Reparatory justice in the caribbean

Reckoning with the Caribbean’s horrific history of chattel enslavement and colonisation – and their ongoing impact on the region – calls for processes of reconciliation and reparation. It is evident that reparations will help tackle social, economic, psychological and spiritual inequalities that exist but the path towards reparatory justice in the Caribbean is not straightforward.

Image: CARICOM flag

Movement around reparations has been quite slow overall, which is indicative of the size of the task at hand, but also reflective of how sensitive an issue this is. Momentum gathered after the “Black Lives Matter” movement and as global activism around the issues of justice, human rights and reparations grew, there were renewed calls for reparations in the Caribbean. Context and needs differ for each individual country but what is clear across the region, is the need for a decolonised approach.

So what is being done?

Look no further than the rich traditions of highlighting social justice in music, literature, storytelling and the arts throughout the region. Incorporating these aspects into a reparatory justice process is hugely important to create space for healing, generate pride, build narrative and aid memorialisation.

There have been calls for greater collaboration in campaigning for reparatory justice, both regionally and internationally. Fostering partnerships and networks among various groups and individuals from grassroots to government level is necessary.

In terms of more formal channels, National Committees on Reparations have been established in Member States and the regional CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) was formed in 2013. The CRC then produced the CARICOM Ten Point Plan for Reparatory Justice in 2014 to outline a path for reconciliation, truth and justice for victims – and their descendants – of the transatlantic slave trade.

The creation of the CARICOM Ten Point Plan was a big step towards healing, equity and social transformation for Caribbean nations impacted by chattel enslavement and colonialism. It gives a useful reparatory framework to address the historical injustices, intergenerational trauma and enduring disparities that continue to affect these communities.

What exactly is in the CARICOM Ten Point Plan?

The plan highlights actions that address the historical injustices and intergenerational damage of chattel enslavement and colonisation. We break down the ten steps below:

1. Full Formal Apology

The first point of the plan calls for a full and formal apology from former colonising nations for the atrocities committed during the transatlantic slave trade and colonial rule. Such an apology would aid the healing process because it recognises the profound pain and suffering inflicted on African peoples and their descendants. Statements of regret are not enough – colonial powers must take responsibility for their role.

2. Indigenous Peoples Development Programmes

CARICOM recognises the historical injustices endured by indigenous communities and focuses on the need to develop specific programmes to address their unique needs and challenges. This point aims to empower and support indigenous communities, ensuring their inclusion and active participation in the process of reparatory justice.

3. Funding for Repatriation to Africa

All members of the African diaspora who wish to return to their ancestral homelands should be allowed to return. Chattel enslavement damaged families by cutting off people’s ancestral ties to their homeland and personal histories which is why addressing issues such as citizenship and re-integration are crucial. The right to repatriation acknowledges the significance of reclaiming cultural and ancestral connections as a key aspect of reparatory justice.

4. The Establishment of Cultural Institutions and the Return of Cultural Heritage

The preservation and promotion of cultural heritage are vital aspects of reparatory justice. This point highlights the establishment of cultural institutions and initiatives that celebrate the rich histories, languages, arts and traditions of Caribbean nations. Engaging with such community institutions will foster a sense of understanding, identity and pride.

5. Assistance in Remedying the Public Health Crisis

The legacy of enslavement has left devastating health complications for Caribbean populations. Research has documented links between these public health crises and the nutritional, physical and emotional experiences associated with chattel enslavement and colonisation. Greater investments in healthcare infrastructure, research and programmes to address the health disparities are needed.

6. Education Programmes

The post-colonial period left a general state of illiteracy in the CARICOM Member States, and if there were education systems, they tended to be influenced by European standards. While CARICOM countries made great strides to overcome such obstacles, inequity persists. Education will be a key component in seeking justice which is why the plan supports capacity-building and resource provision such as scholarships.

7. The Enhancement of Historical and Cultural Knowledge Exchanges

Colonialism forced the separation of Africans from their homelands and deliberately sought to erase African heritage which has resulted in alienation from identity and belonging. Part of reparatory justice, therefore, is restoring pride, developing international connections, engaging in cultural exchanges and funding programmes for community and artistic projects.

8. Psychological Rehabilitation as a Result of the Transmission of Trauma

Greater attention to mental health is needed to address the deep, intergenerational psychological trauma inflicted on populations. Initiatives such as psychological rehabilitation programs, counselling services and mental health support are necessary to foster healing on both a community and individual level.

9. The Right to Development Through the Use of Technology

The Caribbean region remains ill-equipped in the world economy due to the denial of access to the science and technology advancements. As a result, technology transfer and science sharing are essential for bridging the digital divide and promoting innovation within Caribbean nations. CARICOM highlights the need for international partnerships and resources to facilitate the transfer of knowledge, skills and technology to enhance economic growth and development in the region.

10. Debt Cancellation and Monetary Compensation

The burdensome debt carried by Caribbean nations is a result of historical exploitation which results in multiple crises. CARICOM recognises the importance of debt relief and restructuring to relieve financial strain and create opportunities for investment in social programs, infrastructure and human development.

While the path towards reparations is not straightforward, progress is being made. Building on the work of the CRC and various civil society organisations, the last few years has seen a groundswell in the movement for reparatory justice. As the momentum grows and conversation continues, there is reason to be optimistic that tangible change is possible.

Sources and further reading: 

CARICOM Reparations Commission