Europe

Former British colonies launch legal bid to get paid for slavery

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A group of 14 Caribbean states has launched a legal bid against Britain, France and Netherland demanding compensations for the awful, lingering legacy of the Atlantic slave trade.

The group, consisting of Caricom, a bunch of 12 former British colonies as well as the former French colony Haiti and the Dutch-held Suriname, has employed the British law firm Leigh Day in its bid to get paid by the European governments – and the UK in particular for what it believes, comprised more than 60 million people from African origin who were shipped into slavery.

Leigh Day law firm recently managed to force the UK government pay for hundreds of Kenyans tortured by the British colonial rule during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s.

The sum that Caricom is seeking has not been specified, but estimates show when the British Empire abolished slavery in 1834 it paid slave owners £20 million, an equivalent of £200 billion today.

The sub-Saharan Africa’s first permanent slave trading post was built by Portuguese traders at Elmina in 1492.

By the 18th century, the Dutch and English took over the post and shipped tens of thousands of Africans a year through ‘the door of no return’ onto squalid slave ships bound for plantations of the Americas.

By the end of the 18th Century, campaigners demanded that the trade be abolished but to no avail because it was such a profitable business.

However, Britain was forced to ban taking Africans into slavery on March 25, 1807 thanks to years of campaigning by anti-slavery activists like politician William Wilberforce.

But, the imperial Britain did not outlaw slavery for another generation, in 1833, and the transatlantic trade continued under foreign flags for many years.

Some estimates say as many as 60million people were shipped into slavery at the time, with Caricom saying in its lawsuit that “slavery condemned the region to a poverty that still afflicts it today”.

“The awful legacy of these crimes against humanity ought to be repaired for the developmental benefit of our Caribbean societies and all our peoples,” said Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of the tiny Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. He described it as a “historic wrong that has to be righted”.

Verene Shepherd, who is coordinating Jamaica’s demands for reparations, said their slave ancestors ‘got nothing’ when they were freed.

“They got their freedom and they were told ‘Go develop yourselves’,” she said.

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