By Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from IPS
Africans and descendants of Africans have agreed to establish a global organization to help them fight for compensation from nations that participated in the slave trade.
The Pan African Movement was the main outcome of a week-long meeting of more than 500 delegates that concluded last week in Barbados.
Participants said the body would deal with a plethora of issues, from racial profiling to poverty, to the need for reparations from Europe and the United States for the trans-Atlantic slave trade that cost an estimated 350 million lives.
The conference was billed as the first major follow-up to last years United Nations anti-racism gathering in South Africa that designated slavery as a crime against humanity.
The new organization is very important to us, said Muntu Matsimela, a U.S. delegate. We have to work for the realization of the goal of complete compensation and restitution, he told the conference to loud applause.
Delegates said the new body is important because the reparations issue is gathering steam in several regions of the world, including the United States, where attorneys in March filed a class action lawsuit against three companies with ties to the slave trade.
Leaders of the reparations movement argued here that many precedents exist for nations compensating peoples for historical wrongs, such as Germany paying Israel for the horrors of the Holocaust.
The Durban declaration on race as a crime helped to make reparations a legitimate case and any such case has to be taken seriously now. The rest is for us to do, said Khafra Kambon, chairman of Trinidads emancipation support committee.
The conference decided to proceed with lawsuits in the next year against Britain, Germany, Belgium and France and to later launch actions against Portugal, Spain and Holland.
In the case of Britain, Jamaican attorneys have already started proceedings, serving a writ on Queen Elizabeth when she visited Jamaica in February.
Buckingham Palace has acknowledged the Queens receipt of the documents and last week the Jamaican High Court heard pre-trial motions in the case.
Delegates say France is being targeted because it forced Haiti to pay 150 million Francs ($22.6 million) to declare itself a republic after Haitian slaves defeated French colonial forces in 1804. Haitian governments were made to pay the money from 1825 to 1922 as compensation for French property destroyed during the slave uprising.
Delegates say the money could have been used to kick start development projects on the island of eight million.
Matsimela said the new body would also help collect and gather information on Black issues, including current work by unrelated groups to sue governments and corporations for reparations.
The move to set up the world body was one of the key decisions taken at the meeting, marred only by a majority floor vote to expel all non-Africans from the conference.
Delegates like conference chairperson Jewel Crawford argued that Blacks needed their own space to discuss issues and that the expulsion of others was merely the democratic process at work, not a policy decision of organizers.
Angered by the decision and calling it reverse racism, several delegations and parts of others abandoned the meeting last Friday, following hours of failed negotiations to reach a compromise.
Participants from Cuba, some French overseas territories, part of the South African team, and the lone Black Colombian and Russian delegates left the meeting.
Many of the delegates in the room felt that this was an African family meeting and that slavery was too painful to discuss in the presence of others, said U.S.-born Crawford.
The Barbados government, which on the one hand partly funds the local Pan African Movement and on the other depends on tourist dollars from mostly White visitors, distanced itself from the decision.
The conference also passed resolutions demanding an end to modern-day slavery in Mauritania and Sudan, following a presentation by Bakary Tandai, the lone Mauritanian delegate at the meeting.
Tandai said that at least 900,000 people out of a Mauritanian population of 2.3 million are slaves or live in slave-like conditions.
The conference condemns all forms of slavery in the two countries and the destruction of Black African culture by forced Arabization, a resolution stated.
Zimbabwe land reform got a sympathetic hearing following an account by delegate Sabelo Sibanda.
Be it resolved that we recognize President Mugabe and the Government of Zimbabwe as the structure to deal with the land reform program in Zimbabwe, and we applaud and support the courage and foresight of President Mugabe for embarking upon the land reform program, another resolution said.
The meeting also called on African governments to grant full citizenship to Africans living around the world as a result of the slave trade, saying they should be allowed to claim a piece of the motherland.
The conference resolves that African governments give all Africans in the diaspora the immediate and unfettered right to return to any African state to claim their ancestral citizenship rights, said a resolution.
Government should also prepare information packages to make it easy for interested persons to resettle on the continent, it added. Such documents would explain ways of buying land, investing in the economy and assimilating into local cultures, among other things.
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