An important step forward on the road to reparations


An important step forward on the road to reparations

Sunday, August 04, 2019

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Few people, especially those descended from enslaved Africans, would dispute the justification for reparatory justice for the cruel injustices inflicted on their African ancestors. However, there are people who believe that the efforts to get those countries, individuals and institutions that were enriched by their involvement in the slave trade — or who were not involved but benefited from the ill-gotten gains — to engage in reparatory justice are just a dream.

On the other hand, some people believe that there are causes so worthwhile that they should be fought for, even if they can never be won. The refusal of countries, companies and individuals enriched by the trade in enslaved Africans and from chattel slavery to even offer an apology is in itself shameful.

Indeed, scepticism about the probability of financial restitution is understandable, based on the history of the refusal of guilty parties to concede that there is a case to be answered.

Some are interested in reparations because they see an opportunity to extract some money. Others even salivate at the prospect of getting money individually.

The Caribbean Community (Caricom) has taken reparatory justice seriously and established the Caribbean Reparations Commissions which has been mandated to make a moral, ethical and legal case for the payment of reparations by the governments of all the former colonial powers, and the relevant institutions of those countries, to the nations and peoples of the region.

The commission has developed a 10-point plan involving: full formal apology, repatriation, indigenous peoples development programme, cultural institutions, public health crisis, illiteracy eradication, African knowledge programme, psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer and debt cancellation.

The commission's persistence has finally achieved a breakthrough. Last week, the University of Glasgow signed a memorandum of understanding with The University of the West Indies (UWI) to make available 20 million to establish a centre that will carry out reparatory-oriented policy research to address the legacies of slavery and colonialism in the Caribbean.

Of note is the fact that a recent report discovered that Glasgow University was not involved in the slave trade, or owned slaves or traded in slave-produced goods. However, it received the equivalent of up to 200 million from individuals and companies engaged in the slave trade or chattel slavery. As such, it has said it is committed to the partnership with the UWI. We have no reason to doubt the sincerity of that statement and note that the amount of benefit to be derived depends on the UWI designing a raft of suitable development projects.

Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, vice chancellor of the UWI who led this initiative and negotiated the deal, deserves credit. This will encourage him to continue his tireless global campaign. This event is unprecedented and will hopefully encourage others to do the same.

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