( Barbados Today) Jamaica’s former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson on Wednesday night directly called on Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Committee, to obtain the best legal advice to determine through international law the appropriate compensation the Caribbean is entitled to for centuries of slavery.
Patterson said: “Mia, I think it has reached the stage where it is now for the CARICOM Reparations Committee that you chair to obtain authoritative legal opinion of senior counsel as to what is the most competent judicial body for the application to be made which will determine the liability which European nations and the damages we are entitled to receive.”
Caribbean leaders argue that the African holocaust has left indelible scars on the affected communities, their descendants, and the broader global community. Enslaved Africans endured unspeakable atrocities, including violence, torture, and inhumane living conditions. Families were torn apart, cultures disrupted, and generations subjected to forced labour and oppression. Countless other African people did not survive the perilous transatlantic journey – the Middle Passage – after being kidnapped mostly in West Africa.
While not identifying the “most competent judicial body”, the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) grants reparative powers to the court, long considered a significant development in international criminal justice. The United States is one of a handful of countries that are not members of the ICC.
The former prime minister, himself a veteran lawyer of more than 50 years standing, made the suggestion in a roundtable discussion at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre as high-level talks on CARICOM’s reparations movement continued here. The discussion, dubbed Three Legends, Three Perspectives, One Conversation: Reparations and Beyond featured Patterson, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Patterson also emphasized the need for pursuing reparatory justice at the diplomatic level. He recalled the success achieved with the European Union in the past when Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific formed a partnership, leading to beneficial agreements.
“We also have to avail ourselves of battering on diplomatic doors in Europe. I say this because I am reminded of the success that we achieved with the European Union in the 70s, when Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific forged a single indivisible partnership, fully equipped with the technical expertise in order to obtain the satisfactory outcome which is reflected in the Lome and subsequent Cotonou agreements,” he contended.
He argued that achieving full reparatory justice requires more than prayers and expressions of piety. Unity of purpose and joint efforts by African and Caribbean nations are essential, he declared. Patterson highlighted former President Obasanjo’s influential role in Africa, expressing the need for his engagement in finding solutions to address inequities and imbalances.
“We have to have unity of purpose and the execution of a single pursuit by Africa and the Caribbean nations,” Patterson declared. ““We have to get him to engage with us and he knows I am available, as always, to work with him as we try to find how we are going to eradicate the inequities and imbalances in every available forum and institution to which we belong.”
The former Jamaican premier took the British government to task for its failure to acknowledge the need for reparations for the atrocities committed against the Caribbean’s African ancestors. He said: “The government of the United Kingdom, who are the primary progenitors of the slave trade for the Caribbean and the rulers of the empire, are persisting in a stubborn denial. We still have to insist, however, that reparation is essential to address the wrongs that we have suffered.”
Dr Gonsalves also chided the British government’s resistance to reparatory justice. However, he advocated for a conciliatory approach to encourage the UK administration to support the cause.
He stressed that the reparations movement is not merely about financial compensation but also aims to address historical legacies of underdevelopment, linked to native genocide and the enslavement of African people.
He highlighted the importance of educating people within the British government, sharing a report of UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s comments on slavery in opposition to reparations. Dr Gonsalves recommended four books for her to read, emphasizing the need for meaningful conversations rather than confrontations.
Dr Gonsalves was adamant that he supports a conciliatory means of getting the UK administration to buy into the cause.
At the same time, he said the reparations movement was not merely about money, but of repairing the historical legacies of underdevelopment which are directly linked to native genocide and the enslavement of African bodies. That is the crux of the matter,” he declared.
“CARICOM has put forward a 10-point plan. We have to educate in the case of the English-speaking Caribbean, persons within the British government. I saw a report that the Home Secretary, who is a woman of Indian descent, saying the British don’t have any reason to have any sense of remorse about slavery, they should be praised for freeing people…freeing the slaves,” he noted, while recommending four books which she should read – Black Jacobins, Capitalism and Slavery, Slaves Who Abolished Slavery, and Britain’s Black Debt.
“To avoid desecration of the future, we have to put this item on the agenda for serious conversation as King Charles, then Prince Charles advocated in Kigali in his opening speech for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference.
“We are not having a confrontation with anybody. You are not going to find me outside of Downing Street [prime minister’s official residence] with a placard. I want to have a conversation with the people who live at Number 10 Downing Street,” he said.
In addition to the CARICOM Reparations Commission, Dr Gonsalves suggested the establishment of the first African Union-CARICOM Summit and the African Union-CARICOM Commission, aiming for an Africa-Brazil-Caribbean Diaspora Commission. With a population of 209 million — more than half of them being of African descent — Brazil is the largest black nation outside Africa and the second largest in the world behind Nigeria.
The talks in Barbados are the latest chapter in a decades-long struggle for justice over one of the darkest chapters in human history, spanning several centuries and encompassing the enslavement of millions of African people and the subjugation of their descendants who make up the majority of Caribbean populations.
Beginning in the 16th century, European powers, primarily from Portugal, Spain, Britain, France, and the Netherlands, established a ruthless and extensive transatlantic trade network that saw countless men, women, and children brutally uprooted from their homes and forcibly transported across the Atlantic Ocean to be sold into slavery.
It is estimated that about 12.5 million people were transported as slaves from Africa to the West Indies and elsewhere in the Americas between the early 1600s and 1807 when the British outlawed the trade. It would be another 27 years before slavery was abolished in the British Empire. Slavery was abolished totally in Latin America around 1850 and in the United States in 1865. The great exceptions are Brazil and Cuba, where the importation of slaves actually accelerated during those years and abolition did not come until the late 1880s.
Britain then compensated the former slave owners in what became the single largest financial bailout in history, amounting to 40 per cent of the UK’s budget at the time. The compensation, valued at £20 million in 1833 was paid to slave owners for the loss of their “property”. The compensation was part of a compromise that helped secure abolition. The British government took out a £15 million loan to pay the compensation, which was not repaid by British taxpayers until 2015.
Historians point to the trade in cotton, tobacco and sugar that enslaved Africans produce as contributing significantly to the unprecedented economic growth of colonial powers, through the systemic and long-term exploitation of African labour in the Caribbean.
Recognizing the profound injustices and imbalances caused by the African slave trade, CARICOM has agreed to engage in formal diplomatic efforts and advocacy towards reparatory justice to address the historical wrongs and work towards reconciliation and healing.