Caribbean nations consider push for slavery reparations
Posted on March 10th, 2014

By Aileen Torres

KINGSTON Thu Mar 6, 2014

(Reuters) – More than 150 years after European colonial powers abolished slavery, a coalition of Caribbean nations is considering legal action to seek a formal apology and monetary compensation.

Caribbean leaders meeting next week in St. Vincent are expected to study a broad legal outline for the reparations claim prepared by a British law firm.

The subject of reparations has simmered in the Caribbean for many years and opinions are divided. Some see reparations as delayed justice, while others see it as an empty claim and a distraction from modern social problems in Caribbean societies.

Slavery ended throughout the Caribbean in the 1800s in the wake of slave revolts, and left many of the region’s plantation economies in tatters.

If the leaders decide to go ahead, a legal complaint will be filed against European states, possibly opening the way for formal negotiations.

The European states targeted are Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

“Undoubtedly, Britain faces more claims than anyone else because it was the primary slave power and colonial power in the Caribbean,” Martyn Day, the British lawyer advising the Caribbean nations, said in an interview. “Britain will be very much at the forefront.”

Britain’s government is aware of the proposed legal action, its foreign office said.

“Slavery was and is abhorrent. The United Kingdom unreservedly condemns slavery and is committed to eliminating it,” a spokesperson said, adding that reparations are not the answer. “Instead, we should concentrate on identifying ways forward with a focus on the shared global challenges that face our countries in the 21st century.”

Legal experts say the lawsuit would be a long shot at best.

“There is no legal basis for a claim for reparations,” Robert A. Sedler, a professor at Wayne State University Law School, said.

“Slavery was legal at the time, and international law was not a part of the law of the European states. Moreover, a long period of time has passed, and all the victims of slavery are long dead,” he added.

Some reparations cases have popped up in the United States over the last decade, but no one has been awarded compensation.

However, if negotiations open “the European nations might decide to apologize for slavery and to provide some financial assistance to the Caribbean nations,” Sedler said.

For instance, Caricom could seek to work with the European states to set up museums for Caribbean culture and history, which would entail decisions on financing, Day said.

The legal strategy rests on the fact that the European states targeted by Caricom have all signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Racial Discrimination, which makes it “a duty to do all in their power to eradicate racial discrimination,” said Day.

The Caribbean effort is being led by Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who has doggedly pursued the issue for the last four years.

PRECEDENT?

When Gonsalves found out last year that London’s High Court ordered the British government to pay compensation to survivors of Kenya’s Mau Mau uprising, he contacted Day, whose law firm Leigh Day, represented the Mau Mau.

The British government paid £19.9 million ($33 million) to 5,228 survivors of torture during Kenya’s 1950s Mau Mau uprising, and formally acknowledged that “Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill treatment and that these abuses took place and that they marred Kenya’s progress towards independence.”

Gonsalves said slavery so traumatized society in Caribbean countries that they have still not fully recovered.

The reparations claim takes into account what its authors say are slavery-related chronic diseases such as hypertension and Type 2 diabetes, widespread illiteracy, the lack of museums and research centers for Caribbean history, the lack of respect for African culture and identity, continuing psychological effects of centuries of slavery, and the lack of scientific and technical know-how to compete in the global economy.

In December 2013, the Caricom Reparations Commission decided on six factors for the claim: public health, education, cultural institutions, cultural deprivation, psychological trauma, and scientific and technological backwardness.

Estimates vary as to how many were enslaved. According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, the British Caribbean had 2.3 million slaves, the French Caribbean had 1.1 million, the Spanish Americas had 1.3 million and the Dutch Americas had about 445,000.

Slaves labored mainly in sugar and coffee plantations and were forced to work around the clock in the fields during harvest, according to Kathleen Monteith, head of the History and Archeology Department at the University of the West Indies.

The international convention against discrimination says significant attempts should be made to solve matters amicably but if no resolution is reached the Caribbean nations can take their case to the International Court of Justice.

Day hopes to present formal complaints to the European states at the end of June. If a European state were to refuse a Caribbean nation’s request for talks on its particular claims, then a formal legal complaint would be made.

“The Western powers will at least give a sympathetic ear,” he said. “The knee-jerk reaction will be to say no (but) Western powers will want to be seen as dealing sensitively with this.”

(Editing by David Adams, Kieran Murray and Richard Chang)

Courtesy:  Reuters http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/06/us-caribbean-slavery-idUSBREA2525520140306

See also

Two centuries on, Caribbean leaders prepare to sue Britain over slave trade

Frances Gibb Legal Editor
Last updated on March 10 2014

The slave trade to the Caribbean ended in the 19th century but tomorrow the colonial governments that imported more than ten million Africans will be called to account for a legacy that many say still reverberates.

In the first step towards a landmark legal claim, a coalition of Caribbean leaders is expected to endorse an action plan to seek reparation for a slave trade that lasted 400 years.

For more:

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/law/article4028282.ece

‘Scotland must face up to role in slavery’

A new warts-and-all account of Scotland’s role in slavery within the British Empire will end once and for all a national “amnesia” about the dark side of the country’s history, according to the senior academics behind the project.

Details of the explosive study emerged as the film 12 Years a Slave opened around the world, presenting a shattering depiction of slavery in America. The authors of Scotland, Slavery and Amnesia, believe it can deliver a similar corrective to Scottish complacency about its role in Empire.

For more

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/scotland/article3972379.ece

Harry flies in to Jamaica slavery row

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/americas/article3341791.ece

………………………

A coalition of Caribbean nations to sue 11 European countries over the lingering effects of the Atlantic slave trade

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/12/caribbean-nationsaimforreparations.html

A coalition of Caribbean nations is threatening to sue 11 European countries over the lingering effects of the Atlantic slave trade. But while they have a slim chance of seeing reparations granted in court, they could gain political leverage by elevating the issue at the United Nations. The controversial move could have widespread repercussions for countries that facilitated the slave trade ”” and benefits for those who suffered from it.

The 15 countries bringing the lawsuit are pressuring governments that participated in the slave trade, including those of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and France, to come to the negotiating table with the aim of agreeing on what they believe to be fair restitution. But the nations say they are not looking to be compensated for slavery itself ”” rather, they are contending that the present-day underdevelopment of the Caribbean islands is a result of the lasting legacy of the slavery trade, and they are attempting to claim benefits for present-day injustice, rather than historical suffering.

By making the lawsuit about current conditions that result from a past grievance, the members of The Caribbean Community (Caricom), which includes St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Suriname and Grenada, are attempting to skirt the issue that treaties and conventions are not intended to be applied retroactively. If they were, it would prevent any country with an even slightly seedy past from signing on to human rights statutes ”” and have a chilling effect on diplomacy in general.

David Standard, the head of media relations at Leigh Day, the law firm representing Caricom, said the reparations the countries demand will likely include assistance with the development of better educational and health programs ”” two underdeveloped spheres in many Caribbean nations ”” and a slavery museum.

“This was one of the most heinous periods of mankind. France, the Netherlands, Britain all massively benefited through the course of this time. It was built on the backs of the slavery trade. While one fully understands that these countries are not doing as well as they once were, at the same time, in the end if you have a debt due, you have a debt due,” he said.

Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves, who is the current head of Caricom and leading the push for reparations, said in the speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September that the European nations must pay for their dark past in the region.

“The awful legacy of these crimes against humanity ”” a legacy which exists today in our Caribbean ”” ought to be repaired for the developmental benefits of our Caribbean societies and all our people,” he said. “The European nations must partner in a focused, especial way with us to execute this repairing.”

A representative of Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said, “Slavery was and is abhorrent. … The U.K. unreservedly condemns slavery and is committed to eliminating it. We do not see reparations as the answer. Instead, we should concentrate on identifying ways forward with a focus on the shared global challenges that face our countries in the twenty-first century.”

Requests for comment from the French and Netherlands missions to the U.N., as well as Caricom, were not returned by time of publication.

If the European nations won’t negotiate with Caricom, the coalition and its lawyers say they will take the U.K., France, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Norway and Sweden to the U.N. International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Pending legal battle

A positive outcome for the Caribbean states isn’t likely, however. Persuading the European nations to pay reparations won’t be easy, as none of the financially strapped countries will want to see a precedent set under which they could be expected to compensate all of the nations they exploited in colonial times. And if the case goes to the ICJ, it would be surprising to see the court back the Caribbean states for several reasons.

The ICJ’s jurisdiction only goes as far as countries have permitted. Seventy countries have made declarations recognizing the jurisdiction for the ICJ as “compulsory.” France is not one of them. Many of the other European nations have signed on with caveats ”” The Netherlands, for instance, although it signed on to the ICJ in 1956, does not recognize court judgments on disputes dating prior to 1921. The U.K., for its part, does not recognize the ICJ’s jurisdiction in disputes before 1974. Both dates are well after the early 19th-century end of slavery in the Caribbean.

Even if the nations that may be sued hadn’t imposed start dates on their allegiance to the ICJ’s decisions, the court does not normally try historical cases, and treaties such as the discrimination and slavery conventions were also not intended to be retroactive, according to Ingrid Wuerth, an international law professor at Vanderbilt University.

“This case, re-litigating something from the 19th or 18th century, would be entirely new for the court,” she said.

Wuerth said that the 15-judge court, which is not required to take up cases, is unlikely to change how it deals with historical injustices.

“There’s a wide variety of views among the judges on the ICJ, so I couldn’t speak for all of them. As a group, I think it’s very unlikely that they will want to take this up,” she said.

That leaves it up to Caricom’s law firm Leigh Day to prove that the underdevelopment of the Caribbean nations today is a direct result of the slave trade. Robert Westley, a professor at Tulane University and an expert on the issue of reparations, thinks that the argument holds water.

Speaking about the impact of the slave trade in all of the New World, Westley said, “If you look just at measures of just well-being in racial comparison, not just the racial wealth gap, but if you look at employment, if you look at access to things like medical care, or if you look at rates of imprisonment, if you look at poverty rates ”” almost every measure of well-being in society ”” there is a racial disparity. And those disparities are clearly an outcome of historical forces. They didn’t just happen that way.”

Westley, who supports reparations, said that time has only widened the disparity in quality of life between those whose ancestors benefited from slavery and those who were victims of the practice.

“These claims have been denied for so long that some people have the perspective that time has essentially eliminated the validity of the claims ”” and of course, on the other side, reparations activists have the perspective that time has only compounded the damage that’s been done by ignoring the claims,” he said.

Wuerth and Westley agreed that although the odds seem slim that the ICJ will take up the case ”” or find in favor of Caricom and set a precedent that could result in dozens of countries suing the already squeezed European nations ”” it could create political leverage that could ultimately benefit Caricom outside of the courtroom.

Political leverage

Westley said that he doubts such reparations will happen anytime soon ”” but that an attempt like this, to force the hand of former colonizers, may be a way for the Caribbean nations to get those that historically exploited them to the negotiating table.

The ICJ requires that parties first attempt to negotiate a settlement out of court before it will agree to hear a case.

“If reparations are actually to happen I don’t believe it’s going to be the outcome of a judicial process. It’s going to be perhaps the outcome of using a judicial process as leverage in a political process,” Westley said. “Ultimately, the only thing a judicial process can do is give one or the other side leverage in a discussion that they have to have outside of the courts.”

In addition to the ICJ deciding to hear a case based on the merit of an application from the allegedly wronged party, the court can be pressured by the U.N. General Assembly to make “advisory” opinions, which are not legally binding but carry heavy political influence.

Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, said that advisory opinions can also be used to “bury an issue” with a vague decision that leaves all satisfied and puts off the real decision to be brought up at a later date.

It’s difficult to say if the U.N. General Assembly would vote to issue an advisory position. States would be weighing their desire to see political pressure placed on former colonizers to pay for their deeds against their general interest in treaties not being applied retroactively so that governments will actually sign onto them.

A third way political pressure could be applied is that even if the court decides not to hear the case, judges sympathetic to the Caribbean nations’ cause could write dissenting opinions, publicly shaming the European nations for not taking responsibility for their history in the Caribbean.

This is not the first time the Caribbean states have challenged European nations at the U.N. In 2010, Caricom states led the campaign against the European Union attempting to gain a special “enhanced observer” status in the General Assembly, which would have given the body the right to take the floor.

The Caricom-authored resolution (PDF) to postpone the vote indefinitely passed in the General Assembly with hefty support from African and Latin American states.

CommentS

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/12/caribbean-nationsaimforreparations.html

The real slavery of mankind over millennia is religious belief in nonexistent gods. No supernatural event has ever happened in the whole history of the universe, not once, ever. Sue your own mind to let you free of that.

Christian and Islamic religious belief was the justification for “modern” era (New World) human slavery, it is horribly ironic that slaves adopted much of the systems that caused them so much harm

John Smith57 days ago
The real slavery of mankind over millennia is religious belief in nonexistent gods. No supernatural event has ever happened in the whole history of the universe, not once, ever. Sue your own mind to let you free of that.

Christian and Islamic religious belief was the justification for “modern” era (New World) human slavery, it is horribly ironic that slaves adopted much of the systems that caused them so much harm.

The real slavery of mankind over millennia is religious belief in nonexistent gods. No supernatural event has ever happened in the whole history of the universe, not once, ever. Sue your own mind to let you free of that.
The real slavery of mankind over millennia is religious belief in nonexistent gods. No supernatural event has ever happened in the whole history of the universe, not once, ever. Sue your own mind to let you free of that.

Christian and Islamic religious belief was the justification for “modern” era (New World) human slavery, it is horribly ironic that slaves adopted much of the systems that caused them so much harm

John Smith57 days ago
The real slavery of mankind over millennia is religious belief in nonexistent gods. No supernatural event has ever happened in the whole history of the universe, not once, ever. Sue your own mind to let you free of that.

Christian and Islamic religious belief was the justification for “modern” era (New World) human slavery, it is horribly ironic that slaves adopted much of the systems that caused them so much harm.

John Smith57 days ago
The real slavery of mankind over millennia is religious belief in nonexistent gods. No supernatural event has ever happened in the whole history of the universe, not once, ever. Sue your own mind to let you free of that.

Christian and Islamic religious belief was the justification for “modern” era (New World) human slavery, it is horribly ironic that slaves adopted much of the systems that caused them so much harm.

3 Responses to “Caribbean nations consider push for slavery reparations”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    SL should follow them.

    Get compensation for the PLUNDER and ILLEGAL TAMIL migration that destroyed SL.

    Tell them to take back ILLEGAL TAMILS they brought from TN.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    Well stated, Lorenzo !

    ——-

    The British & the Dutch brought Tamil INDENTURED LABOR to Sri Lanka, over One and Half Million virtual slaves, considering they were coming from Caste/poverty bound Tamil Nadu Tamil groups.

    In more recent times, many thousands of ILLEGAL Tamil and other migrants (600 or so from Pakistan, we are told), have entered Sri Lanka, courtesy of the Catholic church.

    Why is SRI LANKA being made to PAY for this acts of foreign Colonial powers ? The Sinhala people have suffered enough under the Colonial jackboots. Why are they made to continue to suffer ? This has to stop.

    Under British rule, no citizenship or political rights, no voting rights, education rights, job rights, decent housing etc. were given to these people under Indentured Labor. Rule of law was what ‘Master Sir’ said.

    All these rights and more have been given to ALL the Tamil folk. Why kick the cow that gave the milk and love the bull that gored them ? Tamil leaders actions do not make any sense at all !

    Sinhala people, being the most numerous in Lanka, ought to govern Sri Lanka in the No Nonsense Singapore style, with rule of Law in place. That way Lanka becomes a truly Independent nation.

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    Read as ” After Independence from Britian, all these rights and more …..”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

 

 


Copyright © 2018 LankaWeb.com. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress