14 Caribbean Countries File Lawsuit Against European Countries For Slavery Reparations
Fourteen Caribbean nations are suing the governments of the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands for reparations over what the plaintiffs say is the lingering legacy of the Atlantic slave trade, reports Al Jazeera America.
The Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves remarked at the United Nations General Assembly that the European nations must pay for their past deeds.
“The awful legacy of these crimes against humanity – a legacy which exists today in our Caribbean – ought to be repaired for the developmental benefit of our Caribbean societies and all our peoples,” Gonsalves said. “The European nations must partner in a focused, especial way with us to execute this repairing.”
The Caribbean Community, or Caricom, a regional organization that focuses mostly on issues such as economic integration, has filed the lawsuit. It will be brought to the U.N.’s International Court of Justice, based in The Hague in the Netherlands. No word yet when the court proceedings will begin. The lawsuit focuses on Britain for its role in slavery in the English-speaking Caribbean, France for slavery in Haiti and the Netherlands for Suriname, a Caricom member and former Dutch colony on the northeastern edge of South America.
The Caribbean countries have retained the British law firm of Leigh Day, which waged a successful fight for compensation for hundreds of Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government as they fought for the liberation of their country during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 1960s.
The first step of the lawsuit will be to seek a negotiated settlement with the governments of France, Britain and the Netherlands along the lines of the British agreement in June to issue a statement of regret and award compensation of about $21.5 million to the surviving Kenyans, according to Martyn Day, a lawyer from the firm.
Caribbean officials have not specified a monetary figure for the lawsuits, but at the time of emancipation in 1834, Britain paid 20 million pounds – the equivalent of 200 billion pounds today – to British planters in the Caribbean.
Slavery reparations have long been debated in America also.
When the Civil War ended, about 400,000 acres of land along the Florida, Georgia and South Carolina coasts was taken from former slave owners and set aside for freed slaves, who would each be given a 40-acre plot of land to farm and make a living. “It was the first attempt in the U.S. at reparations, and was reversed by President Andrew Johnson after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865,” reports Al Jazeera America.
And in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama caused an uproar when said he did not support reparations for the descendants of slaves. This put him at odds with the NAACP, The Urban League, the SCLC and about two dozen members of Congress who sponsored legislation to create a commission on slavery.
The House, however, did issue an apology for slavery in July 2008, and the Senate did the same in 2009. Neither mentioned reparations.