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Genocide in African slavery

Sir Hilary calls for reparatory justice
Published: 
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Professor Sir Hilary Beckles

The government of Great Britain and other European states that became rich from the enslavement of African people, the genocide of indigenous communities and the deceptive breach of contract and trust in respect of Indians and other Asians brought to the plantations under indenture, have a case to answer in respect of reparatory justice. 

This was the position of Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, chairman of the Caricom Repatriations Commission, in an address he delivered at Britain’s House of Commons on July 16. 

Beckles, wasting little time and mincing no words, made the statement right at the start of his speech. 

“The case of genocide is not only in respect of our decimated native community. It is also important to recognise the genocidal aspect of chattel slavery in the Caribbean, said Beckles. 

“British slave ships brought 5.5 million enslaved Africans into their Caribbean colonies over 180 years. 

“When slavery was abolished in 1838 there were 800,000 people remaining. That is a retention/survival rate of 15 per cent. 

“The regime of enslavement was crafted by policies and attitudes that were clearly genocidal.” 

Beckles told members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons he was aware it was the same British Parliament that prepared the official political basis of the crimes that defined the colonial past. 

“It is here, in this House, that the evil system of slavery and genocide was established. 

“This House passed laws, framed fiscal policies and enforced the crimes that produced harmful legacies and persistent suffering now in need of repair. 

“It is in here, we now imagine, that laws for reparatory justice can be conceptualised and implemented. 

“It is in here, we believe, the terrible wrongs of the past can be corrected.” 

Beckles said he left the Caribbean for Britain as a young child and was raised and educated there and it was his second home. 

Slavery replaced by apartheid 

He said slavery ended in 1838 only to be replaced by a century of racial apartheid, including the denigration of Asian people. 

“Indigenous genocide, African chattel slavery and genocide and Asian contract slavery were three acts of a single play, a single process by which the British state forcefully extracted wealth from the Caribbean resulting in its persistent, endemic poverty. 

He said the British Parliament, after the 1833 Act of Emancipation, betrayed enslaved people by making them pay more than 50 per cent of the cost of their own freedom through the apprenticeship system. 

Beckles said the British in 1833 determined that the 800,000 people in the Caribbean were worth, as chattel property, £47 million and wanted slave owners to receive just and fair compensation for taking away their property. 

He also tackled the British Government’s argument that slavery and other crimes were legal and took place a long time ago and were beyond the border of adjudication. 

Tracing the contemporary link with slavery, Beckles said the Earl of Harewood sat in the House of Lords and his grandfather laboured on his sugar plantation in Barbados, as did his fathers and forefathers going back to slavery. 

“Does the goodly Lord know that as a child I took lunch for my grandfather into the canefields of his sugar plantation?” 

Beckles said the grandfather of actor Bededict Cumberbatch owned the estate on which his great grandmother, Adriana Cumberbatch, worked all her adult life. 

He said his case is one of tens of thousands and their history is pressing on their daily matters. 

He said the people of the Caribbean were not beggars and did not want charity and hand-outs, but reparatory justice. 

The legacy of rubble and ruin, persistent poverty and racialised relations and reasoning continue to cripple best efforts, he said. 

Caricom had a Ten Point Plan for Reparatory Justice, which included educational and health initiatives for Caribbean countries, Beckles said. 

“Britain and its Parliament cannot morally and legally turn their back on this past and walk away from the mess they have left behind.”

Slavery in the Caribbean

The development of agriculture in the Caribbean required a large workforce of manual labourers, which the Europeans found by taking advantage of the slave trade in Africa. 

The Atlantic slave trade brought African slaves to British, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Spanish colonies in the Americas, including the Caribbean. Slaves were brought to the Caribbean from the early 16th century until the end of the 19th century. The majority of slaves were brought to Caribbean colonies between 1701 and 1810. 

The importation of slaves to the colonies was outlawed years before the end of the institution of slavery itself. It was well into the 19th century before many slaves in the Caribbean were legally free. The trade in slaves was abolished in the British Empire through the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807. 

Men, women and children who were already enslaved in the British Empire remained slaves, however, until Britain passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. When the Slavery Abolition Act came into force in 1834, roughly 700,000 slaves in the British West Indies immediately became free, other enslaved workers were freed several years later after a period of forced apprenticeship. (Wikipedia)