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Caribbean nations may seek reparations for slave trade

Caribbean organisation CARICOM argues that financial reparations and an apology could start to undo the lasting damage caused by the slave trade


A 19th century engraving depicting a Slave Auction in South Carolina, USA (WikiCommons)

December 11, 2013
13:54

by Peter Stanners


Caribbean nations have called on Denmark to apologise and pay reparations for damages caused by the slave trade.

Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – an organisation representing 15 Caribbean nations and dependencies – established a commission in July to examine ways to build a legal case for demanding reparation payments from former colonial European countries.

On Monday the commission called upon Denmark, Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden to start a dialogue with Caribbean governments “to address the living legacies of these crimes”.

READ MORE: Enhedslisten wants Denmark to apologise for slave trade

A crime against humanity
“Caribbean societies have been built upon transatlantic slave trading and chattel slavery, which have been declared by the United Nations as crimes against humanity,” CARICOM stated in a press release. “The commission [calls] for an acknowledgement by former slave-owning nations that slavery and slave trading were crimes against humanity [and for] these nations to issue statements of formal apologies and commit to a reparatory process that includes, among other actions, the facilitation of the repatriation programme.”

CARICOM argues that impact of slavery is still being felt today in the form of high levels of illiteracy, a lack of cultural institutions, psychological trauma, scientific and technological backwardness and a prevalence of diabetes.

While CARICOM stresses that the process should be “be conducted in a diplomatic, conciliatory, and morally uplifting fashion”, its lawyer Richard Stein told AP that they may seek to have the cases heard at the UN’s International Court of Justice.

It is up to the individual Caribbean countries to decide whether they want to pursue a diplomatic dialogue about reparations with European states.

READ MORE: The Akwamu: The beginning of the end of Danish colonial power

Enhedslisten wants to apologise
Far-left party Enhedslisten (EL) has already said Denmark should apologise for its role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade between 1670 and 1802.

“An official apology is important for two reasons: one is to pay sympathies to the descendants of slaves and the other reason is to have a debate in Denmark about our slavery past,” EL's foreign affairs spokesperson, Nikolaj Villumsen (EL), told Radio 24/7.

EL’s demand arrived after the US Virgin Islands – a Caribbean island group that Denmark sold to the US in 1917 for 25 million dollars – voted in October on whether to demand an apology from Denmark for its involvement in the slave trade.

It is estimated that around 100,000 slaves were transported on Danish ships before Denmark became the first nation to prohibit slavery in 1792.



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