The Conversation On Reparation

Sir Hilary Beckles, Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Reparations Committee presented a model for reparations at Oxford University, England on January 26, 2016.

He met at the House of Commons with political leaders and civil society organisations to discuss CARICOM’s call for reparatory justice for African enslavement and native genocide.  This meeting was a follow-up to Sir Hilary’s visit to England in July 2014 where he addressed the British Parliament.

Professor Beckles stated that reparatory justice is not a backward call for handouts as many believe. He noted, “On the contrary, it is a renewed call for development cooperation between Britain and the Caribbean. It is about Britain making a long overdue contribution to the economic development of the Caribbean through investments in areas such as education, health care, agriculture reform, technology and science to transfer through the universities and colleges. It concerns debt abandonments since the governments of the Caribbean have used up their scare resources desperately trying to clean up the colonial mess Britain left behind, such as rampant illiteracy, poor health care, horrible housing, and backward attitudes to development. Britain abandoned its financial obligation, and the Caribbean citizens and governments had done very well with self responsibility, but the time has come for Britain to honour its legal and moral obligation to the Caribbean. Every finance minister in the Caribbean should stand with the reparations movement and jointly call upon Britain to facilitate economic development and recovery since as PM Cameron said, the Caribbean has been neglected for 30 years after 300 years of wealth extraction."

During the lecture which was hosted by Professor Louise Richardson - Oxford’s new Vice-Chancellor - Sir Hilary suggested that Britain should establish a facility like the Jewish Reparation Fund which drives Israeli development works projects.  He said a CARICOM Reparation Fund could receive reparations for development purposes and fund projects for the people of the Caribbean. 

Professor Beckles’ “10-point action plan” called for an apology, repatriation, an indigenous people’s programme, cultural institutions, programmes designed to improve public health, literacy and African knowledge; psychological rehabilitation and technology upgrading programmes and debt cancellation.

He said that Britain had a responsibility to the citizens of the Caribbean to right the wrongs of slavery by paying reparation.  “It is a vital step in the racial and political healing process”, he declared.

Noting that “Blacks are the only people who have received no reparations for crimes of slavery”, Sir Hilary said urgent action was required to repair damage facing the region such as the debt crisis, poor health and literacy ratios, institutional poverty, food insecurity, unemployment and more.

In its invitation letter to Sir Hilary, the university said, “There is a need for a more serious discussion about reparations and curriculum diversity at Oxford”. Last year, Oxford held a joint summit where University staff and members of the student union and the student-led Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality discussed issues raised by students and agreed on a set of concrete steps, including substantial work to review its curriculum in several subject areas with an eye to ethnicity and diversity, working in consultation with minority ethnic students. Meanwhile, a group of scholar/activists in Britain is mobilizing their peers to sign a statement calling on PM Cameron to launch a Commission of Inquiry into the Histories and Legacies of British Colonialism and the British Empire. 

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