Sat | Sep 22, 2018

JaRistotle’s Jottings | Reparations yes, and the devil to pay!

Published:Thursday | November 2, 2017 | 12:44 AMj'aristotle

The recent utterance from Mike Henry, Member of Parliament for Central Clarendon, that Queen Elizabeth II should be tried before her own court for Britain’s role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade may strike some people as ridiculous.  However, not so to others.  Whilst I am of the view that nothing of the sort will materialise, and that we are unlikely to get a shilling from Britain and the other former slave trading countries, the issue is well worth examination.

I agree with Mr. Henry’s position that the slave trade was the ‘greatest act of man’s inhumanity to man’.  Estimates put the total number of enslaved Africans at 13 million, with some 1.7 million perishing even before they arrived in the ‘New World’.  The notable participants and beneficiaries were Portugal, Spain, France, Holland and Britain. 

Making amends

Reparation, the act of making amends in cash or kind, has often been utilised in the aftermath of war, wherein the defeated nation compensates the victor.  Such was the case after World Wars I and II, where the victors imposed punitive territorial, military, economic and monetary provisions on Germany. 

So the issue of reparations is nothing new, with various Europeans countries having benefited from the practice after both World Wars.  Among these were countries that were the perpetrators and beneficiaries of the slave trade. 

One may ask, therefore, what is the hold up in them paying reparations for the inhuman treatment meted out to our forefathers?  It is simple: when they were ravaged by war and were victorious, they were in a position to demand reparations, they had the upper hand.  Jamaica and other former colonies, whose forefathers and countries were ravaged by the slave trade, are not in any position to demand anything simply because we have no standing as victors who can demand or impose.  We were, and remain the holders of the wrong end of the mop.

Painful reality

Six million [European] Jews were reportedly killed during the Holocaust of World War II.  As far as atrocities go, that has been the moot cry for the last seven decades, not the slave trade of 300 years ago.  But if 13 million Europeans had been enslaved and generally butchered just so that other countries could flourish, it would be an entirely different story.

Notwithstanding that the slave trade flourished well before our lifetime, if we were to take the view that the descendants are guilty of their forefathers’ crimes against humanity, then perhaps Mr. Henry’s argument should become one of trial before the courts of Jamaica and the other former slave colonies. 

Nowadays the former slave trading countries are among the most vociferous opponents of capital punishment and human trafficking.  How ironic that such hitherto murderous nations, whose wealth was built on the blood of others, can now be so self-righteous?  Do as I say, but not as I have done. 

Just to drive the point home, if their former colonies do not matriculate to their new found standard of behaviour, they are sanctioned within the international community.  Ah bwoy, di world not level at all.

Local change

There is a saying ‘be careful of what you ask for, you might just get it’.  We have been quick to talk about reparation for atrocities that were meted out by foreign powers centuries ago, but what about reparations for atrocities that have been meted out to the citizenry of Jamaica by our own?   

Weeks ago I opined that since Independence, approximately 20,000 Jamaicans have met their deaths through violent means, including politically organised contract killings.  We are largely familiar with the genesis and evolution of politically incited violence, the gang phenomena, extra-judicial killings by the police, and the undeniable involvement of our politicians in the raping of the country and the victimisation of countless individuals. 

Is there a case for arguing that reparations are due to the people of Jamaica from the political parties and the police for the undue, unjust and inhumane treatment that they have meted out to us whether directly or indirectly? 

In the same vein that the Queen is being called on to answer to the courts for the acts of her forefathers, shouldn’t our current local ‘slavers’ and ‘brutalizers’ similarly answer for their acts and those of their predecessors?