By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOLLOWING the unanimous adoption of an action plan to pursue reparations for African slavery and native genocide, CARICOM nations will now prepare for a June conference with Europe to negotiate the issue ahead of making a formal claim.
In keeping with the regional agenda, the Bahamas’ commission has been fully appointed, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell, who confirmed yesterday that the names will be revealed upon the delegation’s return from the two-day inter-sessional summit in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Responding to questions sent by The Tribune, Mr Mitchell said: “This issue is one which the local commission is tasked with discussing with the public and in particular, public education. We expect that the local commission will advise us on the necessity and or efficacy of any legal, political, legislative or administrative decisions that need to be taken by the Bahamian government.”
The regional body yesterday deliberated the budget for its Reparations Commission, according to news reports.
Despite widespread speculation over the futility of the bid, and response from some countries that they will not concede, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told journalists on Monday that CARICOM has compiled a “serious proposal, with serious issues”.
According to Caribbean360.com, Dr Gonsalves said: “These things never come easy, but these are 14 sovereign countries representing 16 million people with a huge Diaspora in the United States, in Canada, in Europe. I think we have some influence. I am satisfied and we are satisfied that we have the law on our side, and we have the acts on our side.”
Dr Gonsalves explained that the regional body will pursue litigation if talks with Europe are unsuccessful, adding that he hoped the June conference will engender a “mature conversation with the Europeans”.
The ten-point reparatory justice framework was presented by historian and head of CARICOM’s commission, Professor Hilary Beckles.
The delegation led by Prime Minister Perry Christie is expected to return today.
CARICOM hired London-based law firm Leigh Day, which won £19.9 million in compensation for Kenyans tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and ‘60s, last year.
The Bahamas government agreed to establish a National Reparations Committee, with the head of the committee to sit on CARICOM’s Reparations Commission, at the 34th Heads of Government meeting in July of last year.
The decision to establish a local commission sparked national dialogue with both the legal and academic communities weighing in on the debate.
In an interview with The Tribune in October, the UK Government said it would block attempts to force it to pay reparations for slavery.
Stating that reparations “are not the answer”, a spokesman for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office said governments “cannot take responsibility for what happened over 200 years ago.”
The Bahamas’ National Reparations Committee will soon be embarking on a full slate of education and consultation programmes, Committee Chairperson Alfred Sears told The Tribune last month.
Known group members consist of co-chairs former education minister Alfred Sears, and former MP Philip Smith; and foreign service officer Charmaine Williams.