery.

Speaking at the first of a series of lectures to commemorate the 250th Anniversary of the 1763 Berbice Slave Revolt as part of Republic celebrations, the professor said an ongoing discussion was needed to address this issue. He called for “an informed and sensible conversation” on what has been described as the “worst crime against humanity”.

The lecture titled, “Britain’s Black Debt: reparations owed the Caribbean for Slavery and Indigenous Genocide”, examined the damage done and wealth created through slavery over the years, particularly by Imperial Britain.

The Mona Campus, University of the West Indies researcher pointed out that reparation is not about persons getting handouts, but about repairing historical damage and how to find a way forward.

It was noted that, while all races experienced some form of slavery, African slavery was unique in its scope and brutality. Comparative studies note that it was the only system of slavery in which persons were viewed legally as property and seen as non-humans. African slavery was also unique in that it reproduced itself, meaning the children of slaves were born as slaves, they had no rights, and females in particular were seen as the prefect property since their offspring would add their value.

Beckles added that landmark cases such as the 1781 Zong Massacre in which 350 slaves were thrown to sharks after the ship’s captain went off course, helped to shape the discussion on the legality of slavery.

The issue of slavery has in recent years been viewed as a crime against humanity and these types of crimes have attracted calls for reparation for victims, in various forms according to the professor.

The case of Haiti was cited in which, he said, the western countries had no qualms about requesting and obtaining compensation. Haiti had to pay, from 1825 to 1922, 150 million gold francs to France after its slave population fought and successfully gained its freedom. That country has never been able to recover from that payment, which was needed for it to gain international recognition.

The issue of the Jews who were persecuted during World War Two and have since organised the Jewish Reparation Fund is one which should be praised and emulated, according to Beckles. He said that through meticulous research, the organisation has been able to garner financial support for its claims against several countries for atrocities committed against Jews. These funds have been used to enhance the State of Israel in various means, he noted.

Nations such as the United States of America, Canada, Japan and New Zealand have put measures in place as part of their efforts to give reparation to indigenous peoples or war victims, and these efforts were to be commended. Yet, it was noted that no similar move has been made in CARICOM countries to their own cause.

The benefit that many of the now powerful Western nations have obtained through slavery has been documented and accepted, said the professor, who cited the cases of the Lascelles family in Barbados, the aristocracy in England, the Lloyds and Barclays banks, which built massive fortunes through their involvement with the slave trade.

Yet many of these same countries have not been willing to offer any apologies for slavery, but instead have grudgingly given “expressions of regret”. An acknowledgment that falls short of an apology. This, Beckles said, is the first step towards understanding and acknowledging that a wrong was committed and an eventual move towards reparations.

In closing, Beckles said that CARICOM has to come together to find a way to address this issue, one which will lead to peace, justice, reconciliation and future harmony.
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