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Slavery compensation 'will define 21st century'

LIFE IMITATING ART: Steve McQueen's Oscar-winning film 12 Years A Slave has helped put the issue of slavery back on the agenda

A TOP academic has declared that worldwide demands for justice over the "genocide" of slavery will be the major issue of the 21st century.

Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, 58, warned the British government that failure to take responsibility for the evils of the transatlantic slave trade would leave them "on the wrong side of history."

Beckles, who chairs a Caribbean commission looking into reparations for enslavement, made his comments at a public meeting in the House of Commons on July 16.

CARICOM - a bloc of 15 Caribbean nations - are gearing up to sue British and other European governments for compensation for damage caused by enslavement and colonialism. They want an unqualified apology and a repatriation fund for Caribbean people to settle in Africa.


"This is not about handouts. We are helping ourselves but you must come and play your part in repairing the damage done by slavery and the genocide," said Beckles in directing is message to the Prime Minister David Cameron. "The case for reparatory justice will be the number one global issue in the 21st century."

Beckles also called on black MPs to follow the example of the late Bernie Grant to champion the issue in Westminster.

Last year, a study by the University College London (UCL) found that Cameron's ancestors were among those who pocketed billions of pounds in 'compensation' for losing slaves after the 1833 law abolishing slavery.

Beckles, who grew up in Birmingham before returning to his native Barbados to become a principal of the University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus, revealed that his own parents worked on a plantation owned by the Cumberbatch family whose relatives include Hollywood actor Benedict Cumberbatch, star of 12 Years A Slave.

Hackney MP Diane Abbott, who hosted the debate in parliament, told The Voice she believed renewed interest in slavery stems from the success of Steve McQueen's Oscar-winning film.

She added: "I think what needs to happen now is that grassroots campaigners should be building up a groundswell amongst ordinary black people on this issue.

"Grassroots campaigners have put reparations on top of ordinary black people's agenda. Parliamentarians will respond to what their constituents press them on. We all live with a legacy of slavery."

CARICOM has hired lawyers Leigh Day, who won £14 million in compensation from the UK for brutality in suppressing the 'Mau Mau' uprising against colonial rule, to argue its case. The firm was awarded £6m in costs.


But the Caribbean case could be harder to prove as the UK government settled out of court without admitting liability and relied on living victims who had been tortured as castrated by British forces.

IN 2006, a bid by African American reparations campaigner Deadria Farmer-Paellman to sue insurance companies failed because only one living person could be found who was born into slavery.

Some activists have criticised the legal costs of the Kenyan case and claim the battle for reparations is a global struggle that should not be limited to the Caribbean.

Esther Sanford-Xosei, from the Pan-African Reparations Coalition in Europe (Parcoe) called on CARICOM to include the worldwide Diaspora and then demand an international peoples' tribunal for global justice. She added: "We also need a cross-party truth commission to enable a conversation in parliament and across the country to raise awareness and consciousness about the legacy of enslavement."

Toyin Agbetu, from the organisation Ligali, added: "I come from a self-reparations perspective. We have to heal ourselves internally, simultaneously with the court fight. I want more talk about justice and less about compensation.

"I'm sceptical about whether CARICOM will be successful. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas. Before we talk about cash we need to get recognition of the crime and link any action to the African continent."

CARICOM, led by Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, plans to take its case to the United Nations general assembly later this year, before launching court action.

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