REPRESENTATIVES from the African Diaspora and the House of Rastafari believe that the Bahamas government is in a unique position to lead the region as talks over reparations are set to begin today at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to lawyer Dion Hanna and Professor Felix Bethel, one way the government can lead by example ahead of the international community is to have the nation’s crown land reserves turned over to the Bahamian people who have actually worked it since slavery days.
“Specifically we are saying there cannot be any real human dignity if our people cannot be given access to land that is theirs, and right now the only impediment preventing this land being provided to the Bahamian people is the government itself. So when we decided that we will pack our bags and go to Britain, and go to Denmark, and go all over the world talking about reparations from the British, the French, or the Dutch, let us begin this process at home,” Mr Bethel said.
Mr Bethel could not say specifically how the land should be divided, but noted that the conversation should be had and the government should agree in principle as it has been delayed for too long.
Beyond the issue of land, Mr Bethel said there is also the issue of individuals in the Rastafari community wanting the same rights and freedoms as anyone else of any other religious persuasion.
“They want to be respected in their practices and customs, and to be afforded the same types of privileges as Roman Catholics, etc, not be scoffed at, not to discriminated against, or to be mocked or scarred in Her Majesty’s Prison lock up.”
Mr Bethel also made the case for men and women who wear their hair in locks to also be respected.
Priest Philip Blyden, of the Ethiopian African Black International Congress, and chairman of the House of Rastafari (an umbrella group for all other Rastafari groups in the Bahamas) said that the Rastafari community has been at the forefront of reparation talks for the past 40 years. In his opinion, reparations and repatriation are an ideal that cannot be separated, and they have their own legal team and council on this matter. He told The Tribune last night that the House of Rastafari should not only have a seat on reparation talks, but be the leading voice going forward.
Priest Rithmond McKinney, the Ambassador for the Ethiopian Black International Congress, is on the newly formed Reparation Committee and will be in attendance at today’s first conference session at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The 22-person committee which was recently announced will establish the moral, ethical, and legal case for the payment of repatriations by the former colonial European countries.
The committee will discuss a ten-point plan, which includes debt cancellation and an apology, to present to CARICOM in June as a part of the action plan to seek reparations for slavery.
The Bahamas has endorsed an action plan to seek reparations for slavery from former colonisers, including Britain, France and the Netherlands.
Lawyer Alfred Sears, co-chair of the committee, said the committee is an opportunity to achieve restorative justice that will produce healing and reconciliation as they address the legacies of 400 years of slavery.