The time has come
Reparations movement gains momentum
The following article has been republished. It originally appeared in Trinidad Express and was written by Joe Readle on July 31, 2023.
TIME Magazine’s current front page declaration, “Slavery Reparations are coming”, has consciously foregrounded the epicentre roles of Barbados, The University of the West Indies and its Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sir Hilary Beckles, who is internationally recognised as the global iconic face of the movement.
The recent coverage bears witness that the world is on the cusp of a major structural transition driven by reparatory justice, an inspired development jointly effected by the Caribbean’s only indigenous, world-ranked university and its Caricom partners.
The UWI, wholly owning its mission as an activist university, celebrates the activism that has placed it at the pinnacle of the global reparations movement, seeking justice and driving a new development paradigm for the region. Concretising the university’s role at the epicentre of this growing global movement, Vice-Chancellor Prof Sir Hilary Beckles, whose research features in the TIME’s article, says, “The UWI continues to be at the forefront of justice conversations, including the battle for reparations to be made to peoples of the Caribbean. These are owed by colonial powers, as compensation for their historical crimes of native genocide and African enslavement, through which these powers have amassed great wealth, and from which they still profit.”
In July 2013 Caribbean leaders at the 34th Caricom Summit agreed to pursue reparations from Britain, based on representation made by Prof Sir Hilary Beckles. Two months later, at its first Reparations summit in September 2013, Caricom identified Sir Hilary to lead its Caricom Reparations Commission (CRC) as chairman. Under his leadership, the CRC has taken the reparations discourse across the globe — to the British House of Lords and the US Congress, and to universities in Europe, North America and Africa, to name a few.
The UWI, under Vice-Chancellor Beckles, established a Centre for Reparations Research (CRR) based on a mandate of the 34th meeting of the Caricom Heads of Government. The CRR, with Prof Verene Shepherd at the helm, leads the implementation of Caricom’s Reparatory Justice Programme – promoting research on the legacies of enslavement, colonialism and native genocide in the Caribbean; working with national and regional reparation commissions and committees to promote education on these legacies and the need for justice and repair; and promoting advocacy for reparatory and social justice by publishing reparatory-justice focused research, building a capacity to provide consultancies to Caricom and other relevant institutions, raising public awareness through media, and supporting activism around the Reparatory Justice Programme.
As The UWI marks its 75th anniversary, Vice-Chancellor Beckles notes that it was started as a reparatory justice institution to address the harmful public health legacy of slavery. He distinguishes that The UWI has participated fully in the reparatory justice movement because of its ethical responsibility.
With social justice as part of its core, The UWI, in 2019, ushered in the first-ever Caribbean Reparatory Justice initiative in partnership with University of Glasgow (UoG) in Scotland to create the Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research, built upon a negotiated 20-year commitment of a £20 million investment as part of an inaugural global reparations development framework.
This September, as an extension of that relationship, The UWI and UoG prepare to launch a joint MA/MSc in Reparatory Justice with a specific focus on the Caribbean and the slavery reparations movement.
The UWI has also been at the front and centre of two landmark individual family apologies and reparatory initiatives. The first from Bridget Freeman, whose family married into the Barbados slave-owning class, was a contribution of US$500,000 to the university’s development fund—through its 2021 Global Giving campaign, earmarking her gift as part of reparations that should be paid by those who benefited from the crime against humanity. In February 2023, British-American BBC anchor/correspondent Laura Trevelyan delivered an apology, signed by 104 members her family and the descendants of the part-owners of six slave-owning plantations in Grenada. Laura Trevelyan’s personal contribution of £100,000 was pledged to establish an education fund for The UWI Open Campus.
From July 24 to 29, The UWI, in collaboration with partner agencies – African Union-Economic Social and Cultural Council (AU-ECOSOCC), Caricom, Africa Judges And Jurist Forum (AJJF), Open Society Foundations and the Government of Barbados – co-hosted a high-level study tour which brings together ambassadors and representatives from selected member states of the African Union, Pan-African academics, advocates, practitioners and campaigners in Africa, who have worked on or are working on issues related to reparations, healing and Pan-Africanism to draw lessons and learnings from their Caribbean counterparts on how to develop a unified front on reparations for historical crimes. It underscores the strategic relevance for Africa to serve as a leading voice for reparations by coalescing with ally nations in the Caribbean community.
As the global reparatory justice movement gains momentum, The UWI affirms its commitment to greater advocacy and consciousness-raising.