Friday, April 07, 2006


Sporadically there have been movements to achieve reparations for those formerly held as slaves, or sometimes their descendants. Claims for reparations for being held in slavery are handled as a civil law matter in almost every country. This is often decried as a serious problem, since former slaves' relative lack of money means they often have limited access to a potentially expensive and futile legal process. Mandatory systems of fines and reparations paid to an as yet undetermined group of claimants from fines, paid by unspecified parties, and collected by authorities have been proposed by advocates to alleviate this "civil court problem". Since in almost all cases there are no living ex-slaves or living ex-slave owners these movements have gained little traction. In nearly all cases the judicial system has ruled that the statute of limitations on these possible claims has long since expired.

In the United States, the reparations movement often cites the unofficial 40 acres and a mule decree, which was never implemented, as an unpaid claim. Recent effort have also targeted the few surviving businesses that profited from the slave trade or issued insurance on slaves. Almost all these cases have been dismissed and reparations have never been paid to descendants of slaves.

In Africa, the second self-appointed World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission was convened in Ghana in 2000. Its deliberations concluded with a petition being served in the International Court at the Hague for US$777 trillion (more than ten times the annual world GDP, equivalent to about 250 years' worth of the current U.S. federal budget) against the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom for "unlawful removal and destruction of Petitioners" mineral and human resources from the African continent" between 1503 up to the end of the colonial era in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Following Blair's statement expressing "sorrow" over slavery, Esther Stanford, of the Pan African Reparation Coalition called for "various reparative measures including financial compensation" from the British government to the descendants of black Africans transported in the international slave trade. This view was repeated by Anti-slavery International's director Aiden McQuade, who called for "measures of reparation towards the communities and countries which have been impoverished and devastated by the Trans-Atlantic slave trade". Such reparations are not completely without precedent, since descendants of black American slaves sued Lloyd's of London in 2004 for insuring ships used in the slave trade during the 1700s and 1800s. There is widespread disagreement with reparations for slavery among the British public, including anger that such reparations are unilateral (i.e. focus purely on black African slavery by white people and do not take into account slavery within Africa by black Africans over a longer period), single-issue (i.e. do not include other slavery within Britain under, for example, the Romans and Vikings), legally dubious (group responsibility for the actions of forebears has no legal basis under British law) and fail to take into account changing political, legal and moral attitudes..

The idea of reparations for slavery has also been rejected by some black Africans. The president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, has ridiculed reparations by saying he is the descendant of generations of slave-owning African royals. "If one can claim reparations for slavery, the slaves of my ancestors or their descendants can also claim money from me".