Minister of Culture Youth and Sport Dr Frank Anthony has said that the world must understand that the slave trade and the atrocities committed during the 400 years of slavery are indeed crimes against humanity.
According to a release from the Government Information Agency (GINA), he made this statement during his presentation at the Regional Conference on Reparations held in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Minister Anthony stated that the argument that such crimes were “legal” under the then European law is no longer valid under international jurisprudence. He expressed Guyana’s commitment to the cause of reparations, and said the country was prepared to join with the rest of the Caribbean in representing this case to the world at large. GINA said that representatives of governments, civil society, academia and individuals supporting the cause of reparations for native genocide and slavery, met during September 15-17, for the first major event on reparations following the Thirty-fourth Conference of the Heads of Government of Caricom in Trinidad and Tobago in July.
The release said that at the Summit, heads of government had agreed to the establishment of a National Reparations Committee in each member state with the chair of each committee sitting on a Caricom Reparations Commission. The heads of government identified Barbados as chair with St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago identified to provide political oversight.
GINA said Minister Anthony told the conference, “We have to build consensus and alliances at three levels, starting in our own country with our National Reparation Commission, which should be the engine driving this process at the local level. We must also work more cohesively and consistently at the Regional Level. Not just mapping what must be done, but by timetabling the task that must be accomplished and by when.”
He observed that while the multilateral democratic process is time consuming, “if we allow time to consume us without concrete actions then another 175 years can slip by. So it is important that we set a timetable for action. The establishment of the Regional Reparation Commission must be the catalyst to catapult us closer to our goal.” The release said Anthony urged the establishment of specialised committees in history, economics, diplomacy, public education and fund raising, observing that it would be difficult to advance this important work on voluntarism alone. He noted the need to make speedy progress through paying full-time persons “to pursue this claim with the tenaciousness and resoluteness that it deserves.”
The minister also noted the need to build an international alliance through coordination of foreign policies to articulate the call at the multilateral levels. He called for the recruitment of international voices of reason, “men and women of influence that must add their voices to right this historic wrong. And we must keep knocking at the door.”
Anthony was quoted as saying, “Guyana agrees that we must look at this dark history in order to understand and move forward in the present. But apart from the duty to remember, we have the duty to ensure that just and appropriate measures are adopted to compensate for those wrongs. It is our hope that all delegations will show the requisite political will in the interest of a higher human good.”
GINA said Anthony noted that the Abolition Act of August 1833, had eradicated enslavement throughout the British Empire from August 1, 1834. From this date, there was a six-year period of apprenticeship for field labour during which time they worked for their masters for a fixed number of hours each week. This status of semi slavery ended in 1838, two years earlier than provided for in the Act.
He related that the planters of British Guiana were generously compensated for the 84,915 Africans who were now free. The emancipated Africans received no compensation for their years of labour.
According to the minister, in Guyana this injustice left a deep wound and the desire to right this wrong was a muted component of the
anti-colonial struggle, and was openly discussed in the immediate post-independence era.
He said that subsequently several organisations including Guyana’s African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA) led the campaign for reparations and had requested former president Bharrat Jagdeo to add his voice to the reparations campaign. They had asked that the government sponsor a resolution in parliament calling on the UK government to pay compensation.
GINA said that Jagdeo had responded in 2007 when, while addressing a commemorative ceremony for the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic trade in captive Africans he had observed that, “Now that some members of the international community have recognised their active role in this despicable system, they need to go one step further and support reparation.”
In 2011, the former president, in launching a year of celebratory activities commemorating the International Year for People of African Descent had restated his claim for reparations noting that, “The international community was quick to recognise the Jewish holocaust, rightfully so. They must also now recognise that there was an African holocaust.”
According to GINA, this was also reflected in his successor when in 2013 in launching the Unesco Slavery Museum in Guyana, one of the many events on the year-long programme to commemorate the 250 anniversary of the great 1763 Berbice Slave Revolt, President Donald Ramotar had recommended the establishment of a National Reparations Committee to collaborate with regional bodies to advance the case for compensation.
“Having defined what a crime against humanity is, I think that we will have little doubt that the capture and enslavement of Africans, the dehumanization, the liquidation of their language and culture, the cruel and degrading condition in which they worked constitute a gross violation of international law. As was said before we must not be distracted, we have to gather the material and make our case,” Minister Anthony stated.
Also representing Guyana at the conference along with Minister Anthony were Dr James Rose, Director of Culture and Eric Phillips of ACDA, the release added.