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Reparations for enslavement, UNESCO, and the United Nations decade for peoples of African descent

More and more groups are demanding state reparations for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Could this be a reality before the ‘international decade for people of African descent’ ends?

Tyler Merbler/Flickr. (CC 2.0 by)

The International Scientific Committee of the UNESCO Slave Route Project, composed of 20 experts from different countries and regions of the world, has reflected on the important issue of reparations and issued the following statement during its last meeting in Cabo Verde in October 2015.

“We support recent calls by governments and civil society groups to make reparations a core component of the International Decade for People of African Descent. These calls build upon, further extend, and implement the Declaration and Plan of Action arising from the 2001 World Conference Against Racism held in Durban South Africa.

We also support the “Programme of activities for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent” (UN resolution A/RES/69/16), as adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in November 2014. This programme:

speaks of “the untold suffering and evils inflicted on millions of men, women and children”;

calls on states “that have not yet expressed remorse or presented apologies to find some way to contribute to the restoration of the dignity of its victims”;

invites “the international community and its members to honour the memory of the victims of these tragedies with a view to closing those dark chapters in history and as a means of reconciliation and healing”;

and calls upon “all states concerned to take appropriate and effective measures to halt and reverse the lasting consequences of those practices, bearing in mind their moral obligations.”

It should be evident from these statements and programmes, along with a now extensive body of research into slavery and its legacies, that the wounds inflicted by enslavement and the slave trades have not yet been fully recognised or repaired.

We therefore call upon governments and institutions responsible for historical patterns of enslavement to take immediate and comprehensive measures to repair these crimes, which are reflected in global patterns of poverty, inequality, and racism. This comprehensive action should include, at a minimum, the following measures:

Ethical reparations: adopting additional legal measures that formally recognise enslavement and the slave trade as crimes against humanity at the national level.

Historical reparations: investing resources and expertise into systematically documenting and publicising the local and international dimensions and various effects of these crimes against humanity.

Educational reparations: taking effective steps to ensure that the history of enslavement and related practices be incorporated into teaching and pedagogy, so that future generations can both learn about and learn from these crimes against humanity and their continuing contemporary legacies.

Socio‐economic reparations: implementing a long‐term programme of collective action to redress global patterns of discrimination, racism, unjust enrichment, vulnerability and marginalisation which continue to mark the contemporary experiences of Africans and peoples of African descent.

Finally, we commit ourselves to promote scientific and legal research into enslavement and its legacies, to contribute to ongoing global efforts and debates, to examine the theory and practice of reparations, to marshal and apply the best available evidence, and to contribute to proposals for political, socio-economic and legal action.


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