October 21, 2020

Simmonds ignorant about the form and impact of British colonialism in Jamaica


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Mark Simmonds new By Earl Moxam From RJR News

British minister’s comments on reparations for slavery dismissed by Jamaican academic

One of the first responses from a British official to a renewed push for reparations for slavery has not gone over well with a leading Caribbean proponent of the reparations initiative.

Mark Simmonds, UK Minister for Africa, the Overseas Territories, the Caribbean and International Energy, responding to questions in Jamaica this week on the issue, dismissed the notion of financial compensation for his country’s involvement in slavery in the Caribbean for centuries, ending in the 1830s.

“Do I think that we are in a position where we can financially to offer compensation for events that happened two, three, four hundred years ago? No I don’t” he asserted.

Modern slavery

While acknowledging that “clearly slavery was abhorrent” Simmonds wants the world to focus, not on the past, but on eradicating the practice where it still exists in the 21st century.

“The UK lobbied very hard for the United Nations to set up a special rapateur as it relates to slavery and we’re keen to work together with a1383938058S_IN_THE_WEST_IDNIESll governments, wherever they are to eradicate this particular aspect” he added.

Simmonds who was in Jamaica to drum up new social and economic ties between his country and its former colony, wants all parties “to focus on where our commonalities agree and I think that is eradicating slavery as it exists today, also building on the importance of driving the economy and economic development and economic growth.”

Shepherd unimpressed

This suggested approach did not impress Professor Verene Shepherd, Chair of Jamaica’s National Commission on Reparations.

“First of all, the Minister (Simmonds) is clearly ignorant about the form and impact of British colonialism in Jamaica, or he is displaying a willed ignorance” she said, when asked for a response.

Shepherd, Professor of Social History at the University of the West Indies (Mona), affirmed that “the transatlantic trade in African captives and African enslavement were crimes against humanity; in international law, there is no statute of limitation on a crime against humanity.”

She said “using the excuse that these crimes happened too long ago to have contemporary relevance cannot stand in international law. Those who believe in social justice will continue to keep the issue alive. The royal family and others benefitted from the profits of slavery, so they have a responsibility to pay reparation.”

The sentiments expressed by Mark Simmonds in Jamaica, she said, constituted “simply trotting out the old script handed to all civil servants, government ministers and High Commissioners sent down to Jamaica. That script was crafted by the Tony Blair administration in 2007 and it continues to be used in 2013.”

While agreeing that “modern day slavery” must be condemned and eradicated, she insisted that the British must be reminded of “their historic sins and their obligation to make amends.”

Regional approach

In September 2013 the reparations movements from all Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states were brought together under one umbrella, a Caribbean Reparations Commission, chaired by the Barbadian academic, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles. Its stated aim is to advance the region’s claim for compensation for the injustices suffered as a result of the slave trade during centuries of European colonization of the Caribbean.

Since then the Caribbean nations have initiated legal action against  the governments of the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands for reparations, in keeping with the objectives set out at the time of the setting up of the Caribbean Reparations Commission in St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

Gonsalves at the UN

In his address at the United Nations General Assembly in September, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, gave the issue prominence, insisting that the European nations must pay compensation.

“The awful legacy of these crimes against humanity – a legacy which exists today in our Caribbean – ought to be repaired for the developmental benefit of our Caribbean societies and all our peoples,” Gonsalves said.

It is expected that the European nations being targeted would be brought to the International Court of Justice, a body of the UN, based in The Hague in the Netherlands.

The UK based law firm, Leigh Day, which won compensation for hundreds of Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 1960s, has been hired by the Caribbean governments to initiate this action on their behalf.

“All people of conscience know that what the British and the Spanish did to Africans and Jamaicans was evil and sinful. The least they could do is apologise, vow never to repeat it and pay compensation. They left the Caribbean in a mess and dare to ignore that fact” Shepherd told RJR News.

Compensation package

Estimates of the money that could be owed to the Caribbean in 2013 run as high 7.5 trillion pounds, three trillion of which Shepherd says is owed to Jamaica.

Acknowledging that this might be unaffordable, she is suggesting reparation could be a part of the development package that the Minister (Simmonds) spoke about during his Jamaica trip.

“Helping Jamaica to develop and be placed on a more sustainable economic path can be part of a negotiated settlement. No amount of money can compensate for their wickedness to our ancestors, but they can find ways to repair our societies through infrastructural development and fiancé repatriation.”

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