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UK Government refuses to back down on reparations

‘ABHORRENT’: A slavery memorial erected in the UK

THE BRITISH minister responsible for the Caribbean has refused to budge over the possibility of paying millions to the region in compensation for slavery.

Mark Simmonds, the parliamentary under secretary at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, who visited Jamaica on November 6, said although the UK Government condemned the act of slavery, reparations were not the answer.

He said: “Do I think that we are in a position where we can financially offer compensation for events that happened two, three hundred years ago?

“No, I don’t and I think we’ve got to focus on where our commonalities agree and I think that is eradicating slavery as it exists today, also building on the importance of driving the economy and economic development and economic growth.”


He added: “Clearly slavery was abhorrent, slavery still is abhorrent and we all need to work together to ensure that we eradicate it in totality wherever it exists.”

Simmonds said instead of focusing on reparations, the UK was keen on assisting Jamaica and other islands to revitalise their economies.

However, Jamaican MP Mike Henry, one of the longest standing members of the country’s parliament, said the comments were an insult to the regions that are seeking reparations.

The leaders of 15 Caribbean countries have joined forces to seek reparations against Britain for its role in slavery in the English-speaking Caribbean nations, France for its role in Haiti, and the Netherlands for Suriname, which is located in South America.

LEADING THE CHARGE: St Vincent and the Grenadines PM Ralph Gonsalves speaking at the UN in May.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is claiming compensation on the basis that the legacy of slavery and colonialism caused irreversible damage to the socio-economic growth of the region.

Dr Nicola Frith, a specialist in French-speaking Post-colonial Studies at Bangor University, told Operation Black Vote (OBV): “It’s a complex case with three different governments and three different histories. But there are strengths in collective action, instead of trying to have individual voices heard.”


Prepared for a long battle, CARICOM has hired London-based law firm Leigh Day, which earlier this year won £19.9m in compensation for Kenyans tortured by the British during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 60s.

However, Day said despite having an expertise in bringing historic claims, the two cases were very different, because of the length of time slavery occurred and its victims who were no longer alive.

It is expected that the legal case will be brought to the United Nation’s International Court of Justice, based in The Hague in the Netherlands.

Frith said: “The former slaves gave up their freedoms in exchange for their loyalty to the colonisers. It’s time to put pressure on the government and instruct lawyers to do something about it.”

When slavery was abolished in Britain in 1834, £20 million of taxpayers’ money was paid to slave owners as compensation for loss of ‘property’, which would be worth approximately £16bn by today’s standards.

Frith said: “Negative representations of ethnic minorities have their roots in slavery. The inability of certain countries to develop their economies can be traced to the power structures set up then.”

Any reparations received would not be handed to individuals, but instead be invested into economic, social and cultural programmes.

Frith said: “If we are discussing monetary reparations, then there is the question of who pays, how much, to whom, and why?”

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