Reparations are about self-renewal

Dear Editor,

 

Easter is a time of reflection, rebirth and renewal. Hope springs eternal.

Such is the essence of reparations. And reparations are about self-restoral and self-renewal. Individual and collective self-renewal.

The usual first response to the word ‘reparations’ seems to be a focus on money. This is unfortunate. Let us listen to the great Nigerian Professor Chinweizu, who in his famous paper presented at the Abuja Conference ‘Reparations and New Global Order: A Comparative Overview’ defined reparations in this way:

“Let me begin by noting that reparation is not just about money; it is not even mostly about money; in fact, money is not even one per cent of what reparation is about. Reparation is mostly about making repairs. Self-made repairs, on ourselves: mental repairs, psychological repairs, cultural repairs, organisational repairs, social repairs, institutional repairs, technological repairs, economic repairs, political repairs, educational repairs, repairs of every type that we need in order to recreate and [have] sustainable societies.”

For Guyana, and especially at Easter, we owe it to ourselves to reflect on our historical legacies. We owe it to our children to understand the legacy of divide-and-rule/divide and conquer that we have inherited. The colonial rulers put Amerindian versus African; Indian versus African and Amerindian versus Indian.

At Easter, we should reflect on why our nation still suffers from this indoctrination and understand it is a strategy that allows a few to get rich at the expense of the masses. It’s a legacy that will never allow us to be ‘One People, One Nation, One Destiny.’

Guyana and the Caribbean can use the reparations process to heal. To rebirth themselves. As such, Caricom has been very careful in its definition of ‘reparation.’ For Caricom

“Reparation is the process of repairing the consequences of crimes committed, and the attempt to reasonably remove debilitating effects of such crimes upon victims and their descendants. International law provides that the economic and social system referred to as chattel slavery – the legal denial of persons’ rights to human identity and the control over their bodies – was and is a crime against humanity subject to reparatory justice.

Reparation seeks reconciliation between victims and beneficiaries. As such it is non-confrontational and conciliatory. Reparation seeks to restore equity in social relations, equality before the law, and justice within the fabric of human diversity that typifies humanity. Reparation seeks to heal, atone, and bring closure to the human tragedy of mass slavery. It seeks, finally, to restore a higher moral order by removing the shame and guilt that persistently poison the relations between descendants on all sides of the crime.

The legal process of Reparation demands of perpetrators and beneficiaries the following:

 

(1) An apology, rather than a statement of regret that expresses no responsibility for the suffering of victims

(2) Admission of wrongdoing

(3) Commitment to reasonable reparatory actions

(4) Commitment to non-repetition

Reparations are about ‘justice’ and it is not a new phenomenon.

In Europe, after WWI, the victors demanded reparations from Germany for all damage to civilians and their dependents, for losses caused by the maltreatment of prisoners of war, and for all non-military property that was destroyed in the war. After WWII, reparations claims against Germany were filed. Reparations were also levied on Italy and Finland. The items for which these claims were made included bodily loss, loss of liberty, loss of property, injury to professional careers, dislocation and forced emigration time spent in concentration camps because of racial, religious and political persecution. Others were the social cost of war, as represented by the burden from loss of life, social disorder, and institutional disorder; and the economic cost of war, as represented by the capital destroyed and the value of civilian goods and services foregone to make war goods.

So as Guyanese all around the World participate in Easter activities – Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday – we should remember the words of Frantz Fanon who argued reparations are about creating a new order of human behaviour, one that endorses our motto of ‘One People, One Nation, One Destiny.’

Fanon stated: “Let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies which draw their inspiration from her. Humanity is waiting for something other from us than such an imitation, which would be almost an obscene caricature. If we want to turn Africa into a new Europe, and America into a new Europe, then let us leave the destiny of our countries to Europeans. They will know how to do it better than the most gifted among us. But if we want humanity to advance a step farther, if we want to bring it up to a different level than that which Europe has shown it, then we must invent and we must make discoveries. If we wish to live up to our peoples’ expectations, we must seek the response elsewhere than in Europe.”

Divide and rule; hate versus human compassion; racism versus justice and peace; understanding versus divisiveness; indifference versus human empathy.

May your Easter holidays find you in good mental and emotional health regardless of the Deity you acknowledge and worship.

 

Yours faithfully,

Eric Phillips

Chair

Guyana Reparations

Committee

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