WASHINGTON (CMC) — St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves Wednesday defended the decision of CARICOM countries to seek reparation for native genocide and African slavery from Europe.
Addressing the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS), Gonsalves urged the hemispheric body to assist the region in pushing the reparation process forward.
He said Europe, and in particular Britain, France and Holland, perpetrated “historic wrongs against humanity in the Caribbean during a period in excess of 200 years between the 17th and 19th centuries”.
He said the need for reparation should not be conceived as a strategic confrontation against these European nations, “although it is for us in the Caribbean a defining issue in the 21st century for justice, reconciliation and the right of historic wrongs.
“The struggles for reparation in the Caribbean involve essentially a mature conversation with those European nations for an appropriate recompense to correct the legacies of underdevelopment occasioned by native genocide and African slavery.”
Gonsalves said if the “mature conversation” does not yield success, then CARICOM is prepared to take the matter before the International Court of Justice for adjudication within the framework of international law.
He said that the region would also be involved in diplomatic and political engagements in seeking a settlement as well as placing the issue within the context of the United Nations dialogue of the Decade of People of African descent.
“It is an appropriate and convenient juncture for the engagements on reparation between the Caribbean and Europe to be facilitated as a special carve-out in the post 2015 development dialogues touching and concerning the 17 sustainable development goals adopted recently in September 2015 at the United Nations General Assembly.”
Gonsalves insisted that the case for reparation is “unquestionably strong” and is based on moral and legal grounds.
“It is not concerned with the search for the direct descendants of those who suffered from native genocide and African slavery to be paid specific sums of money. It does not involve as a starting point a quantification claim,” he added.
“It is not about the representation in today’s value of the 20 million pounds sterling paid by the British government to the slave owners in the 1834 to 1838 period in the Caribbean.”
He said that money in today’s value would be worth 16.8 billion pounds.
But he said “our quest for reparation is about repairing the legacies of under development which exist today and which are undeniably traced to native genocide and African slavery.
“What we are addressing is the real lived experience today of the legacy of under development which can be traced directly to native genocide and African slavery,” he said, noting that CARICOM has already adopted a 10-point reparations agenda “which covers the awful material and psychological legacies of under development in a number of areas including, the economy, poverty…”.
He told the OAS that the CARICOM agenda is “separate and distinct” from the usual discretionary international aid granted bilaterally or multilaterally by European nations to the Caribbean.
“We want this to be adjudicated, agreed upon or adjudicated if cannot be agreed upon not as something discretionary, but something which is legally binding,” he said.
Gonsalves said that in seeking so far to avoid the “mature discussions” Britain is pushing a “mantra that it is interested in engaging the Caribbean in the future, not the past.
“But this assertion is grounded in a profound fallacy. The consequences or legacies of native genocide and African slavery are not matters of the past. They are a lived reality in today’s Caribbean. Repairing them is very much a matter for the present and for the future,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves said he wanted to remind Europe that the Caribbean was not coming to the reparation issue with “a blank page” noting “there have been several claims for reparatory justice which have been satisfied before international tribunals or settled within the ambit of international law grounded in fairness and justice.
“Why not, if it is so in the case of some other peoples, why not the countries where we have had native genocides and African slavery?”