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Published: Tuesday, 3/11/2014

Caribbean nations agree to seek slavery reparations from Europe

BY AILEEN TORRES-BENNETT
REUTERS

KINGSTON -- Caribbean leaders are moving forward with a plan to seek reparations from the former slave-owning states of Europe, according to a lawyer for the island nations.

The Caribbean Community (Caricom) approved a 10-point plan for reparations at a two-day meeting in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that was due to wrap up today, said Martyn Day, a U.K.-based lawyer at Leigh Day, who is working on the case.

The Caribbean countries said that European governments in addition to being responsible for conducting slavery and genocide, also imposed 100 years of racial apartheid and suffering on freed slaves and the survivors of genocide.

The former slave-owning states of Europe “have refused to acknowledge such crimes or to compensate victims and their descendants,” according to a statement by Caricom.

The Caribbean continues to suffer from the effects of slavery today, Caricom said.

Caricom's 10-point plan will pursue a full formal apology for slavery, repatriation to Africa, a development plan for the native Caribbean peoples and funding for cultural institutions. It also seeks to address chronic diseases and psychological rehabilitation for trauma inflicted by slavery, technology transfer to make up for technological and scientific backwardness resulting from the slave era, and support for payment of domestic debt and cancellation of international debt.

The subject of reparations has simmered in the Caribbean for many years and opinions are divided. Some see reparations as delayed justice, while others see it as an empty claim and a distraction from modern social problems in Caribbean societies.

Slavery ended throughout the Caribbean in the 1800s in the wake of slave revolts, and left many of the region's plantation economies in tatters.

A formal complaint will be presented to the European governments by the end of April, said Day.

“The complaint will undoubtedly go to the governments of Britain, France, Netherlands, and very likely Sweden, Norway, and Denmark,” Day said in an email. “The final decision on this has not yet been made, though,” he added.

Britain's government is aware of the proposed legal action, according to its foreign office.

“Slavery was and is abhorrent. The United Kingdom unreservedly condemns slavery and is committed to eliminating it,” a representative said, adding that reparations are not the answer. “Instead, we should concentrate on identifying ways forward with a focus on the shared global challenges that face our countries in the 21st century,” the representative added.

Caricom will call for a conference in London during the summer for European and Caribbean nations to discuss the issues. The specific European countries to be invited to this conference have not yet been decided on by Caricom, Day said.

If the complaint is rejected, the Caricom nations will take their individual cases to the International Court of Justice, he added. (Editing by David Adams and Lisa Shumaker)



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