SVG PM urges CARICOM to speed up reparation claims: Report

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves.
United Nations / Ryan Brown

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves has urged Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders to raise the issue of reparations for indigenous peoples and African slaves with their European counterparts as a priority, according to the New York-based Black group, Institute for Black World 21st Century (IBW21).

Gonsalves said if those conversations do not yield tangible results, then CARICOM leaders must explore all legal and political options available to them for redress, IBW21 said on Saturday.

“We have to have a conversation with the British, with the French in the case of Haiti, the Dutch, in the case of Suriname,” IBW21 quoted the Vincentian prime minister as saying in addressing the topic of reparations for native genocide and slavery at the Scarborough Library, Tobago.

“And if that conversation yields nothing tangible, if there is a breakdown, well then we have to use legal and political instruments on an ongoing basis,” he added at the 11th instalment in a year-long lecture series hosted by the Tobago Writers’ Guild and Tobago Library Services.

IBW21 said the series seeks to promote a literary arts culture on Trinidad’s sister island.

Gonsalves was among several Caribbean leaders who established the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) in 2013, with a mandate to formulate a case for reparatory justice for the region’s indigenous peoples and African descendants, IBW21 noted.

It said the CRC’s 10-point plan includes a formal apology for the crimes that were perpetrated against the two groups, psychological rehabilitation, illiteracy eradication, debt cancellation and an indigenous people’s development program.

A strong proponent for reparations, Gonsalves said if the European leaders do not address the issue in any meaningful way, the matter would be raised at the International Criminal Court within the framework of certain conventions, according to IBW21.

It said the prime minister singled out the convention for the elimination of racial discrimination, “which speaks to redress for the legacy of underdevelopment in the region, occasioned by native genocide and the enslavement of Africans.”

Gonsalves said CARICOM leaders could also apply political pressure or act on resolutions of the United Nations, its specialized agencies and other international bodies.

He said the issue must assume greater prominence, given that five years have already gone in the United Nations’ designation of 2015-2024 as the decade for people of African descent, according to IBW21.

“We have to accelerate the program to bring about a complaint to the International Court of Justice if serious discussions don’t bear fruit,” Gonsalves said, adding that, although the issue has been on CARICOM’s agenda, “we have dropped the ball.”

However, Gonsalves said he intends to “raise the issue again sharply” in February 2020 at the 31st Intersessional Meeting of Caribbean Heads of Government in Barbados, and later, in July, when he takes over from St. Lucia’s Prime Minister, Allen Chastanet as CARICOM chairman.

IBW21 said that Gonsalves, whose book, “The Case for Reparatory Justice,” addresses the subject, argued that reparations are about repairing the legacy of under-development in the region.

“It is not a question of checking the DNA of the indigenous people or of African peoples,” he said. “No, the societies in which we live are societies in which there is a legacy of underdevelopment, and that legacy is linked directly to native genocide and the enslavement of Africans.

“It is that legacy of underdevelopment which persists today, and we must address the question of repairing,” he urged.

Gonsalves said those who have profited from native genocide and the enslavement of Africans “must help us by an appropriate means of recompense” and in other ways, as articulated through CARICOM’s 10-point plan for repairing that legacy.

IBW21 said it is “committed to building the capacity of Black communities in the US to work for the social, political, economic and cultural upliftment, the development of the global Black community and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.”