Sun | Sep 19, 2021

Bert S. Samuels | Reparation’s new precedent – Windrush compensation

Published:Saturday | April 6, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Advocates of reparation welcome the announcement that Britain will compensate the Windrush generation victims of its harsh immigration policies, a package totalling two hundred million pounds. This was announced by Asif Ahmad, the British high commissioner to Jamaica and the Bahamas, this week. While we do not have enough detail to comment on the sufficiency of the sum – money has a limited value in paying for decades of discrimination and suffering – there are, nonetheless, important gains to be acknowledged.

Lawyers are guided by precedents. We use the principles established in past cases to guide the claims in current cases, where the facts are similar. The Windrush compensation has established the principle that the descendants of individuals who have died can be compensated for the wrongs suffered by their relatives.

When Britain paid compensation won in 2013 for Kenyan Mau Mau freedom fighters, that payout was to their survivors only, and hence, is not as valuable a precedent as the Windrush payout is to the reparation movement.

Our opponents have always sought to argue that all the victims of transatlantic chattel slavery are dead, and so is their claim for compensation. This position was joined with the limitation of actions law, which bars compensation for court action with the lapse of six years after the damage occurred. We have always maintained that chattel slavery, being a crime against humanity, ought not to be shackled by this legalistic defence. Finally, we now see where Britain itself has acknowledged the rightness of paying out, not only to the children of the deceased Windrush victims, but to their grandchildren as well.

CLAIM WILL NEVER DIE

My own grandfather was born in 1865. His father, my great-grandfather, was a slave boy in 1838 when slavery was abolished in Jamaica. Why should I be excluded from making a claim on his behalf?

They say slavery is long gone. Not so. We live and witness the remnants of its devastating toll on our people. Our mental and physical health, our persistent poverty, our massive international indebtedness, and high level of illiteracy and crime, are only a few components of the legacy of slavery.

The claim for reparation will never die. The scars of human suffering cannot be hidden. The Mexicans are now claiming from the Spanish. The Swiss have acknowledged their indirect role in the slave trade. The Germans have been made to compensate some Jewish and Roma holocaust victims. The aboriginal people of North America and Australia are rising up to make their respective claims.

The rush of wind moving the reparation tide cannot be tamed. Empirical evidence shining light on the unjust enrichment of the strong – and consequential abject poverty imposed on the weak – is available.

The wrongs of the past remain unaddressed and we should all join this movement for restorative justice for the descendants of those who suffered under the worst example of man’s cruelty to man, the transatlantic slave trade.

Bert S. Samuels is an attorney-at-law and member of the Reparation Council of Jamaica. Email feedback to bert.samuels@gmail.com and columns@gleanerjm.com.