Thu | Nov 30, 2023

Letter of the Day | Why Britain excluded us from repeal of Slavery Abolition Act?

Published:Monday | March 21, 2022 | 12:06 AM


The National Council on Reparation, an advisory body set up by the Government of Jamaica, in its continuing research into our enslavement stumbled upon the repeal of the Slavery Abolition act of 1833. This Act was repealed in England in its entirety under the Statute Law (Repeals) act 1998.

We are guided by the convention that where an act is to be introduced, or for that matter repealed, the main stakeholders ought to be duly notified and invited to make their contribution. In this instance, we, Jamaica, being part of the former British Territories in the Caribbean whose foreparents fought hard and gave their lives to attain the abolition of slavery, were not notified.

Legal opinion suggests that where an act of Parliament is repealed, one consequently reverts to the pre-law position. It could be argued with some force that the repeal of the Slavery Abolition Act resulted in slavery being legal again. This frightening fallout of its repeal is most unsettling and traumatic to us who are striving to recover from the ills of our centuries of enslavement, without any compensation to us from the British government to date. Our position is aggravated by the fact that that very act provided – passed in the same British parliament – compensation for the planters. The British government spent £20 million, 40 per cent of its budget in 1833, to buy freedom for the enslaved. That’s equivalent to approximately £20 billion today, making it one of the biggest-ever government bailouts. This huge payout to the planters was only paid off in 2015.

Let us hasten to say that it is not the underlying rationale or purpose that the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1998 served Britain, which is the issue here. The real issue for people in the Caribbean is that we were entirely excluded from the process. The far-reaching implications of any adjustment or repealing of an act which concerns the restoration of our dignity, humanity and freedom must be underscored.

In 1831, Samuel Sharpe was tried and hanged because he dared to fight on the side of freedom and justice to abolish the crime of chattel slavery our people endured for over three centuries. The Abolition Act of 1833 brought an end to our 300-year holocaust. As a consequence, Samuel Sharpe was declared a national hero in Jamaica. We accept that it was his struggle which contributed to the passage of the Abolition Act two years after his execution. This sad history makes the Slavery Abolition Act one which is close and dear to the hearts of our people more than any other law passed in the British parliament.

We now ask in the spirit of reconciliation that Britain offer an apology to the people of the Caribbean for omitting to involve us in the repeal of the Abolition Act of 1833, for reasons stated above.

Let our ancestors be pleased!