Wed | Jan 23, 2019

‘Don’t be afraid’ – National Commission on Reparations

Published:Tuesday | May 26, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Mike Henry
Dr Jermaine McCalpin, lecturer at the University of the West Indies.

In 2012, the National Commission on Reparations, chaired by Professor Verene Shepherd, of The University of the West Indies, was reconvened by Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna.

A report was submitted to Hanna in November 2013.

The essence of the reparation claims is that European countries must redress the injustices meted out to enslaved Africans on the plantations in the West Indies.

However, during a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum, it was suggested that there might be a fall-out between Britain and other European countries and reparation claimants.

Even within Jamaica itself, there is a strong division on the matter between the descendants of slave owners on one side, and the descendants of enslaved Africans on the other.

Shepherd, one of the guests at the forum, said the commission knows who are not on board, especially those who have benefitted from slavery through their ancestors.

But, "justice should have no colour, class or race," Shepherd said, while encouraging all who have something to say to join the debate.

People are interested in the discussion, Shepherd added, for one reason or the other.

There have been talks with corporate Jamaica, the Jamaican Bar Association and the University of the West Indies law faculty, and there have been public education efforts to tell people where the injustice started.

Shepherd is, however, in favour of a regional, instead of a unilateral or bilateral approach, saying in the end it is the governments of the region that will take the claim forward.

The National Commission, therefore, is working with the CARICOM Reparations Commission to forge a stronger, regional approach.

However, she also said if governments believe they will lose elections because of their support for reparations claims, then we might not go forward.

To this, Shepherd said we should not be afraid to press the claim for reparations despite the possible fallout.

Nanny, Sam Sharpe and Chief Tacky, she said, were not afraid of consequences.

So, Shephered asserted, "Do the right thing and don't be afraid of the consequences."

One of the possible consequences intimated at is the withdrawal of granting aid by European donors to claimant countries.

To this, Dr Jermaine McCalpin of the University of the West Indies said a great majority of countries are of the view that slavery and the slave trade constituted a crime against humanity.

"So, this notion that the European Union is somehow this behemoth we can't conquer, that's not how we should approach it ... ," McCalpin said.

Mike Henry, another member of the commission, noting that there are many global reparation claims, in an incredulous tone, asked, "Why are we steeped into thinking we can't win?"