Mon | Sep 24, 2018

Don't rush to court with reparation, says commission

Published:Sunday | September 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Professor Verene Shepherd, head of the National Commission on Reparation, shows a list of plantation owners who were compensated by the British after the abolition of slavery. - File

THE professor Verene Shepherd-chaired National Commission on Reparation has suggested that the Jamaican Government should use the court only as a last resort in the seeking of reparations for slavery.

In its report, which was tabled in the House of Representatives last Wednesday, the commission said there is the need for greater examination of the matter of legal routes.

"The legal issues are complex, and we repeat that a reparation settlement would be reached by dialogue and negotiation if possible," the report said.

Culture Minister Lisa Hanna, who is leading the Government's team on the matter, said that now that the report has been tabled, it will have to be debated in Parliament. She said the commission has secured $3 million from the CHASE Fund to assist the further work of the commission.

Public education

The minister said the commission will now turn its focus on public education and research possible legal strategies.

Member states of CARICOM will next month discuss their next step in the reparation battle, and the Shepherd Commission has suggested that the Government of Jamaica discusses with other member states the "alternative legal avenues which could be pursued to secure reparation if all non-confrontational strategies fail".

The report said that it will require intense mobilisation among the member states of the United Nations to persuade a majority of the General Assembly to request an advisory opinion.

"Worldwide mobilisation may be essential if the claim for reparation is to be more than a hollow demand," the report said.

The report noted that while a yes vote at the UN would not be binding on the parties, "it could be a powerful confirmation from the highest court in the world that the case for reparation is soundly based in international law".

Shepherd's commission has recommended, as a first step, a meeting between representatives of the Jamaican Government, the commission, Rastafarians, the Ambassador of Spain and the United Kingdom (UK) High Commissioner. The meeting, the commission, said would be used to call for an apology from Britain and Spain and an explanation of why such apology is important to the descendants of enslaved Africans.

In addition, the commission wants the Government to further negotiate with Spain and the UK for the return of at least £23 billion, which represents payment that was given to enslavers for freeing the slaves.

It also wants the Government to secure from Spain and the UK repatriations for descendants of Africans who want to return to the motherland; get commitments for social and infrastructural development; and the building of a monument at Kingston Harbour in memory of enslaved Africans.