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When viewed in the overall historical context of the 300 years of free labour building Britain during the slavery and colonial period, the 400 million pounds UK is offering the Caribbean as presumably an alternative payment for reparations is simply laughable. There remains a case for reparatory justice.

Dear Prime Minister Cameron,

I noted your recent generous offer of 25m pounds as a partial contribution for the repatriation of Jamaicans imprisoned in Britain. The problem, as I understand it, is that since Britain is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) so then the appallingly bad prison conditions in Jamaica, if the UK convicts were transferred to a Jamaican prison, would breach the ECHR provisions and amount to cruel and inhumane treatment. Your offer then, being faced with a call for payment of reparations for slavery, is to substitute an offer of increased aid for the Caribbean and avoid reparations payments – is this not your strategy?

Seems less than clever at best and at worst a racist insult. Forget the examples of the Canadian apology to the First Nation natives and reparations paid by the Canadian government; or, the substantial payment to the Jews for a significantly shorter historical time of suffering a crime against humanity; or the apology by the Government of New Zealand and payment of reparations to the Maoris – simply ignore these – right? One really can’t deny that these quite recent precedents do exist – can one? So what makes the Caribbean claim that different?

The figure of 400m pounds to the Caribbean in aid, is a paltry sum when viewed in the overall context of the UK’s overseas aid budget, being more than £11 billion annually, with not much at all coming to the Caribbean as bilateral aid. More importantly, when viewed in the overall historical context of the 300 years of free labour building Britain during the slavery and colonial period, the figure offered as presumably an alternative payment for reparations is simply laughable.

Britain has no problem with the funding; it does, however, have a huge problem with its global credibility if this issue of reparations is viewed with honesty and sensibly with sensitivity and open eyes. It is a drop in the bucket for Britain to address this claim – but it seems as if some have no shame!

Consider your family’s own benefit by inserting the name Cameron to ascertain how much was paid as reparations to the Cameron slave owner family -

Might I also contrast your approach to payment with a reflection on British responsibility in a modern sense, for the care and protection of persons who suffer from mental illness in the Turks and Caicos Islands ( TCI)? The Islands do not have a mental hospital, but instead a section in the Lunatics Ordinance in the TCI requires transfer of the mentally ill to be hospitalised in Jamaica. Indeed the Turks and Caicos finds itself under ECHR jurisdiction. Yet, to save money the British Governor declared the prison a hospital for the care of the mentally ill. See below, the treatment of a Jamaican schizophrenic inmate, if you doubt me ( he died in his cell): See here.

Might I therefore suggest that for the UK to meet its ECHR responsibility in the Turks and Caicos Islands, the 25m pounds be diverted and applied now as a matter of necessity and urgency to its own British colony for a state of the art mental health hospital? Thus, then the UK meets its ECHR obligations in its own colony of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Prime Minister Cameron, I go further. It is absolutely appalling the approach that you have taken to this quite serious and important issue of reparations in the Caribbean. I shall substantiate and validate my last comment. It was you who recently referred to the “swarms” of refugees/ migrants into Europe. Do you not understand that it was British policy to support the US in its invasion of Iraq and then, as the whole world sees, made Iraq a ‘failed state’? Then even with that recent miscalculation the UK again was fully committed to the bombing and destruction of Libya. Tell me – where do the majority of these terrorists and refugees come from? Whose policies bred them; who funded and trained them; and – who now with astounding consistency wants to have the Caribbean abandon its claim for reparations? Who? There is nothing that you say and/or do that can be wrong – is it not so?

The real legacy and issue in the Caribbean is the lack of inter-generational capital at the end of the slavery and colonial period which can be discerned by considering the following data. This represents GDP per capita as sourced from the International Monetary Fund. Draw your own conclusions based on reliable sources.

In both a historical and contemporary sense there remains a case for reparatory justice. The way forward will have to be, by your choosing after having addressed the Jamaican Parliament, a case before the international Court of Justice and an assessment of the claim’s total value.

Again, the approach via aid is wholly inadequate. As you well know this is a device to get British companies overseas work; monies not even leaving Britain in certain instances; high-end professional jobs and consultancies on construction and other projects for British professionals; and at a disproportionate advantage to the donor country. “Aid” in this sense is false symbolism and not exactly reparations – is it not – and if your approach were to be accepted, you would in actuality be pacifying the Caribbean’s claim for reparations at knock down basement bargain price.

Let’s analyse for a moment. In the 1830s there was a politically motivated prolonging of the emancipation declaration. In fact, there were women groups and persons of conscience in Europe who well before Wilberforce and Pitt had wanted immediate emancipation. But, what actually happened? The politicians prolonged the process to ensure that they could pay to the enslavers ( and themselves) the spoils of the enslavement and then left the enslaved with not one jot for their centuries of extracted free labour. Is this not simply disgraceful? Do you not have a human conscience?

Look at what the Canadian and the New Zealand governments did – do you not have an iota of equivalent grace and dignity? When we move forward to the proposed 25m pounds prison ‘contribution’ to Jamaica are you for a moment in any way aware of what you are saying and doing? You are going back at least two centuries in your approach to this issue of reparations. First, the idea of paying not the group descended from the people who worked and laboured but the ones who by force, violence and torture had labour extracted for free over centuries is nothing short of disgraceful. Indeed that was then, and you, no doubt will say that this is now. But the British response as then is being replicated now. Why so? Well – you are offering to pay just about nothing and you are ensuring that yet again Britain takes all the lucre, but pretend that the UK is doing some great good for the Caribbean. Not so?

Your motive and approach is fully understood. However, weighing the horrors and contemporary consequences of slavery, is it you as Prime Minister or is it Britain as a country that is so shameless and blameless? Just consider the recent case of the Kenyan claims for compensation for being tortured in concentration camps during the Mau Mau period. The UK went as far as hiding some of the official records and files from the claimants’ lawyers, until discovered and released under court order.

Thus, here we go again. But, isn’t it not now time that we address this reparations claim in a mutually respectful, honest, dignified and just manner? No less should be sought; no less is deserved to the Caribbean.

Prime Minister Cameron, truth be told, I am a “nobody human rights lawyer”. You are perfectly free to ignore my correspondence – or – you might from your high office begin to consider the quite substantial issues I have raised. Myself, a humble person, not in the least with any state’s resources at my disposal. But – again - truth be told – I have my mind, my heart, my conscience and I would like to believe, the capacity of any other human being who believes that the cause that I have here defended and supported is a worthy and perfectly justifiable cause, and can now say ( to yourself Prime Minister Cameron) – why not so?


* Courtenay Barnett is a lawyer and reparations activist who has a law practice in the Caribbean where he resides.



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