By David Commissiong
As many Caribbean people may be aware, at the very pinnacle of the structure that our Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has established to pursue our CARICOM Reparations Campaign, is the CARICOM Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on Reparations – a Committee of six Prime Ministers. It is this entity that establishes the policy and oversees the work of the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) – the regional body that comprises the Chairpersons of the various National Reparations Committees that CARICOM countries have established.
Well, the good news on the CARICOM Reparations front is that on the 9th of February 2021 CARICOM’s Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on Reparations held its first meeting under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley of Barbados; refined and calibrated the focus and agenda of CARICOM’s Reparation Campaign; and – at the 25th of February 2021 meeting of our CARICOM Heads of Government – secured the unanimous approval of the region’s governments for the new Reparations work programme.
Central to the new focus and vision is the notion that CARICOM’s Reparations Campaign must actively reach out to the continent of Africa, and to Africa’s premier multilateral organization – the African Union (AU).
Needless to say, this is a natural and organic development for a Reparative Justice initiative that is focused on seeking reparations for injuries, damages and losses resulting from centuries of criminal enslavement in the Caribbean of the sons and daughters of Africa. Indeed, it is entirely appropriate, and even necessary, that the nations and governments of Africa – a continent that was ravaged and plundered of its people – should be partners with the Caribbean Community on this quest for long overdue reparative justice.
CARICOM/African Union Summit
Thus, it has been decided that the political leadership of CARICOM will engage with their African counterparts on this matter, and that the CARICOM Secretariat will examine the modalities for convening a CARICOM/African Union Summit on the issue of Reparations.
Such a Pan-African convocation would be extremely useful, in that it would establish the groundwork for a follow-up Summit between an AU/CARICOM combination and the Heads of Government of all European countries that were implicated in native genocide and African enslavement.
It should be noted that our CARICOM Heads of Government have always made it clear that their preferred approach to this issue of Reparations is to sit down around a negotiating table with the relevant governments of Europe to negotiate a package of developmental programmes, capital transfers and debt cancellations, that would deliver some semblance of long overdue justice to our people and nations. And that it is only if such a conciliatory approach is perversely rejected by the relevant European nations, that the option of international litigation will be pursued.
In light of the foregoing, we Caribbean people should be encouraged by the extent to which our CARICOM Reparations Campaign is shaping up to be an international “cause celebre”, similar in size, scope and power to the Anti-Apartheid movement of the 1970s and 80s. Many are the signs that point in this direction – from the establishment in 2014 of the National Reparations Commission of the United States of America; to the embracing of the Reparations issue by numerous US Congressmen, Senators and state governments; to the passing of pro-Reparations European Union (EU) Parliamentary Resolutions; to the unprecedented admissions of complicity and guilt by several European banks, Universities and insurance companies.
And so, it is not surprising that another integral component of the refined focus and vision adopted by the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee are measures that are designed to intensify the development of the CARICOM Reparations Campaign into a mass movement.
Increasing Public Awareness
Thus, both the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee and the Conference of Heads of Government have urged all CARICOM member states to ensure that their National Reparations Committees are in place and functioning effectively. They have also instructed that representatives of our Caribbean Youth and Creative Community be brought on board and actively utilized to increase public awareness of the Reparations cause. Furthermore, the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) has been mandated to increase its membership by including representatives of the Rastafari, indigenous people and youth, and to accord observer status to relevant non-independent Caribbean nations and civil society organizations.
Yet another major new development is the undertaking of technical work aimed at establishing an International Development Fund into which European institutions that were implicated in enslavement or that benefited from the ill-gotten gains – banks, insurance companies, families, universities, manufacturing companies – will be invited to commence making the reparations payments that are due.
The critical importance of this development becomes clear when one recognizes that in recent times a slew of European and North American institutions have acknowledged their complicity in slavery and their duty to pay reparations – the University of Glasgow, Lloyd’s of London, the Bank of England, Princeton Theological Seminary, Georgetown University, the Church of England and the list goes on. Indeed, our CARICOM Reparations Campaign was given a major boost in the year 2019, when the University of Glasgow entered into a £20 Million reparative justice programme with our University of the West Indies (UWI).
And so, the establishment of such a reparative “International Development Fund” would be an extremely timely and welcomed development!
The final new area of emphasis I would like to refer to is the decision taken by the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee to urge all CARICOM member states to make a concerted effort in the field of international diplomacy to advance and develop our Reparations cause.
Building International Support
It is therefore expected that CARICOM diplomats and Ambassadors will henceforth utilize all channels available within the United Nations (UN) system to build international support for our Reparations claim, and that they will – among other things – leverage synergies with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the United Nations International Decade For People of African Descent.
This new emphasis on international diplomacy and the Sustainable Development Goals speaks to a growing recognition that the world’s currently existing “International Economic and Political Order” has its roots in and grew out of the centuries of criminal enslavement of African people, and that it is a system in which the formerly enslaved and colonized nations and people – like those of the Caribbean – have been inserted in a structurally subordinate and exploitative manner.
And so, with the opening up of this new front in our CARICOM Reparations Campaign, we now have what I like to refer to as a four track approach to the holistic reparative healing that is our due. The four tracks – in my personal estimation – are as follows:-
* A targeting of the liable national governments of Europe for a “Development Compact” with our Caribbean nations, along the lines of our CARICOM Ten Point Plan For Reparatory Justice”;
* The establishing of an “International Development Fund” as a repository of reparation payments by European private sector businesses and institutions that were implicated in, or profited from, the crime of enslavement;
* The pursuit of a reparative restructuring of the currently existing International Economic and Political Order, its major institutions and practices; and
* Our very own inwardly directed programme of cultural, psychological and institutional self-repair and strengthening, as we address the lingering effects of centuries of trauma.
Our CARICOM Reparation Justice Initiative has therefore been repositioned, sharpened and refocussed; and our Heads of Government have given us all our marching orders!
Ambassador to Caricom,
[Barbados] Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade