Lest we forget: Slaves harvesting sugarcane in the Caribbean in the 1700s. *Photo supplied
Lest we forget: Slaves harvesting sugarcane in the Caribbean in the 1700s. *Photo supplied

The Caribbean Community Secretariat (CARICOM) thinks more European countries should be held accountable for the horrors of slavery.

Earlier this month, the group announced that five more countries should talk to Caribbean governments about slavery reparations, in order to “address the living legacies of these crimes”.
Danny McDonald has the latest.


Who are the players?

To date, National Reparations Committees have been established in eight CARICOM member states: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname.
Government leaders have agreed to form the CARICOM Reparations Commission. 

Initially, CARICOM had targeted Britain, France and the Netherlands for their roles in the slave trade, but now a regional advisory panel is recommending Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Norway and Sweden be held accountable as well.
CARICOM is also gathering information about Switzerland and Russia.

What is the argument underpinning the case for reparations?

CARICOM argues that Caribbean societies were built upon transatlantic slave trading and chattel slavery, which the U.N. has defined as crimes against humanity. Furthermore, CARICOM argues that descendants of slaves continue to suffer harm as a consequence of such atrocities, which enriched the slave-trading colonial nations.

Specifically, the regional organization asserts that slavery harmed public health, crippled education, stripped populations of their culture, inflicted psychological trauma and thwarted scientific and technological progress.

What’s the next step?

The Caribbean Community Reparations Commission will submit its first report to the various CARICOM heads of state. Those governments will have the ultimate say in the next course of action.

Has anything like this been attempted before?

CARICOM says it’s the most ambitious attempt to recover reparations to date. If governmental negotiations fail, the group is prepared to settle the matter before the UN’s International Court of Justice.

So there’s no legal precedence for this?

In the U.S., politicians have debated slavery reparations for more than a century. Following the conclusion of the Civil War, 400,000 acres of land in the coastal South was allotted for freed slaves as part of the “40-acres-and-a-mule” deal. US President Andrew Johnson reversed that decision in 1865.

In 2008, President Barack Obama said he did not support reparations for slave descendants. Both chambers of U.S. Congress have apologized for slavery in recent years without mentioning reparations.
CARICOM has hired a British firm that successfully landed monetary settlements for Kenyans who were tortured by British colonial authorities during the so-called Mau Mau rebellion of the last century.

What is Europe’s response?

The far left Enhedslisten (EL) political party says Denmark should apologize for its role in the transatlantic slave trade and the government should offer condolences to the descendants of slaves.
Claes Hammar — Sweden’s ambassador to the Caribbean — has left the door open to financial reparations but country, has yet to take an official position.

Mark Simmonds, the British government minister for the Caribbean, meanwhile, is sceptical about costs: “Do I think that we are in a position where we can financially offer compensation for an event two, three, four hundred years ago? No, I don’t,” Simmonds was quoted as saying by the Jamaica Observer. 

Time will tell if such comments foreshadow a lengthy legal dispute. 

Sources: AP, Al Jazeera English, The Local (Sweden), The Copenhagen Post