The reality that it might take a long time should not discourage efforts to get reparations from Britain and France, says Jomo Thomas, chair of the Reparations Committee.
“So what if it is a long-distance run?” Thomas said, adding that there must be an understanding that as a result of slavery and the genocide of the Garifunas, “people lost their homes, their families, their religion, their culture, their history, their language.
“And that is part of that reclamation,” Thomas told I-Witness News.
And even if the repartitions movement work consistently to help to educate people for 100 years but has not “convinced Europe that it must pay its debts, I would say that the Reparations Committee which was formed in 2013 did its job and did it well,” Thomas said.
“But, it is my hope that in my lifetime that we can see serious movement that may result in important benefits to St. Vincent and the rest of the Caribbean and the rest of the world that was decolonised,” he, however, said.
“Other people have struggled and won,” Thomas said, noting the examples of the Maoris in New Zealand, indigenous peoples in Australia, the United States, Canada, and the Jews, Japanese and Koreans.
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He, further said that since the events for which this country claims reparation took place so long ago, it “makes the claim a little more difficult from a legal standpoint, in terms of how legal scholars deal with legal issues of statute of limitation”.
But he said the works of Eric Williams and Walter Rodney, and more recently, Barbadian academic and historian, Prof. Hilary Beckles, support the case for reparations.
Thomas said Beckles lays out in his books how “ordinary” Europeans came to the Caribbean and through the exploits of slavery enriched themselves and even married into the British royal family.
“And he shows that even top current politicians whose parents had plantations that benefited from the enslavement and genocide of local people,” Thomas said of Bickles’ work.
Regarding what the committee ultimately hopes to get from Britain and France, Thomas said:
“There must acknowledgement, there must be contrition, there must be atonement, and there must be compensation…
“Our position is that England has a case to answer; France has a case to answer. The thing is to develop the legal strategies, to first do the historical work, get the body of information and begin to speak to different attorney …to forcefully present a case that would be litigated one way or the other.
“The forum is something to be decided on,” he, however said.
Thomas was an attorney on a major reparations case in the United states and was among members of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Reparations Movement, which was founded in 2006.