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I came back from Abuja to Jamaica. My paper, "The Legal Basis of the Claim for reparations", was published on five successive Sundays in the Gleaner, and I earned a reputation for being a reparations advocate. Jamaicans seemed puzzled by my position. Most people, I suspect, felt it to be a lost cause, and saw it as one of my likeable eccentricities that I espoused such an anti-British position. Some radical activists showed resentment at the fact that I, a White European, had become a reparations expert.

The most supportive Jamaican was Jah Lloyd, a Rastafarian who had been advocating reparations for many years. He was an irrepressible personality, always coming to me with schemes which were usually sound in theory but fizzled in practice. Some of his ideas were based on his belief in 'Theocracy Government', which essentially meant the restoration of the Ethiopian monarchy and its extension to Jamaica. On that we agreed to differ, but there was much else we could share. Jah Lloyd understood that reparation was not the same thing as repatriation, and we both agreed that repatriation should be part of any reparations package. Jah Lloyd welcomed my paper without reservation, and we remained close until he was finally able to make a journey to his beloved Ethiopia. He fell ill in Addis Ababa and died on African soil.

The Jamaica Committee on Reparations was revived and I went to some of its meetings. One evening I was challenged by Ibo Cooper, the musician. He berated me for confining my advocacy of reparations to audiences in Africa and the Caribbean. He said that if I really believed in it, I should be speaking to my own people in Britain who most needed persuading. I mulled over this conversation for a long time, and saw that he had a point. I had a ready-made platform in the heart of Britain's Parliament, and it was time that I used it. Since setting up a residence in Jamaica I had been an absentee member of the House of Lords. I had made only one speech there, protesting about the treatment of Jamaicans at Gatwick Airport. But I was still a member with full rights, including the right to initiate debates. I knew that by putting down a question on the House of Lords order paper, I would be able to get a hearing in a matter of months. So in the Parliamentary Report for 14th March 1996, it is printed that at 9.18 p.m. "Lord Gifford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make appropriate reparations to African nations and to the descendants of Africans for the damage caused by the slave trade and the practice of slavery." In the gallery were friends who included Bernie Grant MP and the Jamaican historian Richard Hart, and High Commissioners from Africa and the Caribbean. I had invited them to give me moral support in what I knew to be unfriendly territory.
I summarised the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade and the consequences which continue to flow from it: poverty, landlessness, the new shackles of debt, and the persistence of the philosophy of racial superiority which "continues to poison our society today". I referred to the historic precedents, and added a new one which I had just learned about. In November 1995 the Queen had personally signed the Waikato-Raupatu Claims Settlement Bill in New Zealand. Through this bill the New Zealand Government apologised for the seizure of Maori lands by British settlers in 1863, and paid substantial compensation in land and in money to the Maori people. The presence of the Queen symbolised the recognition of an ancient grievance. It was a telling example of how, over a century after the illegal act, effective reparation can be made.

I went through some of the elements of an appropriate reparations package: an apology at the highest level; the cancellation of debt; the return of treasures and works of art; programmes of development in Africa and the Caribbean; and promoting equal rights and justice within the countries of the West. I ended with a plea that all of us would be healed if we moved in this direction:
"As we move to the next millennium, none of us can deny that there is a growing divide between North and South, between Black and White, across frontiers and within frontiers. It is in the interest of all of us to recognise that the reasons for that divide lie in a shameful past. If we realise that, we will be on the way to doing something to repair the wrong which was done, even though it may cost heavily in terms of pride and revenue. The steps to be taken will bring a happier world for all our children."

Immediately a conservative Lord, Lord Burnham, intervened with a question: "My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell the House which country first stopped the slave trade?" I saw the old trick. To offset my condemnation of Britain for the crimes of slavery, he wanted me to praise Britain for ending the crime. I was not quite sure of the answer to the question, so I answered guardedly:
"My Lords, after carrying it on and profiting massively from it, the slave trade was stopped by the nations of Europe. I pay tribute to the ancestor of the noble Lord, Lord Wilberforce, who played a leading part in stopping the trade. However, no compensation was paid when it was stopped and the unredressed grievance remains with us today."
Richard Hart in the gallery managed to pass down a note. It corrected the assumption behind Lord Burnham's question. At a later stage in the debate, when another Lord, Viscount Falkland, was trumpeting the achievements of the British abolitionists, I intervened to say: "My Lords, the noble Viscount is interesting and erudite in his history, but I am sure that he will accept that it was the Danes who were the first European nation to abolish the slave trade. We followed them six years later." I was glad that I had not fallen into the trap which Lord Burnham had set for me.

My reference to Wilberforce was a courteous recognition of the presence in the House of the present Lord Wilberforce, an eminent law lord, descendant of William Wilberforce MP. As president of Anti-Slavery International, which campaigns against modern slavery, he made a speech in the debate. He was not satisfied with the legal case for reparations. He said that in the cases which I had cited the guilty party was clear - the German state in the case of the Jews. And there were "identifiable victims of the wrong and direct and assessable consequences". He did not find those conditions satisfied in the case of the African slave trade. However, he accepted that there was a moral responsibility to mitigate the consequences of slavery. He referred to the low prices for commodities and the burden of debt, "which is itself a form of slavery". He ended by saying: "The case now is not one of guilt but of morality." Not all the speeches reached the same lofty tone. Lord Willoughby de Broke thought that reparations "breed envy and distrust and stir up hatred". But he thanked me for initiating the debate, "because looking at the clock, I find I have missed the train home and I shall claim appropriate reparations by way of an overnight allowance". The Viscount of Falkland, who had worked in East Africa, said: "The African people are immensely forgiving. To encourage the kind of attitude of fervent desire for reparation suggested here would go against the grain, certainly among Africans, because it is not in their nature." Lord Gisborough said: "Almost every country was responsible for slavery in those days, including the French, the Spanish and the Blacks themselves." Declaring the idea of reparations to be absurd, he asked, "Where would it stop?"

The strongest speech in my support came from Lord Judd, speaking for the Labour opposition. As Frank Judd MP, he had been a member of the Committee for Freedom in Mozambique, Angola and Guiné which I had chaired in the early 1970s. He was kind enough to say that I spoke in the tradition of Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce. He said that it was not only slavery but colonialism which had brought a tragic aftermath. He traced the connection between Belgian colonial policies and the genocide in Rwanda. Then he spoke eloquently about the costs of structural adjustment in Africa. He described how the burdens of debt were crippling Uganda, Zambia, Tanzania and other countries. He described as "unproductive madness" how billions of pounds of development aid were diverted into servicing multilateral debt.
Lord Chesham replied to the debate on behalf of the Conservative Government. Predictably, he said that while slavery was "a moral outrage", the Government did not accept that there was a case for reparations. But for the first time the Government of a former slave-trading nation was obliged to set out the reasons for being against reparations. He said that first, slavery was practised by Arabs and Africans as well as Europeans. Second, African leaders were active participants in the slave trade. Third, it was not the British Government which traded in slaves but individual traders and companies. Fourth, there was no evidence that the effects of slavery were still being felt by Africans now living in Africa and the Diaspora. Fifth, racism was not just a Black and White problem, but occurs between different ethnic groups all over the world. Sixth, it would be impossible to say which Africans should benefit from reparations.
Lord Chesham described the payment of reparations by Germany and Japan and Iraq as "a red herring". As for the Queen's apology to the Maoris, the situation was entirely different. "It was not a question of slavery but one of the possession of land resulting from war." I said to myself, so what? Both were crimes against international law, and the suffering caused by the slave trade was on a huger scale, requiring greater atonement.

Part of Lord Chesham's response was intended to push the blame for the slave trade onto other people. The Arabs and the Africans were involved. It was not the Government but the individual traders. Other ethnic groups practice racism. Lawyers call it the tu quoque (you too) defence. I was not impressed, especially since the early British slave trading ventures were conducted by the Royal African Company under a Charter signed by King Charles II in 1672. The trade was sanctioned by British law and tenaciously supported by the British Parliament, until its abolition in 1807. It was a distortion of history for Lord Chesham to say that "responsibility for British involvement in the transatlantic slave trade does not rest on the shoulders of the British government".

I was interested by Lord Chesham's fourth reason. He was, I believe, profoundly wrong to claim that there is no evidence of the slave trade having damaging effects on African people today. Living in Jamaica I see the evidence daily, in terms of poverty, underdevelopment, inequality of resources, family breakdown, and the frequency with which disputes are settled with violence. The persistence of racism and racial discrimination against Black people in the United States and Britain arises directly from the doctrines of racial superiority which were used to justify the trade.
As to Africa, the slave trade robbed it of millions of its strongest people. Walter Rodney, in his classic work How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972), shows how the population of Africa stagnated between 1650 and 1850, while that of Europe and Asia grew almost threefold. To me there can be no doubt that the systematic squeezing of Africa for the extraction of profits for Europe, was the ruination of a continent that boasted some of the most civilised kingdoms of the world in the pre-slavery era.
However, the corollary of Lord Chesham's fourth reason was that if the evidence could be shown, at least a moral case could be made out. I have no doubt that those who run Britain are well aware of the moral strength behind the arguments for reparation. They know that the history of the British plantations in the Americas, and how they were supplied with labour, is shameful. They try to deny the connection because to admit it would logically entail measures of compensation being implemented. Lord Chesham's statement was a challenge to the proponents of reparation to gather the evidence and prove him wrong.

I found the debate to be very instructive. I was impressed by the approach of Lord Wilberforce, that the issue was moral rather than legal. Although I still consider that the case for reparations is based on the principles of international law, I do not argue that it is a kind of super-litigation which could be brought before some court at some time. Rather it is a question of facing up to a fundamental injustice which permanently affected the relationship between African and European people. The process of facing up to what was done in the past, and its consequences, will necessitate measures of atonement and reparation to level the playing field. I see it as a healing process, not a conflict.

In 2000 I was introduced to a particular reparations claim which fascinated me. It was being advanced by the Garifuna people. Who are they? you may ask. They are the descendants of the 'Black Caribs' who lived in the island of St Vincent in the Caribbean before the invasion of the British in the eighteenth century. They were probably a mix of native Caribs and free Africans. They refused to be enslaved or colonised. They occupied the mountainous areas of St Vincent and made it impossible for the British to control the island.
One person who knew their story was Richard Hart. He lent me a book, published in 1795 by a British planter, called "An Account of the Black Charaibs in the Island of St Vincent's". It describes the planters' attempts to subdue these rebellious people, who made agreements with both the British and the French, using one against the other for their own advantage. The author laid before the agent of the British Government the nub of the problem:
"Without interposition of the strong hand of Government, it is feared that the most healthy, rich and beautiful island of St Vincent's may, to all intents of national advantage, be lost to the crown of Great Britain. Mere regulations respecting the Charaibs can no longer be deemed effectual. Laws cannot reach them in their woods. The British planter can no more trust to professions. he nation can have no further confidence in treaty. Under all these circumstances and considerations, the Council and Assembly of St Vincent's in the instructions to their agent in London, declare the sole alternative to be - That the British planters, or the Black Charaibs, must be removed from off the island of St Vincent's."

The British Government chose the alternative of removing the Black Caribs. It sent a large expeditionary force to St Vincent which rounded up 5,000 men, women and children and imprisoned them on a barren island, where many died of malnutrition and disease. In 1797 over 2,000 survivors were herded onto British ships and ferried over a thousand miles to an island off the coast of Honduras, where they were dumped and left to die.
The Garifuna (as the Black Caribs called themselves) did not die, but settled in Honduras and neighbouring countries. They faced discrimination wherever they went, but they survived, and so did their language. In 2000 they held the first World Garifuna Congress. Their paramount chief Dr Theodore Aranda invited me to deliver an address at the opening of the Congress, held in the town of Dangriga in the south of Belize. Several hundred Garifuna had gathered, some speaking Spanish (from Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua) and some speaking English (from Belize, St Vincent and the United States). I attended a preliminary meeting of a group of delegates on the eve of the conference. Dr Aranda explained that as some spoke no English and others spoke no Spanish, they would be speaking Garifuna which they all understood.

The following morning, before the Congress, there was a Catholic service held in the Garifuna language. Children read from the Bible in Garifuna. They recited the Garifuna prayer to 'Bungiu Baba' (Lord God), which included a plea for God's help for reparation and development ('Luma aranderuni, Lumagien awanseruni'). The language had been preserved as a living tongue during over 200 years of exile in different countries.
I spoke about the international legal principle of reparation, and applied it to what was undoubtedly a criminal act committed by the British in 1797: the forcible removal and attempted destruction of an entire people. I said that a united and sustained effort would be needed to obtain justice from Britain. Public opinion in Britain had to be informed, since few people knew of the Garifuna. There was a dissenting tradition in Britain, people and organisations which would be most supportive if they only knew the story. I quoted the famous Bob Marley song: "Get Up, Stand Up, Stand Up For Your Rights." I suggested that a Garifuna delegation should visit Britain, and I promised to help them with introductions. So far nothing has come of this; but I retain a sweet memory of this people who have refused over so long to give up their heritage and their language.

In 2001 the United Nations convened the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. It was to be held in Durban, South Africa. In the preparations for the conference new life was breathed into the reparations issue. For how could the world discuss racism without mentioning the causes? Several African Governments insisted that the past must be on the agenda. In a 'non-paper' prepared in advance of the conference by the group of African nations, some key themes were inserted into the conference draft resolutions:
• "Remembering the past, unequivocally condemning its major racist tragedies, and telling the truth about history are essential elements for international reconciliation."
• "An explicit apology should be extended by States which practised, benefited or unjustly enriched themselves from slavery and the slave trade."
• "Those who benefited were urged "to assume full responsibility through, inter alia, enhanced remedial development policies, programmes and concrete measures".
This was a call for reparations in all but name.

The United States responded with a 'non-paper' of its own. "We would like the World Conference against Racism to focus on the current form and manifestations of racism as it was intended to do by the UN General Assembly, rather than to apportion blame for past injustices or seek to exact compensation for these acts." The US agreed that slavery and the slave trade "must be acknowledged, discussed, learned from and condemned", but "we simply do not believe that it is appropriate to address this history - and its many and vast aspects - through such measures as international compensatory measures". The US was "willing to join others in expressing regret for involvement in those historical practices", but "we are not willing to agree to anything that suggests present-day liability on the part of one state to another for that historical situation".

I had not been to South Africa since the historic democratic elections of 1994. Since then the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) had begun and ended its work. I had followed the reports of the TRC with admiration. Under the chairmanship of Archbishop Tutu, it had shown the world that it was possible for gross injustices to be exposed and confronted. The new South Africa seemed to be the right place in which the world would meet and talk about the evil of racism. I had to be in Jamaica during the week before the Conference, and at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry in Northern Ireland the week after. But I could not resist taking the trip, from Kingston to London to Johannesburg to Durban, to be there for an all too short six days.

I discovered that the exciting part of the conference was taking place outside the conference hall, in the Forum of Non-Governmental Organisations which was based in a nearby cricket stadium. There was a buzz of activity as thousands of participants in different tents discussed the vast spectrum of topics to be addressed in the Conference. I raised my voice from the floor at a meeting on Reparations, and addressed a meeting which was organised by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. I was touched when Congressman John Conyers, who year after year had tabled a motion in Congress calling for a Commission to study Reparations for African Americans, came to the meeting and praised my speech. Also at the meeting was South African law lecturer Max du Plessis who had written an academic paper on the issue of Reparations for Slavery and Colonialism. Quoting extensively on my paper and House of Lords speech, he concluded, like Lord Wilberforce, that legal claims would fail, but that the call for reparation, in some form, "surely has a legitimate moral grounding".

I was not part of the intense negotiating that took place behind the scenes on the wording of the Conference Final Declaration. I have heard that the Caribbean delegations, especially from Jamaica and Barbados, played a pivotal role. The United States had walked out of the Conference, expressing displeasure about the way in which two key issues - rights of Palestinians, and reparation - were being dealt with. But the European governments, led by the British and the French, were there to prevent anything too radical being included in the Declaration. The alliance of African and Caribbean delegations pushed for a clear statement that the transatlantic slave trade was a crime against humanity.

The Final Declaration stated that "we profoundly regret the massive human suffering" caused by slavery and the slave trade. It acknowledged that the slave trade and slavery "are a crime against humanity and should always have been so" (fudging the issue as to whether it was a crime against humanity at the time). It noted that "some States have taken the initiative to apologise, and have paid reparation, where appropriate, for grave and massive violations committed". Those who had not taken such initiatives were urged "to find appropriate ways to do so". It noted further: "We are aware of the moral obligation on the part of all concerned States and call upon these States to take appropriate and effective measures to halt and reverse the lasting consequences of those practices."

The Conference Declaration reeks of compromise and imprecise language. That was inevitable, given the conflicting interests of the different participants. What was important was that there was a successful attempt to face up to the connection between the horrors of the past and the racism and poverty of today. There was plenty in the Declaration, and its accompanying Programme of Action, for activists to work on. Much more was said on the subject of reparation than the former slave-owning states would have liked.
In Jamaica the conference brought to life the Jamaican Reparations Movement, now guided by the Rastafarian activist Barbara Blake Hannah who had been part of Jamaica's delegation to the conference. The problem in Jamaica is that while many people are sympathetic, few are prepared to give time or money to the work of an organisation. Musicians have put the theme of reparations into their songs, but attempts to organise a fund-raising concert have so far fallen flat. In a country where so many people are struggling to survive economically, they have little space or energy for voluntary effort. On the positive side, there is now a committee set up by the prime minister to work on the commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade. In Jamaica there is no contradiction between the interests of government and the aspirations of the reparations movement. Officially the Government supports the call for reparations, but it seems constrained by its economic situation from speaking out too vocally on the issue.
In the wider Caribbean, Barbados in October 2002 hosted the Africa and African Descendants Conference against Racism. It was intended as a follow-up to the Durban Conference. Barbados, taking the lead in the Caribbean, had set up an official Commission for Pan African Affairs, which sponsored the conference. Unfortunately the conference split over a dispute as to whether White people should take part, and a vote was taken to exclude 'non-African-descended people'. The reparations claim is an issue in which all races have a part to play; yet I understand the anger which comes from bitter experience, and which exploded with this decision. Too often White people, in England especially, have insisted on leading struggles against racism and apartheid, pushing Black people to the sidelines when they should be in the lead. However there was no danger of this in the Reparations Conference. The campaign for Reparations has always been led by Black people, in Africa and elsewhere. The problem has been to get White people interested at all. The decision of the Conference was wrong, and the reports of it overshadowed the positive work which the Conference did.
In recent years the most spectacular gains of the movement for Reparations have been in the United States. The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA) has grown into a powerful movement. It has achieved important local successes. In January 2005 the bank J.P.Morgan Chase came under pressure from the City of Chicago to declare its historical links to slavery if it wished to do business with the city. It revealed that its predecessor banks in Louisiana had allowed 13,000 slaves to be used as collateral on loans. In 1,250 cases the borrowers defaulted and the collateral was seized by the bank. J.P.Morgan apologised and created a $5 million scholarship for African-American students in Louisiana. While the response of the company has been criticised as inadequate, the precedent is being followed in other cities in the US. American lawyers have also been in the forefront of the campaign, bringing a number of lawsuits against companies whose predecessors were involved in slavery. The suits have so far failed, on the basis that too long a time has passed; but they have proved to be an important focus for publicity and mobilisation.

During 2005 I was invited to speak at a conference on "Historic Injustices: Restitution and Reconciliation in International Perspective", at Brown University, the prestigious Ivy League college in Providence, Rhode Island. Providence had been a major slave trading port. The conference included an excellent presentation made by a local White activist whose family had been leading slave traders. She showed a moving film of the journey made by her and her relatives, back to the slave castles in Ghana where her family's slaves had been held captive. Another speaker was Dr Mongane Wally Serote, South African poet and freedom fighter, who had been Arts Minister in the first ANC government. I had known him in exile in London, and it was joyous to meet him again and to learn that he was now director of the Freedom Park in Pretoria, a project dedicated to the memory of all who died in South Africa's conflicts over the centuries.
I spoke of my audience with the Queen Mother of the Ashantis, and about the value of an apology. As I did so, I looked into the eyes of the President of Brown University, Professor Ruth Simmonds, the first Black head of an Ivy League university and one of the convenors of the conference. I said:
"Most White people find it impossible, either at a national or a personal level, to say, 'My people did your people a grievous wrong. I apologise, and I want to do what is necessary to remedy the damage which that wrong has caused.' Yet it would be such a healing thing to say. Both Black and White societies are sick from the consequences of slavery. Black societies around the world are economically sick, deprived of land, psychologically made to feel inferior. White societies are spiritually sick, deprived of soul, psychologically infected with racial prejudice. I advocate the cause of reparations because a just society which faces the horrors of its past is a happier society for me as well as for you."

Speaking to the mainly White audience, I said: "I believe that White people should be responding positively to this movement in a spirit of brotherly love, and in recognition of the justice of the case for reparations. It is not a question of guilt, but of responsibility. You and I are not to blame for the institution of slavery, but we would be to blame if we did nothing to rectify the injustices which are still being suffered because of slavery. Reparation is about reconciliation, not about conflict. The conflict will happen if we refuse to listen to those who have a just cause."

That speech sums up what I feel about the reparations issue. I have not changed much from the position which I took in Abuja in 1993. I have moved more clearly into believing that the issue is about reconciliation between the race which was grossly abusive and the race which was grossly abused. The difficulty is that the abusing race will not recognise its own responsibility. I said at Brown University:
"The reluctance of White Europeans and White Americans to come to terms with the historic injustice of slavery is caused, I believe, by both the depth of the prejudice and the magnitude of the issues to be faced. The notions of White virtue are so ingrained that they cannot admit to the barbarities which their ancestors committed. If they respond at all to the claims of Black people for justice, it is by way of 'development aid' or 'anti-discrimination laws', which imply that their generosity is bestowing benefits on the poor suffering Blacks. It is easier to help victims than to pay compensation for past crimes."

That is the attitude which needs to be rejected as we approach a historic anniversary. In 2007 the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade will be commemorated. I fear that it will be used mainly to praise the British abolitionists. It is easier to take pride in having ended an evil than to express shame in having carried out that evil for centuries. I fear also that the sacrifice of the Caribbean peoples who rebelled, at huge cost to their lives, in Haiti and Jamaica and Barbados and Guyana and elsewhere will be overlooked.

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