GEORGETOWN, Guyana, CMC – Principal of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Sir Hilary Beckles, wants Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to begin efforts aimed at seeking some form of reparation from Western countries for slavery.
Speaking at the first of a series of lectures to commemorate the 250th Anniversary of the 1763 Berbice Slave Revolt, Sir Hilary said an ongoing discussion was needed to address the issue and called for an “informed and sensible conversation” on what has been described as the, “Worst Crime against humanity”.
The lecture titled, “Britain’s Black Debt: reparations owed the Caribbean for Slavery and Indigenous Genocide”, examined the damage done and wealth created through the slave trade particularly by Britain. Sir Hilary said out that reparation is not about people getting handouts, but about repairing historical damage and how to find a way forward.
He said that while all races experienced some form of slavery, African slavery was unique in its scope and brutality. Comparative studies note that it was the only system of slavery in which people were viewed legally as property and seen as non- humans.
African slavery was also unique in that it reproduced itself, meaning the children of slaves were born as slaves, they had no rights, and females in particular were seen as the prefect property since their offspring would add their value.
Sir Hilary said landmark cases such as the 1781 Zong Massacre in which 350 slaves were thrown to sharks after the ship’s captain went off course, helped to shape the discussion on the legality of slavery.
He said the issue of slavery has in recent years been viewed as a crime against humanity and these types of crimes have attracted calls for reparation for victims, in various forms.
He cited the case of Haiti noting Western countries had no qualms about requesting and obtaining compensation. Haiti had to pay, from 1825 to 1922, 150 million gold francs to France after its slave population fought and successfully gained its freedom.
Sir Hilary argued that Haiti has never been able to recover from that payment, which was needed for it to gain international recognition.
Sir Hilary urged Caribbean countries to emulate the position adopted by the Jews who were prosecuted during the Second World War and have since organised the Jewish Reparation Fund.
He said that through meticulous research, the organisation has been able to garner financial support for its claims against several countries for atrocities committed against Jews. These funds have been used to enhance the State of Israel in various means.
Sir Hilary said that countries such as the United States, Canada, Japan and New Zealand have put measures in place as part of their efforts to give reparation to indigenous peoples or war victims, yet there has been no similar move by CARICOM on behalf of its people.
He said the benefits accrued to many of the now powerful Western nations through slavery have been documented and accepted, citing the cases of the aristocracy in England, the Lloyds and Barclays’ banks which built massive fortunes through their involvement with the slave trade.
Yet many of these same countries have not been willing to offer any apologies for slavery, but instead have grudgingly given “expressions of regret”, an acknowledgment that falls short of an apology,” Sir Hilary said.
He said CARICOM has to come together to find a way to address the issue, one which will lead to peace, justice, reconciliation and future harmony.