KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Politicians, lawyers and academics gathered Monday in St. Vincent & the Grenadines to advance an effort by more than a dozen regional nations to seek slavery reparations from three European countries that benefited from the Atlantic slave trade.
The three-day conference is the first major step forward since the Caribbean Community announced in July that it intended to demand compensation for slavery and the genocide of native peoples from the governments of Britain, France and the Netherlands. Representatives from all the member nations and territories of Caricom, as the group is known, are attending the gathering.
St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who is leading the effort trying to force the region's former colonial powers to pay reparations, said the matter is a "fundamental, defining matter of our age."
"The European nations which engaged in conquest, settlement, genocide and slavery in our Caribbean must provide the reparatory resources required to repair the contemporary legacy of their historic wrongs," said Gonsalves, who takes over the rotating leadership of Caricom at the start of 2014.
Gonsalves and other Caribbean officials say coming up with a financial estimate for reparations is critical for coming to terms with the lingering legacy of slavery in the region. Historians and economists will assist in the process.
There has been no monetary figure mentioned yet, but the St. Vincent prime minister said reparations must "bear a close relationship to what was illegally or wrongly extracted and exploited ... from the Caribbean by the European colonialists, including the compensation paid to the slave owners at the time of the abolition of slavery."
At the time of emancipation of slaves in 1834, Britain paid 20 million pounds to British planters in the Caribbean, the equivalent of some 200 billion pounds ($315 billion) today.
The Caribbean governments have brought on the British law firm of Leigh Day, which waged a successful fight for compensation for a group of Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government as they fought for the liberation of their country during the so-called Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 1960s.
Firm lawyer Martyn Day said the Caribbean nations are seeking to negotiate a settlement "based on the impact of slavery on Caribbean societies today."
"All the Caricom countries are keen to seek resolution amicably with the former slave nation states like Britain, France and the Netherlands," Day said at conference.
But, he said, if that does not succeed, they will go to the International Court of Justice, the United Nations' highest judicial organ.
Gonsalves said he expected all Caricom's member states will have their representatives include a strong message about reparations in their speeches at the U.N. General Assembly next week.
"The awful legacy of these crimes against humanity — a legacy (that) exists today in our Caribbean — ought to be repaired for the developmental benefit of our Caribbean societies and all our peoples," he said.
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