Colonialism and Reparations – Time to get ready to press claims
Posted on October 9th, 2013

by Senaka Weeraratna

” The people of Asia were slaves, because they had not learned how to pronounce the word ‘no’ ”

Winston Churchill (citing Alexander the Great), in a radio address – 10/16/1938

The following is an extract from the British Hansard of a debate conducted in the House of Lords in 1996 concerning issues of colonialism, slavery and reparations. Though the debate is mainly confined to the situation that prevailed in Black Africa under western colonial domination, the matters discussed also have relevance to claims for reparations and apology arising from colonial rule in other parts of the world.

As date of the Commonwealth Conference (CHOGM) in Colombo draws closer any potential attack on Sri Lanka by former colonial powers for alleged violation of -Ëœhuman rights-â„¢ by Sri Lanka can be met by presenting a more darker picture of their conduct over a period of 500 years in 90% of the world which was conquered by Britain in the heyday of the British Empire.

We owe to our countrymen both born and unborn to keep these issues alive, maintain our rage and demands until such time adequate compensation and a suitable apology for colonial crimes is rendered by the very nations that committed these crimes but have the cheek and audacity to ride the high horse today preaching -Ëœhuman rights-â„¢ to the descendants of their innocent victims in the Third World. ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ 



Slav‚­ery: Legacy

The offi‚­cial record from Hansard of the debate ini‚­ti‚­ated by Lord Gif‚­ford QC in the House of Lords of the British Par‚­lia‚­ment on 14th March 1996 con‚­cern‚­ing the African reparations.

9.18 p.m. Lord Gif‚­ford rose to ask Her Majesty-â„¢s Gov‚­ern‚­ment whether they will make appro‚­pri‚­ate repa‚­ra‚­tion to African nations and to the descen‚­dants of Africans for the dam‚­age caused by the slave trade and the prac‚­tice of slav‚­ery. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Ques‚­tion raises an issue which is being debated with increas‚­ing vigour and inten‚­sity by African peo‚­ple around the world; and by African peo‚­ple I mean peo‚­ple of African descent, wher‚­ever they live, whether in Africa itself, in the United States, in Great Britain or in the Caribbean, where I now live and prac‚­tise law.

The issue is this. The under-development and poverty which affect the major‚­ity of coun‚­tries in Africa and in the Caribbean, as well as the ghetto con‚­di‚­tions in which many black peo‚­ple live in the United States and else‚­where, are not, speak‚­ing in gen‚­eral terms, the result of lazi‚­ness, incom‚­pe‚­tence or cor‚­rup‚­tion of African peo‚­ple or their gov‚­ern‚­ments. They are in a very large mea‚­sure the con‚­se‚­quences the legacy -” of one of the most mas‚­sive and ter‚­ri‚­ble crim‚­i‚­nal enter‚­prises in recorded human his‚­tory; that is, the transat‚­lantic slave trade and the insti‚­tu‚­tion of slavery.

The the‚­sis that I advance tonight is that in accor‚­dance with inter‚­na‚­tional law and with basic human moral‚­ity, mea‚­sures of atone‚­ment and repa‚­ra‚­tion are due from the suc‚­ces‚­sors of those who insti‚­gated and car‚­ried out the trade and who prof‚­ited mas‚­sively from it to the descen‚­dants of the vic‚­tims of the crim‚­i‚­nal enter‚­prise who still suf‚­fer in many dif‚­fer‚­ent ways from the effects of the crime.

The hor‚­ren‚­dous nature of the enter‚­prise of African slav‚­ery is well known and doc‚­u‚­mented. Around 20 mil‚­lion young peo‚­ple were kid‚­napped, taken in

chains across the Atlantic and sold into slav‚­ery in the plan‚­ta‚­tions of the New World. Mil‚­lions more died in tran‚­sit in the dun‚­geons of the cas‚­tles such as Gore, Elmina and Cape Coast, or in the hell holes under the decks of the slave ships. It was with‚­out doubt, in the fullest sense of the term, a crime against humanity.

A vast pro‚­por‚­tion of sub-Saharan Africa from Sene‚­gal right round to Angola and on the other side from Mozam‚­bique into Malaiwi and Tan‚­za‚­nia was depop‚­u‚­lated. Its young men and women were taken away. Pop‚­u‚­la‚­tion esti‚­mates show that Africa-â„¢s pop‚­u‚­la‚­tion remained sta‚­tic at around 100 mil‚­lion between 1650 and 1850 while in the same period the pop‚­u‚­la‚­tions of Europe and Asia increased between twofold and three‚­fold. It is small won‚­der that the great king‚­doms of Africa such as Mali, Song‚­hai and Ghana fell into decline while the slave-trading nations pros‚­pered might‚­ily. Whole cities such as Liv‚­er‚­pool and Bris‚­tol grew wealthy on the tri‚­an‚­gu‚­lar trade of man‚­u‚­fac‚­tured goods going to Africa, slaves going from Africa to the colonies, and sugar com‚­ing back from the colonies to Britain. No cal‚­cu‚­la‚­tions can mea‚­sure the loss suf‚­fered by the African con‚­ti‚­nent from that mas‚­sive depop‚­u‚­la‚­tion of its young peo‚­ple, for which no com‚­pen‚­sa‚­tion was ever paid.

African gov‚­ern‚­ments today. who have tried to rec‚­tify the under-development which they have inher‚­ited from his‚­tory, have bor‚­rowed from the finan‚­cial insti‚­tu‚­tions of the West and are now in a vir‚­tu‚­ally uncon‚­trol‚­lable spi‚­ral of debt. In real‚­ity -” and in moral‚­ity -” I sug‚­gest that it is the West which is in debt to Africa, not Africa which is debt to the West.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the African cap‚­tives were cut off from their fam‚­i‚­lies, their land and their lan‚­guage. They were forced to be owned as chapels and to work as beasts of bur‚­den. When, finally, eman‚­ci‚­pa‚­tion day came -” in the British colonies, in 1838 -” the ex-slaves received noth‚­ing. It was the ex-slave own‚­ers who were com‚­pen‚­sated for the loss of their property.

The slav‚­ery expe‚­ri‚­ence has left a bit‚­ter legacy which endures to this day in terms of fam‚­ily break‚­down, land‚­less‚­ness, under-development and a long‚­ing among many to return to the moth‚­er‚­land from which their ances‚­tors were taken. Once again, in the Caribbean the need to finance devel‚­op‚­ment pro‚­grammes has bound Caribbean gov‚­ern‚­ments and peo‚­ples in fresh shack‚­les, the shack‚­les of debt. In Jamaica, where I live, between 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. of the national bud‚­get has had to be paid out in debt ser‚­vic‚­ing over the past 10 years. In many African coun‚­tries, the pro‚­por‚­tion is much higher. The effects are crip‚­pling in that every pub‚­lic ser‚­vice, such as schools, health facil‚­i‚­ties, trans‚­port and roads, pris‚­ons and jus‚­tice sys‚­tems, is so squeezed that it is fail‚­ing to deliver at even a min‚­i‚­mum standard.

As well as the con‚­se‚­quences in Africa and the Caribbean, there is a fur‚­ther ele‚­ment in the legacy of the slave trade which is the dam‚­age done within Britain, within the United States and other West‚­ern soci‚­eties The inhu‚­man phi‚­los‚­o‚­phy of white supremacy and black infe‚­ri‚­or‚­ity was incul‚­cated into Euro‚­pean peo‚­ples to

jus‚­tify the atroc‚­i‚­ties which were being com‚­mit‚­ted by a Chris‚­t‚­ian peo‚­ple upon fel‚­low human beings. That phi‚­los‚­o‚­phy con‚­tin‚­ues to poi‚­son our soci‚­ety today.

On one short visit back to Britain this month, I come across reports of racism in the Armed Forces and the police. Equal rights leg‚­is‚­la‚­tion has not been enough. It is nec‚­es‚­sary to look more deeply, to under‚­stand why the crimes of the past are poi‚­son‚­ing the present for all peo‚­ple, white and black, and then to do some‚­thing effec‚­tive to repair the wrong. That will assist both African and Euro‚­pean, black and white, to lance the poi‚­son and to heal the wounds.

The con‚­cept that repa‚­ra‚­tions are payable where a crime against human‚­ity has been com‚­mit‚­ted by one peo‚­ple against another is well estab‚­lished in inter‚­na‚­tional law and prac‚­tice. Ger‚­many paid repa‚­ra‚­tions to Israel for the crimes of the Nazi Holo‚­caust. Indeed, the very cre‚­ation of the State of Israel can be seen as a mas‚­sive act of repa‚­ra‚­tion for cen‚­turies of dis‚­pos‚­ses‚­sion and per‚­se‚­cu‚­tion directed against Jews.

Japan apol‚­o‚­gised only last year, 50 years on, for its wartime atroc‚­i‚­ties and is still being urged, rightly, to pay com‚­pen‚­sa‚­tion to the vic‚­tims. The USA made apol‚­ogy and resti‚­tu‚­tion for the intern‚­ment of Japan‚­ese Amer‚­i‚­cans dur‚­ing the Sec‚­ond World War. Going fur‚­ther back into his‚­tory, Her Majesty the Queen, only last Novem‚­ber in New Zealand, per‚­son‚­ally signed the Royal Assent to the Waikato Rau‚­patu Claims Set‚­tle‚­ment Bill through which the New Zealand Gov‚­ern‚­ment paid sub‚­stan‚­tial com‚­pen‚­sa‚­tion in land and in money for the seizure of Maori lands by British set‚­tlers in 1863. She apol‚­o‚­gised for the crime and recog‚­nised a long-standing griev‚­ance of the Maori peo‚­ple. Other indige‚­nous peo‚­ples have sim‚­i‚­lar just claims for the dis‚­pos‚­ses‚­sion which their ances‚­tors suffered.

African peo‚­ple, too, have a mas‚­sive and long-standing griev‚­ance. It is no use say‚­ing that it all hap‚­pened a long time ago, and we should just for‚­get about it. The period of colo‚­nial‚­ism which suc‚­ceeded the period of slav‚­ery, con‚­tin‚­ued the exploita‚­tion of Africa and the Caribbean in new ways. Fur‚­ther acts of bru‚­tal‚­ity were com‚­mit‚­ted, and the peo‚­ples of those regions, until recently, were denied the sta‚­tus of sov‚­er‚­eignty and inde‚­pen‚­dence with which alone they could them‚­selves demand the redress of the wrongs which were done.

But the wrongs have not been for‚­got‚­ten. The peo‚­ples of Africa and the Caribbean live with their con‚­se‚­quences still. A group of emi‚­nent Africans under the aus‚­pices of the Organ‚­i‚­sa‚­tion of African Unity is begin‚­ning to artic‚­u‚­late the claim for reparation.

What is meant by the claim for repa‚­ra‚­tions? The details of repa‚­ra‚­tions set‚­tle‚­ment would have to be nego‚­ti‚­ated with an appro‚­pri‚­ate body of rep‚­re‚­sen‚­ta‚­tives of African peo‚­ple around the world. I would antic‚­i‚­pate that some of the ele‚­ments of an appro‚­pri‚­ate pack‚­age would be, first, as with other prece‚­dents, an apol‚­ogy at the high‚­est level for the crim‚­i‚­nal acts com‚­mit‚­ted against mil‚­lions of Africans over the cen‚­turies of the slave trade. His Holi‚­ness the Pope set the exam‚­ple when he vis‚­ited the slave dun‚­geons of Goree in Sene‚­gal in Feb‚­ru‚­ary 1992 when he said:

-From this African sanc‚­tu‚­ary of black pain, we implore for‚­give‚­ness from Heaven-.

Sec‚­ondly, there would be the can‚­cel‚­la‚­tion of the intol‚­er‚­a‚­ble bur‚­den of debt, which has over‚­loaded the economies of Africa and the Caribbean. There are pow‚­er‚­ful eco‚­nomic and social argu‚­ments for debt can‚­cel‚­la‚­tion which were most recently deployed by for‚­mer Pres‚­i‚­dent Kaunda of Zam‚­bia dur‚­ing a visit to Scot‚­land in Feb‚­ru‚­ary 1996. He said of the present state of Africa:

-It is a human tragedy. Peo‚­ple are dying by their thou‚­sands every day, chil‚­dren are dying. These things bring social dis‚­or‚­der to countries-.

Thirdly, there would be the return of trea‚­sures and works of art which come from the African con‚­ti‚­nent, many of which are to be found in Britain-â„¢s muse‚­ums as a result of acts of theft and rob‚­bery. I refer, for instance, to the Benin Bronzes in the Museum of Mankind. Fourthly-¾ there would be mea‚­sures to facil‚­i‚­tate the repa‚­tri‚­a‚­tion and reset‚­tle‚­ment of those who wish to return to Africa. The word -repa‚­tri‚­a‚­tion- has an ugly ring in the mouth of racists who want to drive black peo‚­ple out of Britain. How‚­ever, it expresses, too, a yearn‚­ing among many descen‚­dants of Africans which is as pow‚­er‚­ful as was the yearn‚­ing of the Jew‚­ish peo‚­ple for the Promised Land.

Fifthly, there would be a repa‚­ra‚­tions set‚­tle‚­ment which would involve pro‚­grammes of devel‚­op‚­ment, with‚­out strings attached, in Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil and else‚­where, includ‚­ing pro‚­grammes to pro‚­mote equal rights and jus‚­tice within the coun‚­tries of the West.

As we move to the next mil‚­len‚­nium, none of us can deny that there is a grow‚­ing divide between north and south, between black and white, across fron‚­tiers and within fron‚­tiers. It is in the inter‚­ests of all of us to recog‚­nise that the rea‚­sons for that divide lie in a shame‚­ful past. If we realise that, we will be on the way to doing some‚­thing to repair the wrong which was done, even though it may cost heav‚­ily in terms of pride and rev‚­enue. The steps to be taken will bring a hap‚­pier world for all our children.

In ask‚­ing this Ques‚­tion on an issue which may be new and dif‚­fi‚­cult for many of your Lord‚­ships, I ask the Gov‚­ern‚­ment and the Oppo‚­si‚­tion par‚­ties for a pos‚­i‚­tive and open-minded response. I believe that this issue will remain with us and will gather momen‚­tum. Today-â„¢s gov‚­ern‚­ments and par‚­ties are not guilty of fos‚­ter‚­ing the slave trade But they would be respon‚­si‚­ble if they did noth‚­ing to rem‚­edy the injus‚­tice, the suf‚­fer‚­ing, the poverty and the racism which the slave trade and the insti‚­tu‚­tion of slav‚­ery inevitably engen‚­dered into the present day.

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4 Responses to “Colonialism and Reparations – Time to get ready to press claims”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    CHOGM is the right place for that.

    NFF, JHU, etc. should organize to DEMAND compensation from British colonials.

    An exhibition of British atrocities and war crimes in SL should be organized for CHOGM.

  2. Nanda Says:

    But the boss has already banned protests during CHOGM. Only Lanka Web protests possible.
    Lets do that at least.

  3. Ratanapala Says:

    Colonialists should not be left to pick and choose their next victim, as they have done for over 500 years. If violations of human rights, genocide and similar happenings are to be investigated, then those investigations should span the whole of known history.

    In Sri Lanka it is not right to only investigate the last few months of the Tamil Racist insurrection and how it came to its justifiable conclusion. The whole of the 30 years and more going back to the Tamil Racist claims dating back to the beginning of the 20th century must be investigated.

    The failure of our leaders to put into words the sufferings of the Sri Lankan nation due to Tamil Racism should be pointed out when the issue of the presence of the armed forces in North and East are pointed out. We must not leave any room for lessening of the nation’s vigilance for the eruption of Terrorism once over.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    Tamil Racism is there because of the TNA Separatists & the Tamil Caste Structure. The rest of Sri Lanka have had nothing to do with what ails the Tamil people – the Tamil Problem, Tamil Caste Structure, is Self Created. It comes form Tamil Nadu. Take the problem to the source. Otherwise, it is like treating X for Y’s cancer.

    Colonists must not be allowed to come in again into Sri Lanka as Neo-colonists using Tamil Separatism (Federalism) as the entry point.

    Lanka authorities : Activate the 6-A and deal with the TNA illegal Manifesto NOW, or be sorry forever. Use the Law to protect the land and the People.

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