Address by Ambassador David Comissiong to the West and Central Africa Conference on the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent Organized by the United Nations Commission for Human Rights and the African Union Dakar, Senegal (23-24 October, 2019).
In 1834, after 225 years of relentless rebellion by our enslaved ancestors, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire: and the methodology devised by the British Government for the abolition of slavery was to calculate the capital or labour value of the then existing population of enslaved African human beings supposedly “owned” by the British slave masters and to compensate not our enslaved ancestors, but the slave masters for their loss of property!
The value of that generation of enslaved Africans was calculated at £47 Million – and was paid out as follows: – £20 Million in a cash payment to the “slave masters” and £27 Million in free labour that our supposedly newly freed ancestors were obliged to give to their supposed former enslavers during an “Apprenticeship” period of 6 years.
Now, that 1834 payment of £47 Million was the equivalent of £178.6 Billion in today’s money values!
Indeed, the sum of money was so large – some 40 per cent of the annual budget of the British Government – that the said British Government borrowed money and issued government bonds in order to pay off the “compensation” that they extended to the slave masters. And would you believe that the last payments that were made by the British Government on those slave-owners’ compensation bonds were made in the year 2015 – a mere four years ago?
So much then for their argument that the Reparations claim is a matter of ancient history!
And that £178.6 Billion valuation was for one generation of enslaved Africans! It had nothing to do with the multiple generations of enslaved Africans who were worked to death on the plantations of the Caribbean!
Furthermore, that £178.6 Billion valuation had nothing to do with the 225 years of whippings, mutilations, castrations, burning to death, beheadings, starvings, rapes, brandings with hot irons, hangings, and breaking at the wheel, or with the horrors of the Middle Passage. (Indeed, we all need to be conscious of the fact that the world’s first Concentration Camps were not in 1930’s Nazi Germany. Rather, they were the creation of the British and were located in such mid-17th Century British slave colonies as Barbados and Jamaica. The slave plantation of the mid-17th century was the first Concentration Camp – a place of extreme and compressed totalitarian terrorism).
It should also be noted that that £178.6 Billion had nothing to do with the destruction wrought on the continent of Africa itself – the destruction of towns, villages and kingdoms, the mass kidnappings, the displacement of millions of people, the plague of European diseases, the decimation of people and livestock, the depopulation of Africa, the disruption of Africa’s historical developmental process and trajectory!
Nor did that £178.6 Billion have anything to do with the “Unjust Enrichment” from which Britain and Europe profited – the development of Europe’s massively wealthy industrial civilization at the expense of the plundering and underdevelopment of Africa and of the sons and daughters of Africa in the Caribbean and the Americas; the development of European shipping, ship building, manufacturing industry, and agro-processing industry; the infrastructural development in the form of harbours, docks, canals, heavy engineering works and major cities; the development of banking and insurance, and of a multiplicity of family and company fortunes that financed and endowed a multiplicity of institutions, inclusive of universities.
It is against this background, therefore, that in July 2013 the 15 Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) made an historic decision to launch a Reparations Claim against the Governments of eight European States for:-
- the genocide perpetrated against the 15 Million indigenous people of the Caribbean; and
- the multiplicity of “Crimes Against Humanity” that were committed against the enslaved Black or African people of the Caribbean.
Having made this decision at a CARICOM Heads of Government Conference to embark upon a Reparations Campaign, the Caribbean Heads of Government then commenced the task of establishing an institutional structure to carry out the Campaign. The infrastructure that they have established to date is as follows:-
- National Reparations Committees:
The government of each member state of CARICOM has established a national Reparations Committee or Task Force, tasked with the mission of carrying forward the Reparations effort at the national level. (It should be noted that this development is in keeping with the prescription set out by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in its historic 1993 “Abuja Declaration on Reparations” which called upon “Heads of States and Governments in Africa and the Diaspora to set up National Committees for the purpose of studying the damaged Black experience, and for disseminating information and encouraging educational courses on the impact of enslavement, colonization and neo-colonization on present-day Africa and its Diaspora”).
- CARICOM Reparations Commission:
The Chairperson of each National Committee are brought together as members of a region-wide “CARICOM Reparations Commission” that is charged with primary responsibility for conceptualizing, constructing and guiding the CARICOM Reparations Campaign. The Chairperson of the CARICOM Reparations Commission is internationally acclaimed historian and educator, Sir Hilary Beckles.
- CARICOM Reparations Research Centre:
The CARICOM Reparations Commission is assisted in its work by a “CARICOM Reparations Research Centre” that has been established at the Jamaica campus of the regional University of the West Indies (UWI).
- Prime Ministerial Sub Committee on Reparations:
The CARICOM Reparations Commission reports to and receives policy guidance from a six member Prime Ministerial Sub Committee on Reparations that is chaired by the Prime Minister of Barbados, and that includes the Prime Ministers or Presidents of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, Haiti, Suriname, and the Prime Minister who is the current Chairperson of CARICOM.
Needless-to-say, the CARICOM Reparations Campaign has developed significantly since being launched in July 2013. Some of the highlights of this developmental journey are as follows:-
- July 2013 : 34th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM decides to set up the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee and the CARICOM Reparations Commission.
- September 2013 : CARICOM’s First Regional Conference on Reparations held in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
- By early 2014 : The CARICOM Reparations Commission has designed a “CARICOM Reparatory Justice Program” centred on a “CARICOM Reparations Ten Point Plan” that consists of:-
1. A Formal Apology from the Governments of the relevant European nations
2. A voluntary Repatriation Programme for those Diasporans who are interested in physically returning to the continent of Africa
3. An Indigenous People Development Programme
4. A programme to establish relevant and needed Cultural Institutions in the Caribbean
5. A programme to deal with the Caribbean’s Public Health Crisis
6. An Education development programme in the Caribbean
7. An African Knowledge programme for people of the Caribbean component of the African Diaspora
8. A systematic effort at Psychological Rehabilitation and healing from the traumas of the centuries of genocide and enslavement
9. A technology transfer programme
10. A process of debt cancellation of the national debts of CARICOM member states
(And subsequently, in October 2017, the CARICOM Reparations Commission added the following three additional demands:-
- The establishment of a “Caribbean Sustainability Fund” – to be financed by the relevant European nations/Governments
- The removal from places of public celebration, monuments and statues of historical personalities who were implicated in the crime of enslavement
- That October 12 – the day on which Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean in the year 1492 and commenced the African Holocaust – be designated “Caribbean Holocaust Day”)
- April 2014 : The CARICOM Reparations Commission inspired and assisted with the establishment of the National African American Reparations Commission of the United States of America. (It should also be noted that in September 2014 – Sir Hilary Beckles, the Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission– met with the Congressional Black Caucus and started a process that ultimately led to a new Reparations Bill being introduced into the US Congress; the staging of Congressional hearings on Reparations; and major Presidential candidates endorsing the issue of Reparations).
- October 2014 : The Second Regional Conference on Reparations was held in the nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
- January 2016 : The Summit of the “Community of Latin American and Caribbean States” (CELAC) passed a motion endorsing the CARICOM claim for Reparation. (The CARICOM Reparation Claim was also subsequently endorsed by the Summit of the Association of Caribbean States).
- January and February 2016 : The Chairman of the Prime Ministerial Sub Committee , acting on behalf of the entire leadership of CARICOM, wrote to:-
· Britain – Prime Minister David Cameron
· Spain – Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey
· France – President Francois Hollande
· The Netherlands – Prime Minister Mark Rutte
· Denmark – Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen and
· Portugal – The Prime Minister
a) informing them of the Claim for Reparations and of the demands contained in the Ten Point Plan;
b) inviting them to “meet with CARICOM in order to discuss how best the two sides could amicably exchange views” on the matter; and
c) suggesting that “diplomatic engagement” is the preferred approach to this matter.
(It should be noted that responses were received between April and December 2016. But suffice to say that no meeting has yet materialized – and the position of CARICOM is that the matter will be settled either through negotiation or ultimately, through legal action )
- October 2017 : Establishment of the Reparations Research Centre
- May 2018 : The Government of Venezuela held an International Conference on Reparations in Caracas, and endorsed the CARICOM Reparations initiative; established an Afro-Venezuelan Reparations Commission; and pledged to establish a “Reparations Research Centre”.
- March 2019 : The European Union Parliament passed a Resolution acknowledging the legitimacy of the Call for Reparations and encouraging European Union nations to make Reparations. However, it must be noted that the only two elements of Reparations that they expressly referred to were the issuance of Apologies for Slavery and the return of African historical and cultural artifacts unlawfully appropriated by European governments.
- August 2019 : The University of Glasgow in Scotland admitted its complicity in African enslavement and entered into an agreement with the University of the West Indies (UWI) to provide UWI with £20 Million in funding for educational and research programmes.
- October 2019 : The CARICOM Reparations Commission staged A CONFERENCE on the role that international banks played in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and in African enslavement, and highlighted their legal obligations to pay Reparations.
- October 2019 : The USA’s Princeton Theological Seminary admitted its implication in African enslavement and offered a Reparations Package to the African American student community of $27 Million.
I would therefore like to conclude by asserting that the most effective way to use the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent is to organize and consolidate a worldwide Reparations Campaign, and to develop said Reparations Campaign into an “international cause celebre” similar in size, power and scope to the anti-Apartheid Movement of the 1970s and 1980s.
This – in my humble opinion – is a mission that the African Union (AU) should consider committing itself to, for the historical record proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the continent of Africa suffered, and was unlawfully damaged, just as much as the African Diaspora.
Barbados’ Ambassador to CARICOM