UK Minister Continues to Ignore the Crimes of Slavery

(A joint statement from the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) and the Centre for Reparation Research (CRR)

June 26, 2018

In a recent column published in the Jamaica Observer newspaper, UK Minister Lord Tariq Ahmad, said it was his honour, as minister of state for the Caribbean and the Commonwealth, “to join in celebrating the achievements of the Windrush generation, the role they play in UK-Caribbean relations and in making our country the incredible place it is.”
“The 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in the UK gives us a fitting opportunity to celebrate UK-Caribbean relations,” he added.
The Minister correctly stated that the British-Caribbean community has been integral to creating a Britain that is fairer, more tolerant and more at ease with itself in a changing world.

“An important part of Britain’s contemporary diversity can be credited to those first men, women and children who made the one-month journey from the Caribbean and disembarked at Tilbury Docks on June 22, 1948,” he said.

Back in Nov. 2017, the same Lord Ahmad dismissed the growing demands for reparation from Britain for its crimes during the slavery period saying, “it would be better for Jamaica not to look back in history, but to help chart an even richer association between Britain and Jamaica.”

While we commend him for “looking back” and reflecting on the past 70 years of British history and for celebrating the many contributions that the Windrush generation and their progeny have, and continue to make to British society, we urge him and his government to pay the same attention to the history of Jamaica and the Caribbean under the brutal rule of the British slave-owning families who had kidnapped millions of Africans from their homelands and transported their human “property” in chains to later labour without any compensation on their Caribbean plantations.

At the time of emancipation in 1833, the British government paid 20 million pounds in compensation to the plantation owners, including the family of former Tory Prime Minister David Cameron, and not a single penny to the freed slaves. And then to rub salt into the wound, the British government established the so-called Apprenticeship System in 1834 that for years after Emancipation forced the freed slaves to labour in this exploitative indentureship scheme that yielded some 27 million pounds on the backs of the freed slaves, thus further compounding the injustices meted out to them.

The UK government has rightfully apologised for the harm done to the Windrush Generation as a consequence of racism, bigotry and discrimination and we applaud them for this principled position. And, in issuing such an apology, the UK government accepted responsibility, and promised to repair the harm done by way of compensation.
Back in November, Minister Ahmad had said that for the CARICOM nations to press a claim for reparation would be “a mistake of massive proportions.” The people of the Caribbean and its Diaspora beg to differ. Indeed, the mistake would be for the UK to continue to ignore its own history and to dissuade the growing support in the Caribbean and around the world for reparatory justice.

Britain also has a moral and legal responsibility to apologise to the people of the Caribbean who are descendants of enslaved Africans for the 250 years of bondage imposed on their ancestors. Instead of ignoring the history of Britain’s involvement in the Atlantic slave trade, which the UN has described as “a crime against humanity,” integrity, decency and honesty demand that the UK partner with CARICOM leaders to repair the living legacies of slavery and colonialism that continue to bedevil the region and hamper its development.
Human rights attorneys across the globe are in agreement that justice requires that reparation be made to countries that have suffered the ravages of colonialism before that country is expected to face up to the problems and difficulties that will inevitably beset it upon independence.

There is a consensus among international lawyers that an administering power, e.g Britain, is not entitled to extract for centuries all that can be gotten out of a colony and when that has been done to relieve itself of its obligations to help develop the former colony that it had plundered. By arrogantly dismissing the demands for reparatory justice, Britain continues to flaunt its historical and moral obligations to the Caribbean.

Just a couple months after the minister admonished CARICOM to abandon its quest for reparations, on February 9 came the startling revelation from Her Majesty’s Treasury that the British government had finally repaid the loan of £20 million (17 billion in today’s money) that it had borrowed at the time of emancipation in 1833 to compensate the enslavers for “loss of their property.”

Adding insult to injury was the shocking realization that the same Windrush Generation, through their taxes, had contributed to the repayment of this loan. The British Government should be ashamed of itself.

Until the UK sheds its hubris and its stubborn resistance to reparatory justice, reparations advocacy and activism in Jamaica and across the Caribbean will continue to grow because, as the late Dudley Thompson, one of our great champions for reparations, said on many occasions “the debt has not been paid, the accounts have not been settled.”
The best way for Britain to demonstrate its sincerity in celebrating the sterling contributions of the Windrush Generation is for the UK to make amends for its past misdeeds towards that generation and to begin negotiating with CARICOM leaders on ways and means of implementing the action agenda put forward by the CARICOM Reparations Commission.

Don Rojas,

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