Wed | Dec 12, 2018

Bert Samuels | Reparation claim needs your support

Published:Saturday | May 26, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Bert Samuels

The call by former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson to the trade union movement to join the cause for compensation from Britain for the crime and mess they left here in the wake of unshackling the enslaved on August 1, 1838, is timely and welcome.

The claim is, indeed, a workers' dispute. It is the largest claim for unpaid wages for the largest group of humans in modern history. This is so because the demands relate to the worst example of man's mistreatment of man in recorded history.

Chattel slavery redefined what slavery was known to be in other periods of history. Its deep-rooted race divisions and disregard for the humanity of the enslaved for centuries is unparalleled. It included the branding of Codrington slaves with red-hot irons in Barbados, the cutting open of the wombs of pregnant women by those who wagered on the unborns' gender, and amputation of the feet of those who dared to make the freedom run. And understand that this was not for a decade or even a lifetime of suffering; it was akin to eternity, lasting more than 300 years!


Out of respect


The call is for actuaries to come on board to calculate the wage claim, psychiatrists to report on the lasting effects of our mental suffering, lawyers to make the case in international courts of justice, ministers of religion to preach to the conscience of British people and win the British clergy over to the side of justice, economists to work on the funding needed to repair an economy born out of abject poverty among its 1838 population, heads of Commonwealth countries to support the claim of sister nations in their fold, and, finally, for our own people in the Caribbean to answer the rallying call.

Out of respect for those who cut cane and toiled unrewarded, we should demand that the British sit with us, admit the wrong, and commit to restoring our dignity and humanity by negotiating settlement of the claim. Prime Minister May, your government must now move on from the Windrush settlement and answer the just call for reparation.

The attention that has been given to the Windrush scandal did not happen because of the goodwill of Britain. The suffering of our parents was repeated and sounded until the voices calling for reparatory justice could not be ignored. Who would believe that the protest would have led to action, apology, and resignation of a minister of government? The lesson has been learnt - we can't lie down and die; we must rise up and demand to be heard.

The British listened to, and answered, the call of planters who lobbied their parliament for £20 million in compensation in exchange for releasing the enslaved into freedom. Britain, when will our compensation be paid?

- Bert S. Samuels is an attorney-at-law and member of the Reparation Council of Jamaica. Email feedback to and