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Is There an Expiration Date on Paying Reparations for Slavery?

Is There an Expiration Date on Paying Reparations for Slavery?

Britain, France and the Netherlands are being sued by 14 Caribbean countries demanding what could be hundreds of billions of pounds in reparations for slavery.

Britain freed its last slaves in the Caribbean around 175 years ago, but Caricom — a group of 12 former British colonies together with the former French colony Haiti and Suriname, a former Dutch colony on the northeastern edge of South America — believes the European governments should pay.

The Awful Legacy of These Crimes

In a speech last month at the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves demanded justice:

“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 lawsuit, in which Caricom claims slavery condemned the region to a poverty that still afflicts it today, will be brought to the U.N.’s International Court of Justice, based in The Hague in the Netherlands.

Law Firm Won Compensation For Kenyans

Caricom has hired British law firm Leigh Day, which in June won 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.

Similar cases that have proven successful include reparations paid to the Japanese interned by the U.S. during World War II and monies paid by Germany to Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

But none has focused on a situation that existed between 200 and 400 years ago.

According to Martyn Day, a lawyer with Leigh Day, the first step will be to seek a negotiated settlement with the governments of Britain, France and the Netherlands along the lines of the British agreement to issue a statement of regret and award compensation of about $21.5 million to the surviving Kenyans.

As a Brit, I have felt great shame at what my ancestors did to as many as 60 million West Africans, transporting them in brutal conditions to the islands of the Caribbean. The Industrial Revolution in Britain was largely financed on the backs of those slaves, and feelings are understandably still very strong, as the resulting suffering and poverty still lingers in the former colonies.

There needs to be official acknowledgement of this abhorrent treatment of such a huge group of people.

However, not everyone agrees.

Where to Draw the Line?

From Catholic Online:

No person alive today has ever been a slave or a slaveholder, specific to African chattel slavery. Too much time has passed and the guilty as well as the immediate victims are all gone. Should the great grandchildren of slavers pay the great grandchildren of slaves?

If so, then where does one draw the line? When do a people stop being victims and become responsible for their own condition? Shall the nations of Europe sue France for Napoleon’s conquest? Shall England pay its former colonies? Should England sue Italy for the conquests of the Romans? You can see the absurdity.

And what about slavery today? A new report claiming to be the most comprehensive look at global slavery says 30 million people are living as slaves around the world. Shouldn’t we be paying attention to them?

Of course, this should not be an either/or situation.

In the U.S., an Apology But No Money

How has the U.S. handled the idea of reparations for slavery?

After the end of the Civil War, about 400,000 acres of land along the Florida, Georgia and South Carolina coasts were taken from former slave owners to be given to freed slaves, who would each be granted a 40-acre plot of land to farm and make a living.

However, this decision was reversed by President Andrew Johnson after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.

In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama said he did not support reparations for the descendants of slaves, although about two dozen members of Congress had sponsored legislation to create a commission on slavery.

The House issued an apology for slavery in July 2008, and the Senate followed suit in 2009, but there was no mention of reparations.

What do you think? Should these European countries pay reparations for damages caused by slavery?

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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224 comments

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3:17AM PST on Nov 14, 2013

yeah..for sure..it expired last tuesday. what idiocy

11:26PM PST on Nov 7, 2013

The world is entirely too ready to sue today! People need to build a bridge and get over it.

9:24AM PST on Nov 7, 2013

The past is the past...if you go back far enough we can sue every country in this world for something ..as now days it is easy to blame someone else OR expect someone else to look after you!!!!

THE WORLD OW ME SOMETHING...WELL NO......YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR LIVE SO TRY TO GET YOUR HEAD ROUND THAT FOR A START!

12:00PM PST on Nov 4, 2013

THANK YOU, AWESOME QUESTION TO BRING UP!!

I say of course not, I am not informed and educated enough to say when it is enough resources to make up for many our ancestors’ unbelievable UGLIES and EQUALLY IMPORTANT add these two-things:
Is this just a way to discourage people supporting making amends and that slavery was not really bad.
What about The Native Citizens?? They were abused, forced into slavery, tricked into having resources stolen and even had white invaders trying to put them into extinction, in at least The USA, and still slurs against Native Citizens are everywhere, in The USA, and they were on/discovered The USA, let alone Western Hemisphere before anyone else.

6:56AM PST on Nov 4, 2013

My grandparents survived Holocaust camps...a MUCH closer relationship than that of today's blacks and their enslaved ancestors, yet I would never dream of expecting anything personally in return for my relatives' suffering. It had nothing to do with me.

4:25AM PST on Nov 4, 2013

Marianne C, you art correct about the 14th amendment. I misinterpreted it. But, there are still greedy tax preparer scammers who want people to think they are entitled to slavery reparations when no such law on the books exists. Someone else said that the 40 acres was land stolen from the native americans. If I could locate your comment again, I'd green star it. However it looks like there is a mud throwing war between at least two name calling trolls which adds nothing to the discussion. Please flag as inappropriate. It's OK to disagree. It's not OK to be a name calling troll.

1:53AM PST on Nov 4, 2013

does not make any sense.....

4:23PM PST on Nov 3, 2013

the idea of paying people generations removed from slavery is almost funny. when you consider that through the ages at some time or other all nations have been both the oppressed and the oppressor where do you draw the line. we need to find a way to help all those in need have a way to build a better life. BUT that is not by throwing money at them but by educating them.
the quote " give them a fish and they will eat. teach them to fish and they will eat for life"

10:22AM PST on Nov 3, 2013

Should the US be able to collect from countries "across the Barbary Coast" and all associated lands therein for the hijacking and taking of US Citizens in the early 1800s?

2:11AM PST on Nov 3, 2013

These people must be out of their minds. Maybe the Italians should seek reparations from Africa for the invasion into places like Sicily, where a mass number of men women and children were murdered, some enslaved and captured, and women and young girls raped. Maybe the Irish who were indentured here in America should seek reparations too for having been placed into many of the same conditions that blacks once faced. I could go on and on, but there is no need. They ain't going to get a rats ass...Nothing...Zilch!

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