26 February 2014
Caricom seeks reparation from former slave-owning nations, but faces resistance by the UK
On 24 February 2014 the members of the Caribbean’s political and economic body Caricom met in order to discuss their campaign for reparation by former slave-owning nations in Europe – principally the UK, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The claim is channelled through the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which can be employed as a forum for negotiation according to Caricom. If no agreement is concluded, however, the Caribbean leaders will take their claim to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The Swedish ambassador to the Caribbean already stated that Sweden would ‘look at the claim when we receive it’ and promised ‘to have respect for the process.’ The UK, however, only accepts jurisdiction of the ICJ in relation to disputes arising since 1974 that do not involve Commonwealth or former Commonwealth countries. Martyn Day, the lawyer leading Caricom’s claim, stated that these restrictions do not apply, since the race discrimination resulting from the past slave trade still exists today and that the UK’s reservation about Commonwealth countries does not have ‘any bearing on the dispute mechanism under the CERD convention.’ Furthermore, he said that ‘[a]s one of the prime beneficiaries [of the slave trade in the 18th century], the UK has a responsibility for getting rid of the repercussions of slavery. The legacy of the era has left the people of the Caribbean with [a sense of] being second class citizens in the world.’ A UK Foreign Office Spokesman stated in response that ‘[w]e regret and condemn the iniquities of the historic slave trade, but these shameful activities belong to the past. Governments today cannot take responsibility for what happened over 200 years ago.’