Ever since slavery was abolished in the Caribbean in the 1830s and in the broader Americas in the 1860s and 1880s, the victims of slavery and their progeny have been struggling for justice to repair the damages wrought by this most horrific of crimes against humanity.
This struggle has ebbed and flowed over the decades of the 19 th and 20 th centuries but has always been consistent in the demands for restitution and recompense for the crimes of chattel slavery in the Western Hemisphere. Reparations has been part and parcel of other liberation movements over the years i.e. the anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, Pan-Africanist, civil rights and human rights movements in the Caribbean, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean especially during the decades from the 1930s through the 1990s.
The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) a mass-based coalition organized for the sole purpose of obtaining reparations for African descendants in the United States was launched in September, 1987.
N’COBRA defines reparations as a process of repairing, healing and restoring a people injured because of their group identity and in violation of their fundamental human rights by governments or corporations. Those groups that have been injured have the right to obtain from the government or corporation responsible for the injuries that which they need to repair and heal themselves. In addition to being a demand for justice, they argue that reparations is a principle of international human rights law.
In January 1989, US Congressman John Conyers of Detroit, the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and the longest-serving member of the entire US Congress, introduced H.R. 40, a bill that calls for the establishment of a Commission to study the need for reparations for the descendants of slaves in the USA. And, every year since 1989, Cong. Conyers has re-introduced his H.R. 40 bill in Congress.
This landmark piece of legislation represented a crucial milestone in the long struggle for reparatory justice in the America.
In 2001 at the UN’s World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, the demands for reparations featured prominently in the discussions and debates at this global forum.
Since the launch of the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) in July, 2013, the global movement for reparatory justice has been re-energised and over the past three years the CRC has inspired the formation of the National African American Reparations Commission, the European Reparations Commission and similar formations in Canada and Great Britain.
In April, 2015, hundreds of reparations advocates from some 22 countries, including representatives from the CARICOM Reparations Commission, assembled in New York City for an International Reparations Conference organized by the US-based Institute of the Black World 21 st Century.
Since then, conversations and debates about reparations and reparatory justice have intensified across the world. Scholars and journalists in the USA, Europe and the Caribbean are now publishing more books and essays on these subjects than ever before.
Recent public opinion polls in the USA have indicated a substantial increase in the percentages of African Americans and young white Americans who now support the call for reparations.
The State Legislature of Illinois recently passed a unanimous resolution calling on US President Barack Obama to use his executive authority to commission a study to detail the “economic impact” of enslavement and the failure of the nation to create a system that guaranteed equality to newly freed African descendants upon emancipation. In addition, the study would look at how others who received reparations in America have benefited from them and offer reparation proposals that address the legacy of enslavement among current African descendants in the areas of “education, employment, housing health care and justice.”
And, in the wake of the national conventions of both the Republican and Democratic Parties in the USA, a broad coalition associated with the Black Lives Matter movement released a platform of its own, demanding reparations and an “end to the wars against Black people.” The list of demands from the Movement for Black Lives platform also includes the abolition of the death penalty, legislation to recognize the impacts of slavery, as well as investments in education initiatives, mental health services and employment programs.
The Reparations idea is resonating beyond the boundaries of the Caribbean and the United States. In early 2016, the prime minister of India said his country needs to examine seriously a claim for reparations for the suffering inflicted on the people of India from decades of British colonial rule prior to independence. The indigenous peoples of Australia and New Zealand are also voicing reparations demands, as are the large communities of African descent in Brazil and Colombia in Latin America.
By all objective indications, the global movement for reparations has turned a corner and will continue to strengthen and expand in the years ahead. And, the Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission Prof. Sir Hilary Beckles has predicted that the movement for reparatory justice will become the greatest political and historical justice movement of the 21 st Century.