H. E. President David Granger: Thank you. Please be seated. Thank you for your always warm introduction, Sister Pender and Brother Rudy. Minister of Education, Members of the National Assembly, Her Worship, Ms. Patricia Chase-Green, Mayor of Georgetown; former Mayor, Hamilton Green; Chair of the Guyana Reparations Committee and other members of the committee; representatives of the CARICOM Reparations Committee; distinguished guests, members of civil society, members of the media, fellow Guyanese:
I am very happy to be here this evening and my only regret is that this is the fourth of five engagements. I had one at five, this is six, and I have another at seven So I had to be asked that I be brought up on the programme and that I be allowed to leave soon after my brief remarks but this is very important business that we are engaged in. It’s not a sideshow; it goes to the heart of our existence and it goes to the future of our people in this country.
The majority of African Guyanese – in fact the majority of Africans in the Caribbean – are the descendants of victims of the trans-Atlantic trade in captive Africans. That trade was the largest forced transportation of human beings from one part of the globe to another in the whole history of the world and it is one of the greatest unnatural disasters of all time. The trans-Atlantic trade in captive Africans involved the systematic capture, transportation, sale and enslavement of human beings.
The trade started in 1441. I know some of my friends celebrate it from 1492 but I’m afraid the evidence is overwhelming; it started in 1441. So there have been over 400 years of the trans-Atlantic trade until it was brought to an end and it involved four continents – Africa of course, Europe, North America and South America.
Enslavement of Africans was a crime against humanity. As we know, the world conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance held in Durban, South Africa, from August the 31st to September 8th 2001 acknowledged: “that slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so.”
My brothers and sisters, there was a crime but there has been no punishment; there has been a crime but there has been no justice. The enslavement of Africans, the decimation of the indigenous population on this continent and in the Caribbean, and the oppression of indentured immigrants all constituted crime and therefore the call for what I call “reparative justice”, that is, reparations is entirely correct, is entirely in order.
Reparative justice concerns the legal obligations of States. It is not something notional; it is legal. States have a legal duty to acknowledge and address widespread or systematic human rights violations in cases where the State caused the violations or in cases where the State did not seriously try to prevent them. Reparations publicly affirm that victims have rights and are entitled to redress.
My brothers and sisters, the descendants of the colonised people of the Caribbean therefore are correct in their call for reparative justice. The victims of these crimes against humanity have been deprived of an apology; they have been deprived of reparative justice for the abominable crimes that resulted in the loss of millions of lives, the expropriation of wealth and property and the legacy of underdevelopment which still besets us all in the Caribbean and Guyana.
Guyana, our homeland, was a victim of almost 350 years of European colonisation. Guyana’s experiences mirror, more or less, the experience of the countries of the Caribbean community, CARICOM. The exploitation of the people’s labour, the expropriation of wealth, the enrichment of metropolitan centres and the distortions of colonial rule have heightened calls throughout the Caribbean for reparative justice.
The people of the Caribbean look to their leaders to bring about redress for the crimes inflicted on their ancestors and the damage done for our society. Caribbean political leaders have been responsive to these pleas. The Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, at their 34Th Regular Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community held in Trinidad and Tobago from the 3rd to 6th of July 2013, agreed unanimously to establish a national series of reparation committees and to appoint a high level committee to oversee the work of a CARICOM reparations commission.
In fact, the commission [Guyana Reparations Commission] chaired by Brother Eric [Phillips] is part of that decision. The Heads of Government, at the conclusion of the 25th Intercessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community held on the 12th of March 2014 in St Vincent, accepted as the basis for further actions the draft regional, strategic operational plan for a Caribbean preparatory justice.
I’m sorry to bore you with these facts but they’re very important. I just want you to understand that the Caribbean Community has taken a firm and irreversible stand to call for reparations. This draft plan was prepared by the regional reparations committee which comprises the chairpersons on the National Reparations Committee. The action plan proposed ten years of reparation and I like this, because when God was giving his commandments he stuck to ten. So these are commandments for the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.
• First of all, an apology; there must be a full formal, apology from the Government of European states.
• Second, a development plan: There must be a plan for the development of indigenous communities.
• Third, there must be a cultural plan. There must be a plan for the establishment of cultural institutions in the Caribbean.
• Fourth, there must be a health plan. There must be a plan for arresting the health pandemic in the Caribbean caused by chronic diseases.
As you know, Africans in the Caribbean are more susceptible to certain types of disease which could be traced right back to the period of enslavement. Many of them are susceptible to sickle cell anaemia and some types of diabetes; and these diseases are traceable to the era of enslavement.
• Next there must be an education plan. There must be a plan for the total eradication of illiteracy.
• Next there must be a technology plan. There must be a plan to transfer technology so that we can close the gap between European states and Caribbean states.
• Sixth, there must be a resettlement programme for those of us who are interested in reintegrating and going back to their homelands.
• There must be an African knowledge programme – that is, the development of an African programme to bridge the social and cultural alienation that was created when Africans were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands.
• Ninth, there must be a psychological rehabilitation programme. Brothers and sisters, it is impossible for any people to have gone through what enslaved Africans have gone through without having some psychological consequences. There must be a programme of psychological rehabilitation to heal and repair the psychological trauma of slavery
• And finally, there must be a debt cancellation plan. A plan to overcome poverty and institutional weaknesses.
And among these Ten Commandments, I feel that the most important is the psychological rehabilitation. Anywhere you go in the New World – you go to Ecuador, you go to Colombia, you go to Jamaica, Guyana, you go to Brazil, you go to Suriname, you go to the United States, Georgia – you will see that something terrible has happened to people of African descent and I want you to remember these ten points.
It’s not about money; it’s not about sharing out money so you get something to put in your pocket. It’s a holistic plan that was carefully thought out so that our children would have a better deal than we ourselves have had.
My brothers and sisters, the case for reparatory justice can be established in respect to three principal claims.
First, that the act of enslavement and genocide clearly are crimes against humanity. They must be acknowledged as such. The perpetrators of these crimes must acknowledge their wrongdoings and they must be recompensed through reparations.
Second, Europe’s enrichment through the expropriation and transport of the wealth of the Caribbean was unjust. The Caribbean, therefore, should enjoy reparations for the exploitation and the deprivations which were inflicted over a period of centuries; and third, the enslavement and genocides that characterised this crime against humanity have bequeathed a legacy of underdevelopment which can only be overturned through the reparative justice.
There’s a reason why we’re underdeveloped. It’s not because we ‘stupidy’. It’s because the system which was imposed on us prevents us from ever competing on a level playing field with the people who created that system. They didn’t create a system to make us equal.
My brothers and sisters, I’m not an attorney-at-law but it is my view that the first basis for claims for reparative justice rests on the fact that crimes against humanity are punishable under international law. They do not enjoy protection of any statute of limitations. Article Six of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal which was used 71 years ago when the Nazis were being trained in Germany for the Second World War – 71 years ago – the Europeans implemented that law stating that enslavement was a crime against humanity. So they used that law to punish the Nazis who’d enslaved Jews in the slave camps. Well, the shoe is on the other foot.
Genocide is also prosecutable under the jurisdiction of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. States, organisations and institutions which are complicit in crimes against humanity do not enjoy immunity because of the passage of time.
The Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity adopted by the General Assembly of United Nations on the 26th of November 1968 provides that no statutory barrier shall apply to, “crimes against humanity, whether those crimes were committed in time of war or in time of peace.”
Enslavement and genocide therefore are prosecutable offenses and they are offenses for which there are no statues of limitations.
You’re guilty forever; you can run but you can’t hide. International law has defined crime against humanity as a crime that is punishable in any jurisdiction.
My brothers and sisters, the first basis for claims for reparative justice rests on the evidence that huge wealth was generated during the commission of these crimes against humanity by European colonisers. Huge wealth was created by the expropriation and transfer of that wealth to European states; and don’t believe it’s one state. Sweden was involved, Germany was involved, France was involved, Netherlands was involved, Britain was involved, Spain and Portugal were involved. All of the States which are found on the Atlantic eventually became involved in this dirty trade. So it is not against the British alone. It is all of the States that were involved in this dirty trade.
Colonisation and the trade in human beings allowed for the unjust enrichment of Europe. When you go to Europe and look around, say your granddad built all of this. We contributed to that wealth. The vast wealth extracted through forced labour in the colonies of the Caribbean enriched the coffers of generations of European families but at the same time impoverished those whose servitude generated those very fortunes. This wealth was acquired through the forceful subjugation of millions of people.
The third basis for claims of reparative justice is that the Caribbean, even after being granted independence, is yet to shake off the legacy of colonialism. Colonialism underdeveloped the Caribbean. Our region, as a consequence of European conflict and conquest, became the most balkanised region in the world. There is no other sub-region like ours where you still have real estate owned by the UK, owned by The Netherlands, owned by France. That is how it was four hundred years ago; that is how it is today.
The Caribbean today is fragmented; its economic structure still bears the stamp of the plantation economy. We are still, as we are in Guyana, still bound to an excessive concentration on primary production – sugar, rice, bauxite, gold, diamonds and timber. The CARICOM Reparations Commission observed that the descendants of the victims of enslavement have been left in “A state of psychological, social, economic and cultural deprivation and disenfranchisement that has ensured their suffering and debilitation today, and from which only reparatory action can alleviate their suffering.”
That is the sober verdict of the CARICOM Reparations Commission – that the victims of enslavement and their descendants have been left in a state of social, psychological, economic and agricultural deprivation and disenfranchisement that has ensured their suffering and debilitation today and from which only reparatory action can alleviate their suffering. In other words, my brothers and sisters, we have no choice but to pursue the course that we are taking tonight.
My brothers and sisters, the European states of which we speak understand very well the meaning and the need for reparation. Don’t believe it’s a new concept or a strange concept or its alien to their own jurisprudence. Britain swiftly paid compensation to the plantation owners for the loss of their “property” when our fore parents were emancipated. Of course the Africans got nothing. No similar payment was made to those who had been enslaved and those who were forced to provide free labour during what was called the apprenticeship period from 1834 to 1838.
In fact, the so called free Africans during that period actually financed the compensation that was given to their owners; and you must recall that even quite recently Britain was forced to acknowledge the wrong that they did to the Kenyan and they actually paid compensation to the victims of torture in the Mau Mau uprising.
So don’t believe that Britain doesn’t know about compensation. They compensated the planters in 1838 and they had to compensate the victims of torture just a few years ago in Kenya. Germany too – don’t forget that at that time before Germany was unified there were plantations in the Caribbean with slaves under the title of Brandenburg. Germany wasn’t unified then, Brandenburg, that was the name of the Prussian colonies. They were later sold to the United States.
Germany was forced to pay reparations to the allies after World War I and World War II. Germany was also forced to pay reparations to Israel under the Luxemburg Agreement of 1952. So when we speak of reparations it is nothing new. We want some too.
The crime against our fore parents affected millions and went on for 400 years. So that is what we’re speaking about.
Japan, though not a European country, paid compensation to a number of countries for its role in World War II. So the idea of compensation is well known in developed countries around the world. So let us not take our hand from the plough as we seek our reparations; if not for ourselves – for our children and our grandchildren.
My brothers and sisters, the Caribbean is not begging for hand-outs. The Caribbean is not begging for sympathy. The Caribbean is not begging for favours The Caribbean is demanding reparative justice – justice for the greatest crime against humanity in the entire history of the world. That is, the trans-Atlantic trade in captive Africans.
In the Caribbean, the case for reparative justice is righteous; the struggle for reparative justice will be long, but every just cause worth fighting for and tonight I join with you in praying that your efforts; our efforts will one day succeed and the enslavers will do what is right for the descendants of the enslaved.
Thank you and may God bless you.