Caribbean wants justice for atrocities committed under transatlantic slave trade

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Anika Kentish

ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Monday October 13, 2014, CMC – The second Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Conference on Reparations began here on Sunday night with reparations activists joining political leaders in calling for justice for a region that is still reeling from the social, economic effects from the transatlantic slave trade.

“I implore all of us to see ourselves as working towards one aim, one destiny – the search for justice and repair of our societies; societies which were disfigured by colonization; societies that continue to suffer the legacies of enslavement and native genocide,” said PJ Patterson, former prime minister of Jamaica.

“We need all hands on deck, wherever we are located in the west, in the north, in the east, because the tentacles of colonial injustices were spread far and wide and their legacies continue to be far-reaching to this very day.

“The masses of Caribbean people are still to be brought on board the reparation train. They are stuck at the halts and stations all around the region and indeed in the Diaspora, waiting for reason to board. If we do not wish to have them waiting indefinitely on the platform, or worse boarding the wrong train, we need to use this forum to settle all the unanswered questions around the struggle for reparatory justice,” Patterson said.

Patterson was among several speakers lending his voice to the cause. University of the West Indies Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles, and Dr Julius Garvey, son of Jamaican Negro rights activist Marcus Garvey also spoke at the start of the three-day event.

In delivering the feature address, Garvey lamented that Africa is being re-colonized.

“We also see Africans as the poorest people on the planet. In America, the wealth of the average African American is one twentieth of his or her white counterpart. It almost seems that nothing has changed in 100 years so we still have to speak of repairing the breach, which, in my view, is the full meaning of reparations.

“I would like to suggest that he struggle for reparations is and should be firmly embedded in the struggle for us to repair the damage caused by 500 years of Euro-American dominance so that we address the root causes of the problem,” Garvey said.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, who is also the CARICOM Chairman, said the transnational slave trade lead to the separation and destruction of many families and of the cultural values, tradition, beliefs and artifacts of our people.

He said that CARICOM’s concept of reparations is not defined by or limited to economic reparations. It also includes reconciliation, racial equality, inclusivity, equality of opportunity and justice.

“The atrocities committed against our people rank among the worst examples of human barbarism. This instituionalised trade in humans and its attendant atrocities have resulted in state of underdevelopment in the Caribbean and Africa, 180 years after its abolition,” Browne said, adding “notwithstanding these atrocities; what we seek now is reparation-not reprisal.”

The CARICOM chairman said the argument is not with the peoples of Europe, neither is it a formulation based on race or a war of revenge.

He said the region does not hold present day Europeans responsible for “the evils of the ruling classes that controlled their societies and enriched themselves from the cruelties and barbarism to which they subjected our ancestors in this region”.

However, he said that it does not preclude them from the acknowledgement of such wrongs. Instead, they should commit themselves to “the noble action of resolving them by honouring our reparatory claims.”

Patterson stressed that people should refrain from placing blame at the feet of Africa where some leaders were induced by intimidation, bribery or greed to collaborate in the capture and transport of Africans who were destined for slavery.

“There is no principle of law which permits the organizers of a criminal enterprise to escape responsibility because others collaborated in carrying out the enterprise. Legal responsibility is not affected by any collaboration,” Patterson cautioned.

“The most serious penalties under criminal law are reserved for those who organize the criminal enterprise and profit most from it.”

Prime Minister Browne stated “simply stated, our contention is, that our predecessors in this region were subjected to the most inhumane treatment that would today be legitimate matters for trial by the International Criminal Court.

“In the course of that treatment, they were deprived of their liberty and the right to their lives; they were treated not as human beings, not even as animals – they were treated as “property” to be used or disposed – as suited the thinking of their owners.”

The regional conference, which is being convened by the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) is being held under the theme “‘An Expert Conference on Caribbean Reparations: Scientific Engagement and Community Mobilisation’.

It is aimed at intensifying discussions regarding the scientific and popular discourse on the CRC’s 10-point plan on reparatory justice which was adopted by CARICOM leaders at their Inter-Sessional summit in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in March.

The 10-point plan includes reparation in the areas of public health, education and literacy.

This conference is one of several activities to address the issue of reparations for Caribbean countries whose people suffered as a result of the transatlantic trade and chattel slavery.

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