14 Countries sue Britain, Holland and France over slavery

TRIBUNE Newspaper

DEFENSIVE reactions against the concept of slavery compensation belies the psychological legacy of systemic oppression, said former education minister Alfred Sears.

#The government’s informal focus group on reparations will hold its first meeting within the next month, according to Mr Sears, who sits on the body.

#While he noted that the transatlantic slave trade indisputably fuelled the industrial development of Europe, he maintained that compensation for egregious wrongs did not have to be monetary.

#“In the Bahamas,” said Mr Sears, “it’s not fashionable and there is a lot of defensiveness in addressing the harm that was done psychologically as a result of these historical events. How to rehabilitate, how to make amends.

#“I take it’s an important question for us within the region as we seek to address the continuing legacies of slavery. I think all issues of social justice related to the systematic exploitation of any discrete group of persons, we ought not to ignore.

#“As we seek to build a culture of democracy and respect based on norms of contemporary international law,” said Mr Sears, “we have to look at issues of historical wrongs. That is not unique to the Caribbean, that is being done throughout the world.”

#Mr Sears added that while stories of British abolitionists are easily recanted, stories of slaves or free Africans in the Caribbean are often unexplored.

#Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell announced last week that the government had formed an informal ad hoc group to guide deliberations over whether or not to pursue reparations from slavery as part of a Caribbean contingent.

#While he defended CARICOM’s decision to establish a Reparations Commission, Mr Mitchell maintained that no decision has been made to participate in a legal suit against Britain, Holland and France for slavery compensation payments.

#Appointed alongside Mr Sears, is former MP Philip Smith and foreign service officer Charmaine Williams.

#“It could never be a waste of time if you’re trying to correct a historical wrong,” Mr Sears said. “That argument was used when the US and Australia had to deal with the issue of the indigenous people, when giving back land that historically belonged to the native American nations.

#“You can say that it was hundreds of years ago, why do we have to deal with it today? It’s because part of our system of justice and our notion of fairness is restitution. If you’ve harmed someone you acknowledge it.”

#The government agreed to establish a National Reparations Committee, with the head of the committee to sit on CARICOM’s Reparations Commission, at the 34th Heads of Government meeting in July.

#During a CARICOM (Caribbean Community) conference on “Regional Reparations” in St Vincent and the Grenadines in September, a decision was made to pursue legal action against the former colonial powers.

#CARICOM has hired the British law firm Leigh Day, which recently won compensation for hundreds of Kenyans tortured by the British colonial government during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s.

#Mr Sears said: “We have to come to terms with our history, it’s our history. It’s not as if we’re trying to adopt someone else’s history, this is your own history. It is for us to see and understand, to say never again.”

#He added: “I am in the process of literature review, the research, and understanding the historical, not only the legacy, but the issue of remoteness, issue of fairness, looking at the precedents throughout the world. How various courts have addressed this issue.”


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