Ten Fundamental Principles of Reparations
Submitted by DAVID COMISSIONG, Chairman,Caribbean Pan-African Network (CPAN)
“I, and I know you, too, believe in time, and we shall wait patiently for two hundred years if need be, to face our enemies through our posterity……When I am dead wrap the mantle of the Red, Black and Green around me, for in the new life I shall rise with God’s grace and blessing……. Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you…… I shall come and bring with me countless millions of black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for Liberty, Freedom and Life….. I shall write the history that will inspire the millions that are coming and leave the posterity of our enemies to reckon with the hosts for the deeds of their fathers.”
The Hon. Marcus Garvey, February 10, 1925
The fundamental point that the Honourable Marcus Garvey was making in the passage quoted above is the fundamental message that is encased in the demand for Reparations, and it is that there is and will be no impunity for the commission of any crime against humanity. In other words, whosoever commits a crime against humanity must expect that justice will be demanded of them or their posterity—even if it takes two hundred years! And so it is with the demand for Reparations for the multiplicity of genocides and crimes that have been committed against the sons and daughters of Africa by the nations, governments, and institutions of Europe and North America.
The good news is that the campaign to achieve the payment of Reparations to the nations and people of Africa and the African Diaspora for the atrocities committed against their ancestors and the damage inflicted on their civilization during the centuries of European-imposed slave trade, slavery and colonial domination is well and truly underway!
At an historic 2013 Summit meeting of the Heads of Government of the nations of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) — Jamaica, Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas St. Kitts & Nevis, Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Haiti, Dominica, Belize, Montserrat, Suriname and Grenada — a decision was taken to collectively pursue a Reparations claim against the national governments of those European nations that actively participated in the genocide that was inflicted on the native or indigenous people of the Caribbean, and in the centuries-long imposition of slavery on the African-descended population of the Caribbean, and to establish a regional governmental “Reparations Commission” to pursue the Claim.
And so, not only do we now have a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Reparations Commission representing 14 independent national governments and nation-states of the Caribbean, but we have also witnessed the recent establishment of such important Black civil-society institutions as the National African-American Reparations Commission of the United States of America (USA) and the European Commission For Reparations, and we are aware that similar Brazilian and Canadian initiatives are currently in various stages of preparation.
In addition, the government-owned university of the Caribbean– the University of the West Indies (UWI) — has announced that its newly established Reparations Research Institute will be situated at the Mona , Jamaica campus of the University, and will be officially launched in October of this year.
It is anticipated that this new scholarly institution will help us to structure an “outwardly directed” process in which we level demands at the liable Governments and institutions for the compensatory money payments, developmental programmes, transfers of resources, and international and national institutional reforms that all go to make up a package of Reparations “payments”, as well as to pursue an “inwardly directed” struggle that we must engage in ourselves to repair those aspects of the damage that pertain most directly to our minds and psyches.
Furthermore, these important developments are taking place against the background of the commencement, on 1st January 2015, of the United Nations International Decade For People of African Descent– a specially designated ten year period during which the critical issues facing people of African descent are to take centre-stage and to engage the full attention of the international community.
In light of these historic happenings, there can be no better time than now for a concerted effort to be made to construct a truly global Reparations Lobby centred primarily around the African or predominantly African nations, governments and population groups of the continent of Africa, the Caribbean and other regions of the African diaspora, but also extending to important governmental and civil society allies in Latin America, Asia, and Europe .
But, it must be acknowledged that if such a development is to be actualized it will be essential that the African Union (AU) commit itself to partnering with its kith and kin governments in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in pursuit of this sacred cause.
And there is a clear historical basis for such a partnership, in that the continent of Africa suffered just as much — if not more– from the ravages of the European-imposed and orchestrated “Slave Trade” than did the slavery-based, plantation societies of the so-called New World.
Indeed, the famous international multi-disciplinary Pan-African scholar, Dr. Ivan Van Sertima (author of the ground-breaking “They Came Before Columbus”) succinctly described the impact of the European-orchestrated Slave Trade on the African continent as follows:-
“No human disaster, with the exception of the Flood (if that biblical legend is true) can equal in dimension of destructiveness the cataclysm that shook Africa. We are all familiar with the slave trade and the traumatic effect of this on the transplanted Black, but few of us realize what horrors were wrought on Africa itself. Vast populations were uprooted and displaced; whole generations disappeared; European diseases descended like the plague, decimating both cattle and people; cities and towns were abandoned; family networks disintegrated; kingdoms crumbled; the threads of cultural and historical continuity were so savagely torn asunder that henceforth one would have to think of two Africas: the one before and the one after the Holocaust.”
(Extract from “Blacks In Science”)
But in addition to the continent’s historical grievance and cause of action, it should be noted that it was actually the continent of Africa that– through the work of the now defunct Organization of African Unity (OAU) — provided the Caribbean region with much of the initial inspiration and impetus on the issue of Reparations.
You see, the people and organizations of the Caribbean really began to reconnect with their historic claim for Reparations when, in the year 1990, word reached the Caribbean about the First International Conference on Reparations that was held in Lagos, Nigeria. This effort was pioneered by the late Chief Moshood Abiola of Nigeria and his Caribbean collaborator, the late Ambassador Dudley Thompson of Jamaica.
This International Reparations conference led to the OAU establishing a Group of Eminent Persons as well as a Commission on Reparations in 1992. And those developments led, in turn, to the staging of the OAU’s First Pan-African Conference On Reparations in Abuja, Nigeria in the year 1993, and to the issuing of the historic “Abuja Declaration” with its demand that the international community recognize that “there is a unique and unprecedented moral debt owed to the African peoples which has yet to be paid”, as well as its clarion CALL to the Heads of States and Governments in Africa and the Diaspora to establish National Reparations Committees to pursue the claim for Reparations in tandem with the OAU.
As we are all aware, in or about the year 1999 the OAU was succeeded by the African Union (AU), and as a result both the Group of Eminent Persons and the Commission on Reparations became defunct.
Fortunately however, the historic developments of 1992 had laid a groundwork that made it possible for the Governments of Africa and the Caribbean to collaborate (even if informally) during the preparatory stages of the 2001 United Nations World Conference Against Racism (UNWCAR) , and to ensure that resolutions acknowledging that the European-orchestrated trans-Atlantic slave trade and chattel slavery were “crimes against humanity”; that Africans and African descendants continued to suffer from the consequences of these crimes up to the present day; and that reparative measures to repair the still existing damage are necessary and justified, were placed on the Agenda of the Conference and ultimately adopted.
What made this successful African/Caribbean collaboration all the more impressive is that it was engaged in against the background of strident demands by the governments of the USA, Canada, and Western Europe that the UNWCAR was not to be concerned at all with issues related to the trans-Atlantic slave trade; to the centuries of European-orchestrated slavery; or to any notion of reparative justice for these historical crimes.
However, these arrogant Western “stipulations” all came to naught as a result of the African and Caribbean delegations at the various World Conference preparatory meetings engaging with Latin American and Asian allies to defy the Western powers and to force resolutions pertaining to slavery, trans-Atlantic slave trade and Reparations unto the agenda– resolutions that the Western powers (with the sole exception of the USA, which petulantly walked out of the Conference when it became clear that it would not be getting its way) actually acceded to during the deliberations in Durban , South Africa.
This experience demonstrated conclusively that where nations — even relatively small and supposedly “powerless” nations– pursue a manifestly just and righteous cause with passion and commitment, that they will not only win over the majority opinion of the World community but will also generate a moral force that is irresistible, even for the most intransigent and powerful Governments and nations !
And then, some ten years later, in August 2012, at the AU’s “Global African Summit” in Johannesburg, South Africa, it was resolved by the governmental representatives of Africa and the Caribbean that the AU would seek to collaborate with the governments of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in pursuing the quest for Reparations.
It is against this background that we would now like to present a brief but important outline of the Reparations concept in its holistic comprehensiveness by exploring what we have termed the ten fundamental principles of Reparations.
These ten principles are as follows:–
1. VALIDATION OF OUR HUMANITY
The first and most basic principle of the Reparations Movement is that the very demand for Reparations constitutes– in itself– an indispensable validation by African and African-descended people of our own precious humanity!
You see, if we Africans or Afro-descendants fail to demand that the present-day representatives and beneficiaries of those persons, institutions and nations that committed the most horrible crimes imaginable against our ancestors be held accountable and made to pay restitution, we would be implicitly sending a message to ourselves and to the world at large that we do not consider our ancestors (or ourselves) to be sacred beings imbued with inalienable rights and deserving of respect and justice!
And so, the mere act of demanding Reparations is important, and is a critical component of the process, that we must engage in as individuals and as a collective, of repairing ourselves and of reaffirming the value of our civilization and heritage!
But clearly, any such validation of our humanity will have to begin with a knowledge of who we Africans or Afro-descendants were as a people before the criminal European impositions of slavery and colonialism. Thus, the Reparations Movement and the African and Caribbean governments that lead it must make it a priority to promote the study and the dissemination of information about our pre-slavery, pre-colonial African civilization, as well as of the history of European orchestrated enslavement and its effects on the civilization of Africa and on the development of the modern world.
2. COMPLETION OF THE EMANCIPATION PROCESS
Of course, the point must also be made that the racist oppression of black or African people did not end with the formal abolition of slavery! Indeed, after the abolition of slavery in the 19th century our historical oppressors deliberately entrapped our ancestors in economic, political and social arrangements that were designed to handicap them and to serve the interests of the former enslavers– arrangements that have persisted (in modified form) down to the present day.
The struggle for Reparations must therefore be– among other things– a struggle to expose and put an end to such arrangements and to complete the Emancipation process! This is the second fundamental principle of the Reparations Movement.
It goes without saying therefore that the Reparations Movement (and our Governments in particular) must engage in an examination of our post-slavery history (with a view to identifying the many ways in which our historical oppressors unlawfully enmeshed and entrapped post-slavery generations down to the present era) , as well as in an examination of the many examples of resistance to these oppressive stratagems that were engaged in by our fore-fathers and mothers, inclusive of their many decisive contributions to anti-colonial victories against European colonialism and to the founding of independent African and Caribbean nations .
And having properly informed ourselves we must be prepared to undertake efforts to expose and deprecate such racist present-day arrangements; to advance demands that they be terminated; and to undertake relevant protests and boycotts as well as forms of individual and collective State action to bring about the termination of all such still existing racist arrangements.
3. COMPENSATION MUST BE PROPORTIONATE TO THE CRIME
The demand for compensation from the present-day representatives of those who inflicted horrendous crimes on our ancestors and who damaged and disabled succeeding generations must consist of a demand for the transfer of material resources in an amount proportionate to the enormity of the crimes and their deleterious effects—resources to enable present-day African and African-descendant populations to counter the economic and social imbalances derived from those centuries of criminality.
The Reparations Movement and the African and Caribbean governments that lead the Movement are therefore expected to collectively discuss and work out with civil society and other popular organizations, ideas for appropriate Reparations initiatives, payments and programmes that are capable of achieving such an objective.
4. REPARATIONS MUST PRODUCE THE JUST SOCIETY
The fourth fundamental principle of the Reparations Movement is that the campaign for Reparations or for Reparative Justice must be designed to produce the “just society”, in that the demand for Reparations must be formulated as a demand for a fundamental transformation of the currently existing inequitable and exploitative economic and power relations that exist in the international arena and in many of our domestic societies.
It should be noted that this principle has implications not only for the restructuring of such international entities and phenomena as the United Nations Security Council, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the terms of international trade and finance, but also for the manner in which our domestic African and Caribbean societies and Governments function. Implicit in the demand of our Caribbean and African Governments for Reparations must be a commitment to themselves deliver justice to their own people! And this is a commitment that the masses of African and Caribbean people must be prepared – through dynamic activism and advocacy– to hold our Governments to!
And here again, it will be incumbent on the international Reparations Movement and the African and Caribbean governments that lead the Movement to collectively discuss, work out and document ideas for appropriate initiatives, programmes and payments that are imbued with the potential to achieve this very ambitious (but critical) goal of producing the just society—internationally and domestically.
5. AFRICANS MUST EXERCISE AUTONOMY THROUGHOUT THE PROCESS
An integral strategy of the Reparations Movement is to present the demand for the payment of compensation (in financial and material resources as well as in developmental programmes) to the present-day representatives and beneficiaries of the evil system of slave trade and slavery and to invite their collaboration in addressing the tragic effects of this monumental historical crime. This, indeed, has been the approach of the CARICOM governments to date — they have collectively written to the relevant Governments of Western Europe calling upon them to acknowledge the crimes that were committed and the damage that was caused, and requesting them to agree to a collaborative approach to engaging in developmental programmes and transfers of resources designed to repair the still existing damage.
But even while adopting this approach, we Africans and Afro-descendants make it absolutely clear to all and sundry that even though we value the concept of collaboration, that the strategies and tasks to be implemented for our psychological repair and for our economic and social empowerment are our own responsibility and will be conceptualized, directed and controlled by us!
6. WE MUST REPAIR OURSELVES
A critical component of the campaign for Reparations is the African’s and Afro-descendant’s own inwardly directed struggle for psychological, cultural and spiritual self-repair. Thus, African or Afro-descendant members of the Reparations Movement and their governments must be committed – as individuals and as collectives – to seek to identify all of the ways in which we have been and continue to be negatively affected by false notions of white supremacy and black inferiority, and to rigorously attack them and eradicate the negative effects that impact on our individual and collective psyches!
7. SELF-REPAIR WILL GENERATE MASS SUPPORT FOR REPARATIONS
The effort to “prosecute” and hold accountable the present-day representatives and beneficiaries of the historical oppressors of the African and Afro-descendant people will require the widespread participation of Africans and Afro-descendants: and the attainment of such widespread popular participation will, in turn, be dependent on the inwardly directed struggle for self-repair and its capacity to persuade a critical mass of the African population to re-evaluate themselves and their history; to perceive the gravity of the injustice; to feel the tragic historical loss they have suffered; and to be sufficiently motivated to get involved or otherwise support the campaign for Reparations.
The Reparations Movement and the African and Caribbean governments that lead it must therefore engage in a comprehensive mass education outreach programme to the community that is designed not only to educate about the relevant history, but to also help as many of our people as possible to emotionally connect with that history and the tragic loss and injustice suffered.
8. REPARATIONS MUST BE A BROAD MOVEMENT
The campaign for Reparations must be designed, on the one hand, to bring on board with us all of our natural allies in Africa and the Diaspora, Latin America and Asia and to enlist the tremendous weight of world opinion on our side, and, on the other hand, to isolate and publicly hold up to international embarrassment and critique all those entities that perversely and unreasonably seek to deny and resist the manifest justice and righteousness of our claim to Reparations.
This will call for a concerted effort in the field of international diplomacy by the Ambassadors, Embassies and foreign Missions of the nations of CARICOM and the AU. It will also require consistent effort at the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the Commonwealth and in other relevant international organizations.
The Reparations Movement should therefore set about to bring allies (in the form of Governments and important civil society organizations) on board by reaching out and educating such entities about the African Reparations cause.
We will surely win the Reparations struggle when, wherever in the world representatives of the legally responsible governments go, other governments and people of goodwill are constantly asking them about their long outstanding moral and legal debt to the people and nations of Africa and the African Diaspora !
Just as virtually the whole world has come to know about the horrors of the Jewish holocaust and to acknowledge and respect the legitimacy and moral rightness of the Jewish demand for Reparations, we too must bring about a similar state of affairs in world public opinion in relation to the African Reparations cause.
9. THE MASS OF OUR PEOPLE MUST BE INTIMATELY INVOLVED
The masses of our African and Afro-descendant populations must be intimately involved in the campaign for Reparations: they must be permitted enough time and opportunity to thoroughly discuss and understand the issue; their right to have the final and decisive say on the concrete details of the Reparations claim must be respected; and they must have a say – through representatives specifically selected by them – as to how the compensatory resources are utilized.
Furthermore, at a national level– within our many nation states–the Reparations Movement should systematically appeal to and challenge all of the relevant local and national organizations to put support for Reparations on their agenda and to include it in their programmes and Manifestos – political parties, trade unions, youth organizations, churches, women’s organizations, educational institutions, local government administrations, and the list goes on.
There must also be no compromise on the requirement that the “trustees” of any Reparations Fund that emerges out of the Reparations Campaign must include- along with the elected Governmental leadership– trusted representatives of the people directly selected by the people themselves for the special purpose of overseeing the expenditure of Reparations resources.
10. NETWORK AND ESTABLISH A NEW INTERNATIONAL LEGAL STRUCTURE
The successful pursuit of Reparations will require the establishment of a world-wide network of community, regional, national and international organizations. Indeed, at the grassroots level, the community based Reparations organization must be linked into a national network, while at the level of our African and Caribbean governments we should establish a trans-Atlantic international network that is preparing and engaging in legal, diplomatic and political strategies at the international level to achieve Reparations.
The African and African-descendants Reparations Claim (s) will either be consensually negotiated between mutually respectful State parties gathered around an international negotiating table, or it will have to be litigated in a series of international law cases brought against the Governments of the liable nations.
And since the Reparations claim that is being advanced on behalf of the sons and daughters of Africa and the Diaspora is of a magnitude and complexity hitherto unknown to the currently existing international court system, it may in all likelihood require the setting up of a special new International Tribunal specifically designed by the member states of the General Assembly of the United Nations to deal with and do justice to a claim of this historical importance and magnitude.
The time has come for the African and African descendant people of the world and their Governments to finally present their Reparations Bill to the current day successor Governments of those national Governments of Europe and North America that organized, facilitated, legitimized, financed, and benefited from the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the associated system of racialized Chattel Slavery — the governments of Britain, Spain, France, Portugal, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Norway, and the United States of America (a former colony that perpetuated the enslavement of African people for nearly one hundred years after attaining its independence).
Onwards to the achievement of Reparations in this United Nations International Decade For People of African Descent!