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Two countries demand reparation for African slave trade

Sunday, September 25, 2011 | 11:49 AM    

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UNITED NATIONS (CMC) – The Antiguan and Vincentian prime ministers, in separate speeches to the United Nations yesterday, demanded reparations for injustices suffered by African slaves and their descendants, whose legacy has slowed their advancement as people and nations.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer and his St Vincent and the Grenadines counterpart, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, told the UN that segregation and violence against people of African descent have impaired their capacity for advancement as nations, communities and individuals.

“Antigua and Barbuda has long argued that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and racial violence against peoples of African descent have severely impaired our advancement as nations, communities and individuals across the economical, social and political spectra,” Spencer said.

The appearance of reparations in the political rhetoric of two predominantly African-descended countries comes as the world marks International Year for People of African Descent. Spencer argued that redress for the injustices meted out to African slaves and their descendants would advance general healing for the peoples on both sides of the Atlantic Slave Trade’s Middle Passage.

“Those who choose to differ have argued that, unlike victims of the Holocaust or those who have been interred during wars and have subsequently received remuneration, neither the victims nor the perpetrators of slavery are alive today, and it is unfair to hold the descendants of slave-owners responsible for the actions of their ancestors,” he added.

“On this, we strongly disagree. However, none should disagree that racism and other legacies of slavery continue to shape the lives of people of African descent; thus reparations must be directed toward repairing the damage inflicted by slavery and racism,” Spencer continued.

On Thursday, the United Nations held a one-day, high-level meeting to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, an international blueprint to fight racism.

The document was adopted by consensus at the 2001 UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, in Durban, South Africa.

To this day, Spencer said the declaration remains “an innovative and action-oriented agenda to combat all forms of racism and racial discrimination,” adding that the 10th anniversary should be used as “a chance to strengthen political commitment in fighting racism and racial discrimination.”

In addition, the Antiguan leader said it should also be an “opportune time to revisit the issue of reparations for slavery, which is central to any discussions about racism, colonialism, and poverty.”

Gonsalves said he was grateful to the United Nations for hosting a number of events to raise awareness of the challenges facing people of African descent and foster discussions on potential solutions to tackle these challenges.

“Racial discrimination was justified and became itself the justification for a brutal, exploitative and dehumanising system of production that was perfected during the transatlantic slave trade and ingrained over the course of colonial domination,” he said.

“The structure of our modern world is still firmly rooted in a past of slavers and colonialist exploitation,” he added. “While we celebrate the noble heroism of the famous and the faceless who resisted racist colonial hegemony, we must continue to confront the legacy of this barbarism and continuing injustice.”

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