Trillions of dollars in reparations are owed to nations affected by slavery, a recently concluded study on the quantification of reparations for Transatlantic Chattel Slavery (TCS) in the Americas and the Caribbean has found.
The report identifies the reparations that are due in respect of 31 countries in which TCS was practised, according to Judge Patrick Robinson, former honorary president of the American Society of International Law and the project’s initiator, who spoke at the report’s launch yesterday at the Regional Headquarters of The University of the West Indies. To assess the reparations that are due, it must be established that the injuries or harm suffered by the enslaved are the consequence of wrongful conduct by those who carried out TCS.
The economic estimations were made in the context of the harms experienced during the enslavement and post-enslavement periods. The calculations in the report were done by a group of US economists from The Brattle Group, guided by a team of lawyers, historians, and history students. In his presentation of some of the findings in the report, Robinson disclosed that Britain is required to pay 14 countries a sum of $24 trillion, of which Jamaica would receive approximately $9.5 trillion.
He further outlined that for Spain, about $17 trillion was to be paid over of which Jamaica would receive a sum of $102 billion. The research shows that the United States is required to pay approximately $26 trillion for its practice of TCS from 1776 to 1865 and that France is required to pay four countries approximately US$9 trillion.
Portugal is required to pay $20 trillion to Brazil, while they (Brazil) are required to pay about $4 trillion in respect to its practice of TCS in Brazil from 1822 to 1888, and The Netherlands is required to pay approximately US$5 trillion, of which about $3 trillion should be paid to Suriname and about $52 billion to Guyana. The aggregate sum of reparations to be paid by all former slave-owning states totals US$107.8 trillion, Robinson said.
The report stated that the total harm estimated from enslavement is between US$100 trillion and US$131 trillion. An advisory committee was established to resolve difficult issues arising from the assessment of reparations.
Robinson stated that the committee spent an extended period deliberating on whether the figures should be reduced but later agreed that it should remain on the basis of the figures reflecting the enormity of the unlawful practices of TCS. “Nonetheless, it decided to recommend to countries entitled to reparations that they consider, in consultation with the former slave-owning countries, that reparations maybe paid over a 10-year period, a 15-year period, a 20-year period, or a 25-year period,” he said, adding that such an arrangement should be secured through a binding agreement.
The report, Robinson said, does not address the earnings of plantation owners, banks, insurance companies, and other entities that profit from TCS as the group was still working to access the relevant data to sort out the sum relating to this. In its assessment of the reparations owed in the post-enslavement period, The Brattle Group used the measure of wealth disparity between the descendants of the enslaved and their colonisers. Thirty-one countries were also cited to benefit from this.
Reparations to be paid by Britain total $2 trillion, of which they are required to pay Jamaica about $564 billion. The overall estimation of reparations for the post-enslavement period is US$22.9 trillion. “The advisory committee’s position is that it is the descendants of the enslaved Africans who should be the beneficiaries of the reparations that are due,” he said.
Robinson further said that he strongly believed that the monies should not be handed over to the individuals but that they should be used for development of the country and assist in providing services in areas such as health, housing, and technology of which the descendants of the enslaved are deprived. “I am also of the view that sums paid over as reparations should be segregated from all other governmental funds and administered by a body that is insulated from political influence,” he added.
Robinson stated that the Brattle report identified several “heads of damages” regarding enslavement and post-enslavement periods, which assisted in quantifying the reparations owed. These included loss of life and uncompensated labour, loss of liberty, personal injury, mental pain and anguish, and gender-based violence.
The Brattle Group, however, did not address other harmful factors identified by the advisory committee to include deprivation of access to a number of services to include health, housing and education, stating that these harms could not be quantified due to current data limitations. In his remarks, P. J. Patterson, former prime minister of Jamaica and statesman in residence of the P. J. Patterson Institute for Africa-Caribbean Advocacy at The UWI, asserted that monetary compensation was owed to Jamaica and the other countries affected by the chattel slavery even if it meant bringing the matter to the courts.
In April 2023, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to apologise for the nation’s involvement in the Atlantic Slave Trade. He further dismissed the call for compensation to be made to the affected countries. While acknowledging the impact and extensive work of the Centre for Reparation Research (CRR), Patterson stated that “the time has come” to further collaborate on seeking legal opinions regarding how best to proceed legally through the kinds of class actions that can be brought down and in what courts.
“Yes, we need a full and encompassing apology, but that alone cannot suffice for the anguish, pain, and inequities of the black experience world-wide throughout the ages. We demand monetary compensation, as Bob Marley said, for being ‘stolen from Africa’ and not mere words, but substantial sums of money to remove the conditions of poverty and punitive deprivation to which we have been condemned throughout the Americas and the Caribbean,” he said.