Jamaica seeking billions of pounds in reparations from Britain over historical slavery

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1857: A group of liberated slaves on the parade at Fort Augusta, Jamaica, after the slave ship they were imprisoned in was captured by an English destroyer. - HultonArchive/Illustrated London News/Getty Images
1857: A group of liberated slaves on the parade at Fort Augusta, Jamaica, after the slave ship they were imprisoned in was captured by an English destroyer. - HultonArchive/Illustrated London News/Getty Images

Jamaica will seek billions of pounds in reparations from Britain over its slavery past, with the country, a former British colony, once the centre of the global slave trade.

The Spanish, then the British, forcibly transported Africans to work on plantations of sugar cane, bananas and other crops that created fortunes for many of their owners.

Olivia Grange, minister of sports, youth and culture, told Reuters in an interview at the weekend: "We are hoping for reparatory justice in all forms that one would expect if they are to really ensure that we get justice from injustices to repair the damages that our ancestors experienced.

"Our African ancestors were forcibly removed from their home and suffered unparalleled atrocities in Africa to carry out forced labour to the benefit of the British Empire," she added. "Redress is well overdue."

The petition, with approval from Jamaica's National Council on Reparations, will be filed pending advice from the attorney general and three legal teams, she said.

The attorney general will then send it to the Queen.

More than 15 million people were shackled into the transatlantic slave trade, according to the United Nations.

Seized from Spain by the English in 1655, Jamaica was a British colony until it became independent in 1962.

The West Indian country of almost three million people is part of the Commonwealth and the British monarch remains head of state.

Britain prohibited trade in slaves in its empire in 1807 but did not formally abolish the practice of slavery until 1834.

To compensate slave owners, the British government took out a £20 million loan, and only finished paying off the ensuing interest payments in 2015.

The reparations petition is based on a private motion by Jamaican lawmaker, Mike Henry, who said it was worth some £7.6 billion, a sum he estimated is roughly equivalent in today's terms to what Britain paid to the slaveholders.

"I am asking for the same amount of money to be paid to the slaves that was paid to the slave owners," the member of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party said.

"I am doing this because I have fought against this all my life, against chattel slavery which has dehumanised human life."

The initiative follows growing acknowledgement in some quarters of the role played by slavery in generating wealth in Britain, with businesses and seats of learning pledging financial contributions in compensation.

They include insurance market, Lloyd's of London, pub owner Greene King, and the University of Glasgow.

The petition also coincides with increasing efforts by some in Jamaica to sever formal ties with the UK.

In December, opposition lawmaker, Mikael Phillips, presented a motion to remove the British monarch as head of state.

A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office said: “Slavery has no place today, and we will make sure that future generations do not forget what happened. That’s why we commemorate the annual International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition on 23 August and are working with international partners to construct a permanent memorial at the UN Headquarters.”

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