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Wednesday 24 July 2019
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List of countries for reparations expanded

THE Caricom Reparations Commission has expanded the list of countries to be targeted for reparations, a release from the commission said.

The commission’s chair, Prof Verene Shepherd, made the announcement at a press conference on June 10 at the regional headquarters at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.

The commission, the release also said, was "in the process of preparing a new round of letters of demand to be presented to additional countries identified as participants in the trafficking of enslaved Africans to the Caribbean.”

In 2013 Caribbean heads of government established the commission with a mandate to “prepare the case for reparatory justice for the region’s indigenous and African descendant communities who are the victims of Crimes against Humanity (CAH) in the forms of genocide, slavery, slave trading, and racial apartheid,” the commission’s website says.

It has outlined a ten-point action plan which includes a full formal apology, a repatriation programme, an indigenous people’s development programme, the development of cultural institutions among others.

The conference also shared with the region the findings from the 2018 slave voyages database created by Prof David Eltis and his team of researchers.

The database 2.0, the release said, was created in 1999, updated in 2008 and 2018 and showed that “1,000 additional voyages undertaken by slavers from European states that were participants in one form or another in the trade in Africans to Caricom member states, Cuba and/or slavery.”

It said the less publicised names were Sweden, Switzerland, Russia, Norway Hanse Towns Brandenburg and the Duchy of Courland (Latvia).

The slave voyages database brings together the work of scholars over four decades and across five continents to “track the movements of ships, their countries of origin and the numbers of people who were forcibly taken halfway across the world to the Caribbean,” it added.

Dr Ahmed Reid, City University of New York (CUNY) historian and chair of the UN working group of experts, introduced the 2018 findings at the conference highlighting details, it said, of the over 36,000 voyages between Africa and the Americas as well as information on 11,400 voyages between the countries of the Caribbean and the Americas.

Reid’s presentation at the conference identified Kingston, Jamaica, as a “major transshipment port in the 19th century” for trafficking enslaved Africans to the Spanish Caribbean. The release said this reinforces that trafficking was a global enterprise.

His presentation also identified the major players and their percentage participation in the transatlantic slave trade. It gave the total number of Africans who were captured and transported – numbering some 12.5 million and the mortality rate which, the release quoted Reid as saying, was an average of 14 per cent.

The expanded database, it added, also included the names of over 92,000 trafficked Africans, identifying them not only by sex but also by ages that ranged from a year to as old as 77.

The release said Shepherd reiterated that “these names not only represent a digital memorial to the lives of the enslaved but personalise the crime against humanity.”

Russia, the release said, was among the “less well-known countries” highlighted in his presentation.

“The records show an 1838 voyage by the vessel Goliubchick, flying the Russian flag, departing the port of Odessa and landing in Matanzas, Cuba that same year with a cargo of 306 Africans who had survived the voyage from the original 340 who boarded,” it said.

The release said Aleksel Alexeevich Sazonov, head of the consular section of the Jamaican Russian embassy, defended his country and, in a statement, “questioned the completeness of the research and suggested that a vessel flying a country’s flag did not necessarily imply that the vessel actually originated in that country.”

Shepherd, it said, earlier observed that as the database becomes more widely known, countries implicated will be engaged in denial and cautioned against too quick a denial, as the Slave Voyages Database is an active research project.

Shepherd, questioned about the commission’s next move and how the findings will be used, was quoted as saying it not only strengthens’ Caricom’s campaign against “involved and complicit states” but also holds them accountable.

Shepherd, the release added, said it makes those states “aware of their responsibility in ways they would never before have confronted.”

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