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Caricom heads to receive Reparations Commission's report Feb

KIMBERLEY HIBBERT WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING FROM THE CARICOM SECRETARIAT

Thursday, December 12, 2013    

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THE Caribbean Community (Caricom) Reparations Commission said Tuesday that its first report that speaks to reparatory justice for the region will be ready for submission to next February's Heads of Government meeting.

Sir Hillary Beckles, who heads the commission, said following consultations with British attorneys from Leigh Day, which he described as an internationally respected law firm that specialises in cases of this nature, the commission agreed that Caricom member states should request reparatory dialogue with past slave-owning European states — Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark in a move to formulate a new development agenda for the Caribbean.

Public health was one of the key issues identified by the Caricom Reparations Commission to receive reparatory diplomacy and action, Sir Hilary said. "The African-descended population in the Caribbean today has the highest incidence in the world of chronic diseases such as hypertension and type two diabetes," he said. He attributed this to the direct result of their nutritional exposure, endemic inhumane physical and emotional brutalisation and other aspects of the stress experience of slavery and post-slavery apartheid.

Education was the second of the six issues identified. The commission chairman stated that at the end of the colonial period the British left the African-descended population in a state of general illiteracy, adding that He noted that this illiteracy continued to plague Caribbean societies and accounted for significant parts of their development challenges.

Speaking to cultural institutions, Professor Beckles said there was no development of institutions such as museums and research centres to prepare Caribbean citizens for an understanding of their history. He also spoke of cultural deprivation as another issue that needed to be addressed and outlined that the primary cultural effect of slavery was to break and eradicate African commitment to their culture.

Psychological trauma was another area identified by the commission that needed to be addressed. According to Professor Beckles, during the time of slavery, Africans were classified in law as non-human, chattel, property and real estate. He said they were denied recognition as members of the human family by laws and practices derived from the parliaments and policies of Europe. This history, he said, has inflicted massive psychological damage upon African descendants and is evident daily in social life.

Also needed to be remedied, the commission said, was that of scientific and technological backwardness. It was highlighted that for 400 years the policy of Britain and Europe had been that the Caribbean should not participate in any manufacturing or industrial process, and should be confined to the production of raw materials.

On Tuesday, Dr Alfred Sangster, former president of the University of Technology, while praising the work of the commission, had concerns about Caricom's ability in taking the issue forward.

"There are rivers to cross; there are those in the region who argue in cynical terms about the concept of reparation and say reparation ought to blame the Africans as well who were part of the slave system. The second river to cross is that certainly in the UK [United Kingdom] there are groups where the principle of reparation is rejected and thirdly there is what I call the Caricom weakness. Let's not fool ourselves, right now there are issues about trade, issues about the role of Caricom and its strength and authority in world affairs," Sangster said.

Sangster agreed with the move for a new development agenda and further added that there should be three basic strategic directions to pursue in order for the commission to be successful.

The commission, meanwhile, called on Caribbean youths to participate in reparatory consultations to end the ideologies that limit their ability to be positive global citizens.

Lisa Hanna, Jamaica's minister of youth and culture, said her ministry was in full support of the commission and that the National Reparations Commission from Jamaica has been doing its part.

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