President David Granger: Brother Eric Phillips; the Chairman Ras Blackman; my brothers and sisters; Brother Simeon Selassie; other officials from the Rastafari community; visitors from overseas; my brother, Ras Tom Dalgety; Sister Ijanyah Christian; Ras Richard Taylor; my dear Sister Penda Gyan; special invitees; visitors from overseas, members of the media, my brother and sisters.
This morning I would like to address specifically what I was asked to do, that is to discuss the question of reparations especially in the Caribbean. It is a subject close to my heart, largely because in many parts of the Caribbean this issue is being ignored and understated.
It is difficult to understand why something which is so important not only to our history, but to our future should have such little impact on our day to day lives. I must confess that many people know very little and they care very little about the issue of reparations and as a result the movement is going forward very slowly and I do hope that we can move much more quickly and I would compliment the Guyana Reparations Committee for being involved in convening this symposium today and in the work that it has been doing over the years. I hope that as a result of this meeting today we will be able to move much more quickly so that we can bequeath to our children and our grandchildren what we ourselves did not inherit in terms of reparations from the Europeans.
My brothers and sisters, the transatlantic trade in captive Africans was the worst crime against humanity in the history of the world. The Caribbean itself was the scene of two of the world’s gravest crimes against humanity; the genocide of native peoples and the transatlantic trade in captive Africans- two crimes which involved the slaughter of millions of people. The trade in captive Africans involved the shipping of millions of Africans to the Americas and the Caribbean.
The atrocities, the barbarities, the cruelty and the indignities associated with enslavement are unmatched in human history. The transatlantic trade lasted for more than four hundred years; never before have so many suffered so much and for so long, in so many states in the Western Hemisphere.
The Caribbean, the Region from which we come, has not been without conflict and without struggle but we must not forget that the African people were not the only ones to suffer the- Indigenous people were decimated by European colonization in the early decades.
The indentured immigrants from India after Emancipation in 1838 were also exploited on the plantations of the Caribbean. African Emancipation in 1838 dismantled the institution of enslavement. The abolition of Indian indentured immigration was celebrated right here in Guyana after one hundred years we celebrated the centenary of the abolishment of Indian indentured immigration. But to the African people of the Caribbean, the demand for reparations represents a quest for justice, particularly justice from the Europeans who did these terrible things to our fore parents.
Reparative justice is a just and is a necessary cause; it must be perused with unwavering commitment, but first of all there must be consciousness- all of us, Africans and non-Africans, must be aware of what we are talking about when we speak of reparations. The world needs to know; the people need to be conscious of the crime of enslavement. Public education therefore, is essential. Our parents must know, our brothers and sisters must know, our children must know, if we are to mobilise people at the personal, at the national, at the regional and international level. It is not a secret for a little group; it must become public knowledge, it must be something that we speak about in public- in our radio programmes, in our Facebook communications, in our email message, in our publication or pamphlets. Reparative justice will not be achieved unless we spread common consciousness about this crime.
My brothers and sisters, Guyana and the Caribbean must be prepared for a sustained campaign to convince the international community, and Europe in particular, because when you look around the Caribbean today you still see traces of the Dutch Empire, the British Empire, the French Empire and these were the people who colonised the Caribbean; that is historical fact- that is not a question of prejudice; it is a fact.
We therefore, need to sensitise the international community of the legal and moral obligation for recompense for the offences of enslavement; the offences of native genocide and the offences of the oppressive character of indentured immigration. Public consciousness through public education in support of reparative justice must be heightened. Public education initiates the enhancement of consciousness for the achievement of justice.
International ignorance and intransigence to reparations will yield results only through unrelenting regional agitation. Domestic solidarity by national repatriations committees such as we have in Guyana will bolster our collective advocacy at the international level. The world must hear our voices; the world must hear a collective voice from the peoples of the Caribbean. We suffered first, we suffered first.
Christopher Columbus landed five hundred and twenty-five years ago in the Caribbean, in The Bahamas; we know the spot. We felt the first impact, five hundred and twenty-five years ago and we must not let the world forget that – not North America, not South America; the Caribbean felt the first impact.
Public education must tell our children and grandchildren that; it must tell the world that. Public education implants in the public mind the legal and moral bases of the regions demand for reparations. It answers the question why, after more than five hundred years, the demands for reparative justice still have not been met.
Public education indicates the precedence in support of reparative justice. It lays the foundation for international advocacy and agitation. It elucidates the grounds, the legal and moral grounds on which our case stands and establishes the righteousness of our cause.
My brothers and sisters, the Caribbean’s case for reparation is based principally, but not solely, on three grounds. First of all, enslavement and genocide are crimes against humanity under international law. Crimes against humanity are or can be prosecuted at any time; there is no limitation. If it was done five or six or seven or ten years ago, it can be prosecuted at any time. It has no statute of limitations. The convention on the non-applicability of statute of limitations to war crimes and crimes against humanity was adopted by the United Nations since 1968 and it provides that no statutory barrier shall apply to crimes against humanity, whether they were committed in time of war or in time of peace. So we stand on firm ground.
Second – the massive expropriation of wealth which was the patrimony of our Region’s people during the commission of these crimes enriched Europe. That wealth was generated through forced labour, that wealth caused the impoverishment of those who produced the wealth. That is the great paradox.
And thirdly, colonisation, enslavement, genocide and indentured immigration left a legacy of underdevelopment. That legacy could only be overturned through corrective justice. You go around the Caribbean and you would see down in the gully, we’re not a rich people but we, through the labour of our fore parents have made other people rich.
My brothers and sisters, the Region as a consequence of European conflict, European conquest and European colonisation became the weakest and most vulcanised Region of the world. You go around the Caribbean and you will see old cannons, old forts, old military bases and camps to show how people were fighting for hundreds of years for these islands.
Our economic structures still bear the stamp of plantation economy. There’s a high concentration of our economic experts on the production for export. In fact most of our capitals are ports through which we exported our products. Port of Spain, all of these are ports which allowed the wealth to be taken overseas.
So my brothers and sisters, when we speak of reparative justice this is not a trick, this is not a device that we use to get international hand-outs. It is a demand which is aimed at ensuring compensation for crimes which have been committed; compensation for enslavement and for native genocide, compensation for the atrocities of indentured immigration.
The demand for reparative justice therefore must not be confused with development assistance, that is something separate. Reparative justice concerns the legal obligations of states. States have a legal duty to acknowledge and address widespread and systematic human rights violations in cases where the state caused the violations or did not seriously try to prevent them.
Reparations publicly affirm that victims are rights holders entitled to redress. That is what it is all about, the victims and their descendants are entitled to redress. They are not begging for favours. Reparative justice is not unknown in the world and certainly it is not unknown in Europe. Britain, Britain paid compensation to sugar planters for the loss of what they call property, that is when the slaves were freed the British Planters were paid compensation.
So Britain understands what compensation is about but they did not pay the persons who were victims of enslavement. They did not pay the people who were forced even after 1834, for four years, to continue to provide free labour to the very people who enslaved them. That is why in the Caribbean we don’t recognise the 1834, we recognize 1838. 1834 was bogus freedom because our fore parents still had to continue working for four more years and of course, here in Guyana we have a martyr, Damon, who after 1834 raised a flag of freedom and he was arrested and hanged for his trouble.
Even more recently, Britain paid compensation to the victims of torture during the Mau Mau struggle in Kenya. Japan paid compensation to several countries for its aggression, invasion and suppressive occupation during World War II. Germany paid reparations to Allies after World War I and World War II. Germany also agreed to pay reparations to Israel for the slaughter that took place during the Holocaust.
My brothers and sisters, this is a serious matter. This is not a sideshow. We need to spread consciousness about reparations. This is not a racial struggle; this is a struggle for human justice. Crimes of enslavement, crimes of native genocides and the crimes committed during indentured immigration have not been redressed. There has been no recompense for the dispossession and for the underdevelopment of the Caribbean which resulted from these crimes against humanity.
The descendants of the colonised people of the Caribbean therefore, are correct in their call for reparative justice to right these wrongs. The victims of these crimes against humanity have never had the benefit of an apology. They have been deprived of justice, justice for the crimes which had resulted in the loss of millions of lives in the expropriation of wealth and in the legacy of underdevelopment which we still see around us.
My brothers and sisters, with these few words I wish to repeat how happy I am and how honoured I am to have received the invitation to be with you this morning; however briefly, to thank you for coming to Guyana, for coming to this campus of intellectual achievement, of academia, the UG campus, and for agreeing to meet, to exchange views about this important matter of reparations for the greatest crime against humanity.
May God bless you all.
I thank you!