An Open Letter to the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)


Following CARICOM’s decision to set-up a Commission on Reparations about ten (10) days ago the letter below was sent to Heads of Governments of CARICOM, in our opinion it raises many points for consideration, especially the suggestion that a bottom up approach is taken. We are re-producing it here so that our readers can get involved in the debate.

Re: CARICOM Reparations Commission
 
The Hon. Kamla Persad-Bissessar MP
Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago
Chairperson, Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)
The Rt. Hon Freundel Jerome Stuart QC MP
Prime Minister of Barbados
Chairperson, CARICOM Reparations Commission

Dear Prime Ministers
We, in the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe (PARCOE), write concerning our vested interests in the emerging Caribbean Reparations Movement and the decision to establish National Reparations Committees in each CARICOM member state (where they are not already in existence) with the Chair of each national committee sitting on the CARICOM Reparations Commission.

Whilst we see the actions being taken to secure and effect reparations for Caribbean slavery and Native genocide as being a positive step, we are also concerned that the top down approach being taken to this issue will end up not achieving the reparations aspirations of the masses of Afrikan descendant and indigenous citizens in the Caribbean. In our humble opinion this may happen unless concerted efforts are made to enable the facilitation of constructive engagement, dialogue, debate and deliberation within and between civil society, non-governmental organisations and social movements across the respective Caribbean nations in the region to allow for the negotiation of the best reparations common interest. We also appeal to you to ensure that the same errors that were made with the former Organisation of African Unity’s (OAU) Group of Eminent Persons (GEP) in failing to effectively consult on reparations strategies, be informed by and act in the best interests of the various Afrikan countries respective citizenries, is not also repeated in the Caribbean.
 
We refer you to the works of Mari Matsuda, lawyer, activist, and law professor who advocates that approaches to reparations incorporate a “looking to the bottom” approach in recognition of the fact that reparations are a legal concept generated from the bottom. By “bottom,” Matsuda refers to the lived experience of those  individuals and groups who are alleging the violation of rights rather than those who have traditionally defined the scope of legal redress such as judges, lawyers associations and other groups who are part of upholding the existing social, legal and economic status quo. The perception of legal struggles for reparations by those who have experienced law’s failure, thus far, to make the requisite repairs differs from the perception assumed in the standard legal interpretations and processes of those who acquiesce to a legal system that, despite its promises of equal treatment, systematically reproduces inequality. For Matsuda, “Looking to the bottom – adopting the perspective of those who have seen and felt the falsity of the liberal promise – can assist . . . in the task of fathoming the phenomenology of law and defining the elements of justice.” We recognise that this approach in the Caribbean includes ensuring that those individuals and groups who have been working for the cause of reparations are the ones in the vanguard of determining the legal and political strategies to be adopted by Caribbean governments. In this regard, we are indebted to the various constituencies within the Pan-Afrikan Movement, the Anti-slavery Movement, the Anti-colonial Movement and the Rastafarian Movement in the Caribbean who have been organising around the issue of reparations long before it became something which Caribbean governments and many academics in the region were willing to embrace.
 
We note the decision taken at the recent Conference of the Heads of Government of CARICOM, (which took place in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago from 4-6 July 2013), to enlist the services of law firm, Leigh Day & Co to provide a legal brief in order to present a case for reparations for Caribbean slavery and Native genocide to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). It is our understanding that this decision was largely based on Leigh Day & Co’s role in securing what is widely being reported to be a ‘historic victory’ for the Mau Mau survivors of British colonial era torture and abuses in detention committed between 1952 and 1963 during Britain’s suppression of the Mau Mau war of liberation. The agreement reached with the British Government announced on 6 June 2013 June includes: (a) a statement of regret made to victims of colonial era torture by the Foreign Secretary of the UK in the British House of Commons; (b) damages awards for 5,228 individuals who fit the criteria of torture as set out in the test-case claims of Jane Muthoni Mara, Wambugu Nyingi and Paulo Nzili amounting to a total value of £19.9 million (£2,600 to each of the 5,228 clients); and (c) a contribution that will be made by the British Government towards the construction of a monument in memory of Kenyan victims of colonial era torture. We should however be mindful that the financial compensation aspect of the settlement represents a paltry sum and is not commensurate with the torture and suffering of Mau Mau patriots considering that the British Government paid out £20m, the modern equivalent of around £16.5bn, to compensate some 3,000 slaveholding families for the loss of their “property” when slavery was purportedly abolished in Britain’s colonies in 1833.
 
It is therefore our firm contention that what is mistakenly being heralded as a ‘historic victory’ for the Mau Mau can be seen as a well orchestrated imperialist swindle, apparently hatched by Leigh Day & Co with their usual Afriphobic racist arrogance, in collaboration with British state authorities behind the back of the Mau Mau community of reparations interest in and beyond Kenya, including PARCOE. In this regard, we wish to draw to your attention to the fact that long before the Leigh Day & Co settlement in the case of Ndiku Mutua & Others – v – The Foreign and Commonwealth Office[1] was publically announced in June of this year, proposals for a reparations settlement were put forward by the said law firm, which they state, in a 2009 paper on Victims of British Torture in Kenya – Options for Justice,[2] “would seek to build on the work of the FCO (Foreign & Commonwealth Office) and DFID (Department for International Development) and could be delivered through their existing partners on the ground.” They go on to state that the options they put forward “are proposed as a means of promoting discussion as to the various potential schemes which could be considered to provide some level of justice and redress for the victims we represent” pointing out that ”the victims are open to other propositions and ideas.”[3]
 
We are cognisant of the famous words of Malcolm X “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made. They haven’t even begun to pull the knife out, much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.” We should do our utmost to not be complicit in sustaining the illusion that the knife has been pulled out for the Mau Mau claimants; the wounds cannot heal if we continue to describe the settlement in terms that it clearly is not. Reparations has always meant more than a pay check. Furthermore, from the inception of the Social Movement for Reparations initiated by Afrikans and people of Afrikan descent, the various efforts of our people to seek redress for enslavement, colonialism, genocide and their contemporary legacies have been consistent with the United Nations (UN) Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.[4] In other words, we have always understood reparations to encompass restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction, guarantees of non-repetition as well as compensation.
 
You may be interested to know that on 18th August 2012, more than veterans from all over Kenya held a congress at Kikuyu and a subsequent meeting was held in September 2012 at Meru (in Kenya). According to the UK based Mau Mau Justice Network (MMJN)[5] the result was a resolution to demand a comprehensive negotiated settlement with Britain which was communicated by Paul Muite, (one of their Kenyan lawyers) to Dan Thea, Patron of the MMJN. The veterans determined that the settlement should include: (1) a public acknowledgement of wrongdoing by the British during the Emergency Rule, and an apology; (2)  Britain to fund a comprehensive study by international and Kenyan experts of the Mau Mau War, and to compile an accurate and comprehensive report of all the victims, including those who were killed, detained, confined in “Emergency Villages”, Mau Mau fighters, and those mainly women who ensured the vital supplies (such as food, etc.) to the fighters; (3) erection of a ‘Wall of Honour’ at Uhuru Gardens in Kenya on which the names of all killed and detained will be inscribed; (4) establishment of the truth about General Kimathi’s burial and/or remains; (5) a medical fund to cater for the medical needs of the veterans;(6) Britain to agree to assist and support the Government of Kenya in resolving the historical injustices on land; and (7) Britain to make a proper and full compensation to all the victims.
Furthermore, in our response to the call for support from the MMJN, we witnessed, from our perspective of critical legal praxis, what appeared to be repugnant, unethical and totally unjust relations between Leigh Day & Co and the small group of Kenyan collaborators whom they misused to spin and attempt to spoil the case for true Mau Mau reparations. In our view, this was deliberately done in order to derail the potency of the Mau Mau case in strengthening our wider cause of Pan-Afrikan Reparations for Global Justice. We fear, what we in PARCOE consider to be, a dubious move on the part of Leigh Day & Co, whereby without any visible and transparent engagement with the Caribbean community of reparations interest in the UK, (where they are based), they appear to have wormed their way into the confidence of Caribbean state authorities in order to once again misrepresent Afrikans and people of Afrikan descent on an issue of vital importance to our very survival. We in PARCOE see Leigh Day & Co as an ambulance chasing, poverty-pimping element in the reparations legal industrial complex of White supremacy. It was reported in The Telegraph newspaper[6] that Leigh Day & Co, will pocket £6 million in legal fees, making them the biggest single beneficiary of the £19.9 million out-of-court settlement to the former Kenyan freedom fighters.
It is mind-boggling that with the likes of: Henry Sylvester Williams, Hon. Dudley Thompson QC, Rudy Narayan, Richard Hart, David Comissiong, Lincoln Crawford OBE, Courtenay Griffiths QC, Kevin Cobham and all other outstanding legal brains that have come out of the Caribbean and stood firmly, proudly and successfully in the front ranks of our struggle against chattel, colonial and neo-colonial forms of enslavement, that Caribbean governments of today appear to not be able to find such towering figures of Black legal expertise in the Americas, let alone in Europe, and therefore settle for Leigh Day & Co. In PARCOE’s view, the aforementioned law firm is one of those firms who have a visibly obnoxious track record of misrepresentation, sabotage and destruction of cases of historical and contemporary wrongs germane to reparations for Afrikans and people of Afrikan Descent. We do however recognise the contribution that has been made by Lord Anthony Gifford QC especially in relation to his legal work on reparations and wonder why, despite being a practising lawyer also in Jamaica, he escapes the notice of Caribbean governments, if you wanted to use a White-led firm. In our view there are quite a number of White legal practitioners who could do a better job than Leigh Day & Co in the matter of litigating a case for Caribbean slavery and Native genocide, such as William Ramsey Clark or Professor Francis Boyle in the USA.
 
We wish to point out that it is extremely problematic to see reparations litigation and settlements as ends in themselves without taking into consideration the results of such litigation and or settlements in terms of the needs, wishes, aspirations, goals and agency of the victims, i.e. those Afrikan Caribbean and indigenous descendants of the enslaved, living today, who personally suffer the effects of past human and peoples’ rights violations through continuing economic or social deprivation and displacement.  We are therefore of the view that sufficient attention is not being given to the substantive restoration and recovery of Afrikans and their descendants in the Caribbean, nor the non-repetition element of reparations which is necessary to guarantee the dissolution of the entrenched racial and economic hierarchies which continue to subjugate Afrikans, people of Afrikan descent and indigenous people within and outside the Caribbean. Consequently, the critical role that individuals and communities, suffering from or harmed by the legacies of enslavement and colonialism in the Caribbean, should play in determining what reparations litigation strategies and settlements should be, remains obscured. According to Afrikan American associate professor of law, Carlton Waterhouse[7] the resulting focus on wrongdoers, (albeit wrongdoer European states) to the exclusion of truly incorporating the reparations goals and aspirations of those who continue to be harmed, replicates the subordination of victim groups by rendering them passive recipients of government actions, over which they have little or no opportunity to inform, direct or exercise democratic scrutiny over. The success therefore of any litigation strategy or settlement can best be measured, not simply by the existence of such litigation or settlements, but rather by evaluating the agency of Afrikans and people of Afrikan descent in the Caribbean and whether they have been actively engaged in the design, development, implementation and evaluation of the said litigation strategies and settlements or other reparations processes.
 
In the case of reparations to the descendants of the enslaved in the Caribbean, it is important to ensure that law firms retained have the proven track record of being able to effectively work with and respect the political and legal self-determination of Afrikan and Afrikan Caribbean communities by adopting litigation strategies that these communities of reparations interest themselves have fashioned. In addition, we must not forget that there has been an intergenerational and transnational Social Movement for Reparations to Afrika, Afrikans and people of Afrikan descent long before reparations was seen as simply being a legal case. We are troubled by the seeming overreliance and unjustified confidence of elites in relying on the so called international legal system to deliver meaningful reparations, given the historic and contemporary misuse of law as a means of instantiating White racial supremacy in the international as well as national arenas. PARCOE has advocated elsewhere that there is a need for legal systems and the law itself to be repaired and that unqualified deference and acquiescence to such systems which often institutionalise legalised forms of injustice aids and abets the perpetuation of our subjugation to the whims, caprices and interests of the prevailing world powers. This is why we continue to advocate for the better alternative, as happened in the Nuremburg Trials, for a special international tribunal.
 
In her convincingly argued article Reparations Litigation Through the Eyes of the Movement, [8]Adjoa Aiyetoro, attorney, legal consultant to N’COBRA[9] and professor of law, maintains that it is vital for a reparations litigation strategy to speak with integrity to the demands for reparations which can only occur if the terminology and definitions of victims and the individual and collective injuries and harms sustained are in accordance with the lived experiences and reparations goals of those who have been and continue to raise the demand for reparations. In this regard, it is important to include in our accounting and assessments of the ‘debt’, forms of gendered harm which disproportionately affect women and girls as well as men and boys. Aiyetoro further advocates that reparations policies, programmes or measures should address all areas of the continuing vestiges of slavery, for them to truly be reparative. In this regard, we reiterate our earlier point about the importance of affirming the vital role and building on the work of Afrikan-centred movements in the Caribbean in championing the cause of reparations.
 
We implore you to engage in the necessary consultations with all Afrikans and people of Afrikan descent in the various countries of the Caribbean as well as with Afrikans and people of Afrikan descent living in the British Isles and other countries in Europe who have familial connections in the Caribbean. As stakeholders, these various constituencies have a vested interest in any reparations strategy, legal or otherwise that is adopted by CARICOM. Lest we forget what Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of the Republic of Ghana reminded us in his 1968 Message to the Black People of Britain; the majority of Afrikans and Black people of Afrikan descent in Britain are not here by chance or by choice, but for historical reasons because Britain and other European nations colonised our Motherland Afrika as well as Caribbean countries and reduced them to the level of colonial status. Furthermore, European neo-colonialism is still strangling Afrikan and Caribbean countries in creating the push and pull factors compelling many people of Afrikan descent to come to the UK, both in the past and present, as economic migrants and/or political refugees.
 
We also wish to notify you that we in PARCOE have been lobbying the British Government to establish an All-Party Parliamentary Commission to examine human rights violations against Afrikans and people of Afrikan descent within Britain arising from enslavement, colonialism, neo-colonialism, anti-Black genocide (Maangamizi) and their consequences of Afriphobia as well as other legacies. It is proposed that the commission would: (1) acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of the imposition of Afrikan chattel, colonial and neo-colonial enslavement within and beyond the British Empire;(2) examine subsequently de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against Afrikans and people of Afrikan descent; and(3) examine the impact of these forces on living Afrikans and Afrikan descendant communities as well as all other peoples; and, make recommendations to Parliament and similar bodies at local, national and international levels, including the European Parliament, on appropriate methods of dissemination of findings to the public within and beyond Britain for consultation about proposals for redress, repairs and for other purposes. In addition, we in PARCOE are calling upon the British Government to abandon its unjust, economically unsound, and in some instances, discriminatory austerity measures. As a special measure we are making the reparations case for Afrikans and people of Afrikan descent to be excluded from the government’s austerity measures as a matter of positive reparations action. We invite you to actively support our initiatives in this regard.
 
We are also keenly interested and monitoring the debates happening within the Caribbean and across the Diaspora on whether or not Caribbean governments have the moral and legal standing to sue for reparations from Britain. In particular, we make reference to those states which have not yet taken the responsibilities of independence and sovereignty to their logical conclusion by not fully ridding Caribbean states of the negative legacies of European colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism. Such as retaining many of the colonial systems in the realm of culture, economics and politics; condoning Afriphobia; and failing to trail-blaze models of development different from the neoliberal capitalist models being imposed by European powers, including the rebuilding of Caribbean educational, political and economic structures and institutions upon their indigenous and Afrikan foundations.
 
It is indeed highly questionable that despite proclaiming independence, many Caribbean states still adhere to the Westminster parliamentary model of governance left by the British colonialists and constitutionally retain Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State. In our view, and that of many Afrikan conscious people in the Caribbean, this has had a deleterious impact on the required state facilitated development of Afrikan Diaspora identity formation and culture amongst people of Afrikan descent in the Caribbean. In this regard, it does seem somewhat ironic that Caribbean governments would seek to secure financial compensation from Britain, despite the fact that insufficient work has been done to effect the necessary self-repairs in restoring the dignity, agency, wellbeing and social standing of the Afrikan and indigenous progenitors of Caribbean states, which in itself is not dependent on financial compensation from Britain.
 
In conclusion, we request that the necessary consultations occur with all Afrikans and people of Afrikan descent in the various countries of the Caribbean as well as with Afrikans and people of Afrikan descent living in the British Isles and other countries in Europe who have familial connections in the Caribbean to ensure that your commendable efforts to secure and effect holistic reparations at the CARICOM state level are in accordance with the will and aspirations of the various stakeholders and communities of reparations interest, within and beyond the Caribbean. The simple point being that what Britain owes the descendants of the enslaved in the Caribbean is not just a matter for those currently living in the Caribbean to determine. Given your focus on securing reparations from Britain, we invite you to work collaboratively and cooperatively in the meaningful exchange of reparations strategies and tactics with the vibrant Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations which exists in Britain, many of whose members are either still citizens or can legitimately claim belonging to the Caribbean, all of whom can be powerful and useful UK based stakeholders and allies in furthering your objectives.
 
As members of the 6th Region of the African Union (AU), we are taking this matter up not only with yourselves in CARICOM but also with similar governmental bodies like the AU and its Pan-African Parliament, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (WGPAD), as well as with all other relevant non-governmental organisations; in particular those of community self-empowerment that are emerging across the world, such as the interim National Afrikan Peoples Parliament (iNAPP), which we are involved with building here in the UK.
 
In Dedicated Service
 
Co-Vice Chairs of PARCOE (The Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe) 
Esther Stanford-Xosei & Kofi Mawuli Klu                                                                                 

12/07/13
to follow this discussion, and to contribute to it, please go to
http://1804caribvoices.org/articles/2013/07/open-letter-to-caricom-heads-on-reparations/#comment-317

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