GEORGETOWN, Guyana (CMC) — The 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries have sent a formal letter of complaint to Britain seeking reparation for slavery.
The letter, which was written by Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and sent to the British Foreign Office, calls on London to formally acknowledge the region’s demands for payment for the transatlantic slave trade.
Caricom has said it will not release the contents of the letter, which was sent last week by Stuart — who is the chairman of the Caricom subcommittee on reparations — until there is a reply by the British Prime Minister David Cameron.
But Caricom has warned that it is prepared, as its next option, to take the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Netherlands for a ruling. The regional grouping says it prefers a negotiated settlement of the matter.
Last October, on an official visit to Jamaica, Prime Minister Cameron acknowledged the “wounds of slavery run very deep” but avoided speaking on the issue of reparation as he addressed a joint sitting of the Parliament.
Cameron, the first British Prime Minister to visit Jamaica for the last 14 years, said the slave trade was one “from which history has drawn the bitterest of lessons”.
“Slavery was and is abhorrent in all its forms. It has no place whatsoever in any civilised society, and Britain is proud to have led the way in its abolition.
“That the Caribbean has emerged from the long, dark shadows that it casts is testament to the resilience and spirit of its people. I acknowledge that these wounds run very deep indeed, but I do hope that as friends, who have gone through so much together since those darkest of times, we can move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future,” Cameron said in his only remarks to the transatlantic slave trade,“ Cameron said.
But former Jamaica Prime Minister P J Patterson criticised Cameron for seeking to “trivialise and diminish the significance of 300 years of British enslavement of Africans”.
In an open letter to the British leader, Patterson said the slave trade is still “a most heinous crime against humanity — a stain which cannot be removed merely by the passage of time”.
Last month, Sir Hilary Beckles, who chairs the Caricom Reparations Commission, said Caribbean countries were not looking for “handouts” as a result of its call for reparation for the slave trade.
Professor Beckles, who is also Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), told a public lecture on Reparation organised by Oxford University, that a suggestion by European countries that ‘they have now moved on… sorry it is a closed chapter there is nothing to discuss” does not negate the call for compensation.
“What reparatory justice says these are the children who are now disposed, disenfranchised. We are the children. We have now said, ‘Hold on dad, hold on a second, you gave our mother a raw deal, you gave us a raw deal, we want to talk about our education, our health, we want you to come back and participate in our upbringing’,” Sir Hilary said, as he juxtaposed the slave trade to an abusive marriage.
“That’s what we are asking you to do. We are not asking you for handouts. We are asking for a moral conversational, a legal conversation about justice,” he said.
The Caribbean countries say they will allow “a two-year period to elapse” before formally taking the matter to the World Court for adjudication.
Leaders have already hired a British law firm, which won payment for Kenyan tribesmen, to represent their case both to the British Government and to the court.
Source: Jamaica Observer