PJ scolds Cameron

Says British PM’s acknowledgement of slavery’s horrors insufficient

Friday, October 09, 2015

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Former Jamaica Prime Minister PJ Patterson yesterday said that United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister David Cameron's "mere acknowledgement of the crime of slavery" during his visit to the island last week was insufficient.

Patterson accused Cameron of refusing to apologise, while his Government has already apologised to everyone else for other horrid crimes.

"Are we not worthy of an apology, or less deserving. Mere acknowledgement of the crime is insufficient," Patterson said in an open letter to Cameron, which was distributed to the Press yesterday.

His remarks were specifically directed at Cameron's speech to a joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday, September 30.

The former three-term Jamaican prime minister noted that the international community and international law call for formal apologies when crimes against humanity are committed.

"The UN has deemed slave trading and slavery as crimes against humanity. The refusal to apologise is a refusal to take responsibility for the crime. In a law-abiding world, this is not acceptable," Patterson said.

He noted that recently Cameron urged his own country to keep the memory of the Jewish experience alive, in memorials and education curricula.

"We urge you to do the same for the black experience, which remains before us all. It is precisely because we all want to move on that the reparatory justice movement is alive and growing. We all want to move on, but with justice and equality," he added.

He stated that contrary to Cameron's view, Caribbean people will never emerge completely from the "long, dark shadow" of slavery until there is a "full confession of guilt by those who committed this evil atrocity".

"The resilience and spirit of its people is no ground to impair the solemnity of a privileged parliamentary occasion, and allow the memory of our ancestors to be offended once again," Patterson said.

"The Caribbean people have long been looking to the future. This is what we do in our development visions, but these legacies are like millstones around our necks. We look to reparatory justice as the beginning of shaping a new future. We invite Britain to engage in removing this blot on human civilisation, so that together we can create a new and secure future," he added.

Patterson welcomed the gifts offered to the region by Cameron in his speech to Parliament, noting that "only the shrewdest observers of parliamentary custom" would have noticed that the package he offered had discreetly omitted any mention of a £25-million contribution to the building of a prison.

Patterson said this was understandable, as what exists constitutes no more than a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding.

"You rightfully appreciated that its inclusion would have been premature, as the framework agreement has to be followed by further intensive negotiations and then the requisite legislation," Patterson said.

He said that Cameron had wisely chosen instead, to add the announcement of £30 million to make local hospitals more resilient to natural disasters.

"Despite your recognition of not being 'the only show in town', the words of strengthening the bonds of friendship and the downpayment you brought would have been well received throughout the entire Caribbean," Patterson said.

However, he said that Cameron's noble intentions were "jarred" by the portions of his speech which asserted that slavery was in the historical past and, as friends, "we can move together to build for the future".

"How can we simply forget it and move on to the future? If there is no explicit admission of guilt now, when will be the proper time?" Patterson asked.

He said that while Cameron argued that Britain abolished the slave system and the credit for it resonates in the British Parliament and shows British compassion and diplomacy, the facts speak to a different explanation.

In Jamaica, while the enslaved, led by Sam Sharpe, tried to abolish slavery three years before the British Parliament acted, the British army destroyed those freedoms fighters, and executed their leaders.

He said that mere acknowledgement of the horror would not suffice. He said that the enslaved paid more than 50 per cent of the cost of their market value in compensation to slave owners, and that the British Emancipation Act was self-serving and designed to support British national commercial interests alone.

"It was and still is a most heinous crime against humanity -- a stain which cannot be removed merely by the passage of time," Patterson said.

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