This document was created in collaboration with Greens of Colour.
This article was compiled from questions asked by Green Party Members on Green Spaces in response to the proposal to establish an All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry for Truth and Reparatory Justice to commit the UK government to atone and make reparations to the descendants of enslaved African people, in accordance with international human rights law.
“I support this, but I don’t know how it would work practically”
The All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry for Truth and Reparatory Justice will be participatory in nature. It will call for submissions from all those with knowledge of the nature and impacts of enslavement and colonialism to provide testimony. As noted in the motion, this includes, but is not limited to: individuals, organisations, academics, communities and nations.
The Commission’s purpose is to inform the public of the nature of colonialism and slavery, as well as its long-term consequences, including present-day impacts upon both individuals, communities and the environment. At a practical level, it is the process of conducting this
Commission that is of the utmost importance. In order to be able to hear all voices on this matter, we need a mechanism (similar to the ‘Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals Act for African-Americans Act’, also known as HR401) that will act as a conduit for that conversation.
This process cannot be bypassed because there are so many different constituencies and communities of reparations interest that need to be heard. The Commission will provide the basis for affected communities and individuals to voice their own self-determined solutions in effecting reparatory justice. It will identify the steps needed to facilitate their participation in any reparatory process in which the United Kingdom is engaged going forwards.
“Are there any differences between this All-Party Commission and a South-African-styled Truth Commission?”
The outcomes of the South African Truth Commission and its focus on
reconciliation have not benefitted the Black South African population. It is important to learn from these failings in setting up a Commission of Inquiry. The inquiry will need to ensure that history and justice is served and that restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition are enacted. That means putting the voices and aims of communities of reparations interest at the centre of this process.
“Reparations would never work; they owe us too much”
There is a strong tendency in the UK (and elsewhere) to associate the word ‘reparation’ with economic compensation, as if this crime against humanity could be financially repaid and the ‘debt’ closed. When reparations are viewed solely through the lens of financial compensation, the conversation
tends to shut down before it’s even gets started.
To see reparations as money, or a ‘pay cheque,’ is a highly reductive and misleading interpretation that echoes the cold economics of the system of chattel enslavement itself. This reductive interpretation misrecognizes the
internationally agreed legal definition of reparations provided by the United Nations Framework on the ‘Right to a Remedy for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law’.
Reparation and reparative justice covers a whole swathe of existing and potential strategies, including:
- Litigation, legislation and other forms of transitional and social justice, such as affirmative action
- Educational and museal initiatives, or cultural projects in literature, art and music.
- Psychological and spiritual forms of internal and community repair
- Environmental efforts to reverse the devastating effects of extractivism in all its forms
- Official and political frameworks of recognition, such as commemorative ceremonies, memorialization, the pulling down of statues, public apologies and government-sponsored committees (to name but a few).
Reparations are not simply a long-overdue ‘pay cheque’, but a call for holistic repairs that seek to heal those within Black and African communities, guarantee the equal participation of all members of the human race (for example, through self-determination), eradicate the effects of African enslavement and the subsequent histories of colonialism and racial oppression, including its systems, and find ways to rebuild respectful and egalitarian relations between all communities through the recognition of responsibility for the wrong committed and the harm inflicted. This is what is ‘owed’.
“How much money do you think you will need?”
It is not possible to place a figure on how much money is needed at this early stage in the process. Certainly, it is important for private estates and public institutions, such as Britain’s universities, churches, insurance companies, businesses etc. to establish the facts of how they are linked to the profits of enslavement.
Awareness of that knowledge can be used to begin the essential work of engaging in conversations with communities of reparations interest about how best to address and redress the crimes of the past in a way that places the voices of the descendants of those who were enslaved at the centre of the conversation.
“You want more money to go into the hands of corrupt African leaders? What good is that going to do?”
The motion is calling for a Commission of Inquiry in the UK. It is not calling for money to be paid to African states or leaders. It should be noted that African states have already been involved in calls for reparation as part of the broader International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations (ISMAR).
Key dates include the 1993 Abuja Proclamation, sponsored by the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which represents the first transnational effort to call ‘upon the international community to recognize that there is a unique and unprecedented moral debt owed to the Afrikan peoples which has yet to be paid.’
This was followed up by the ‘Truth Commission Conference’ (1999), ‘Second African Reparations Conference’ (2000), and the ‘Create the Future! Transformation, Reparations, Repatriation, and Reconciliation’ conference (2006), all held in Accra. This work has been further consolidated through the preparatory meetings (1998–2001) held prior to the UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related
Intolerance (UNWCAR, 2001), such as the reports issued by the Regional Conference for Africa and the Africa and African Descendants Caucus that called for reparations.
The final Durban Declaration acknowledges, that ‘slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so,” and that “victims of human rights violations […have] the right to seek just and adequate reparation or satisfaction for any damage suffered.’
“Britain led the movement for the abolition of slavery”
While there is no doubt that certain sections and individuals within British society actively participated in, and helped to bring about, abolition, the prevalence of this historical narrative overlooks the fact many sectors and individuals also actively resisted its end, not least of which was Britain’s former Prime Minister William Gladstone. To forget this side of history is forget that Britain is responsible for having participated in the enslavement of African peoples for over 270 years.
Moreover, while slavery officially ended with the 1833 Abolition Act, men like Gladstone argued for the need for the enslavers to be financially compensated, leading to the passing of the 1837 Slave Compensation Act, which allowed the enslavers (rather than those who were formerly
enslaved) to receive a total of £20 million in compensation. That debt was not fully repaid by British taxpayers until 2015, allowing the bulk of the wealth of the European-led trans-Atlantic trafficking of enslaved Afrikans (TTEA) to remain in the hands of powerful elites and their institutions in both the former colonies and in the UK.
“Slavery happened years ago. It’s time to move on”
To say that people have ‘moved on’ is to ignore the fact that crimes against humanity continued under British rule under different names and guises all the way into the present day, whether that’s through racial discrimination of minoritized peoples, resource extraction, environmental degradation, or the imposition of capitalist systems that ensure that the common wealth remains in the hands of the few etc.
These crimes have their origins in the TTEA and chattel enslavement. The desire to ‘move on’ or ‘turn the page’ is a call to ignore the fact that the capitalist economic structures that in place today are rooted in the crimes of the past and continue to serve today’s economic elite.
“Britain has been paying aid for so long to African countries. Why do you think you deserve more?”
Development aid is not the same as a holistic process of reparative justice.
Historically, development aid has been associated with a series of conditions that promote a particular political and economic agenda that is favourable to the global north and detrimental to the global south. For example, official development aid (ODA) has historically been tied into World Bank-inspired structural adjustment programmes, meaning that
countries have had to privatize their state-run companies, whether they liked it or not, in order to qualify for aid.
Moreover, aid functions as a financial sticking plaster on economic
structural inequalities that warrant a far deeper engagement with the reasons behind it, not least of which are linked to the histories of slavery and colonialism.
“What’s wrong with the terms ‘slave’ and ‘slave trade’?”
There is an urgent need to refine the language that we use to speak of, and think through, the past. The word ‘trade’ sanitizes and misrepresents the historical reality of the trans-Atlantic trafficking of enslaved Afrikans (TTEA). It implies the existence of a peacefully agreed two-way exchange of equal ‘goods.’
Not only does this abstract the human who lies at the centre of this crime, but it also glosses over the criminality, violence and terror of an act that must be described with greater accuracy as that of European-led, organised human trafficking rooted in warfare. The noun ‘slave’ is a passive term that obliterates the history of resistance within enslaved communities to their forced enslavement and fails to mark all individuals concerned as
Those who were captured and enslaved against their will had families and identities linked to their land, held social positions within their communities and were skilled in all areas of life. By using the terms TTEA (or trafficking) and defining people as being enslaved, the crime is recognized alongside the personhood and agency of those who were subject to these crimes.
“Why is Afrika spelt with a ‘k’?”
Many or most vernacular or traditional languages on the continent of Afrika use the letter ‘K’. This was changed with the arrival of Europeans who substituted the ‘K’ for a ‘C’. Today, the use of the letter ‘K’ signifies Afrikan unity and the constituting of a shared political language.
“Are there any links between reparations for the TTEA and ‘modern-day’ slavery?”
The same systems that permitted the perpetration and perpetuation of the TTEA exist today and can be seen in the fact that over 40 million people are estimated to living in some form of slavery.
We have specific laws relating to slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour (notably the Modern Slavery Act, 2015), which need to be enforced at national and international levels.
The Green Party is a party that prides itself on equality and we should be part of the process of repairing the injustices of the past, ensuring that these are never repeated again.
“I don’t believe that I am responsible for the sins of my fathers, but I do want to do better in the future”
What are the links between past and present forms of oppression and our
current oppression of future generations? What is our shared responsibility to the past, present and future? Broadly speaking, the Global North is more responsible than the Global South for historic forms of oppression that continue to play a foundational role in shaping global relations and geopolitics today.
Britain would not be the global power that it is today were it not for the leading role that it played in the TTEA. There is a large volume of scholarship and advocacy that details the links between past and present forms of enslavement, colonial and neo-colonial oppression.
Examples include the inequities of capitalism on which our current economic system is based, the continuation of climate injustice and ecocide, the existence of different forms of intergenerational trauma, the never-ending cycle of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and Afriphobia, and the processes of land dispossession and theft, notably from Indigenous and First Nation peoples.
These links between past, present and future are captured by the term
Maangamizi; a Kiswahili term that refers to the Afrikan Holocaust, or Hellacaust, and its links to chattel enslavement, colonialism and neo-colonialism. It is only by understanding how these historical roots continue to shape the present that we can build a future in which we are working jointly across communities of reparations interest to repair the psychological, socio-economic, structural and environmental damage caused.
“What sort of structural changes are required, especially from institutions that have gained from colonial and neo-colonial plunder?”
From National Trust properties all the way through to some of the world’s largest institutions, such as the IMF and the World Bank, we are witnessing a lot of questioning about the need for decolonization and reparation. To do
justice to such a broad topic, a proper study or inquiry is urgently needed through which to identify fully the impacts of this plunder on peoples, nations and the environment.
“Who are our allies in this fight for reparations? What can they/we do to help?”
There are many allies and groups who are supporting and advocating for reparations, such as the Bristol Radical History Group, the International Network of Scholars and Activists for Afrikan Reparations (INOSAAR), and Extinction Rebellion and its Internationalist Solidarity Network.
These groups are actively involved in processes to decolonize the communities, institutions and organizations in which they operate. There are also many more potential allies including those who identify as working classes and are linked to the poorest sectors of society.
A key part of ‘helping’ is about education, starting with the self, and linking into existing advocacy networks. There are multiple books that help to explain, for example, the concept of white privilege and white fragility, or the workings of systemic racism today and its links to slavery and colonialism.
Developing literacy on these issues is key. It is also important to find out what is being done, what can be done and who you can connect to at
a local level and within your immediate communities.