Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations to commemorate the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

by March 28, 2024

Photo caption – L-R: Yolanda Renee King, author and granddaughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Professor Sir Hilary Beckles and Ms King’s parents: Arndrea Waters King and Martin Luther King III.

Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies (The UWI) and Chair of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles addressed the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on March 25, 2024. He was the keynote speaker at a commemorative meeting of the General Assembly to mark the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (General Assembly: 64th plenary meeting, 78th session). The following is a copy of his written statement.

Mr. President, Ambassador extraordinaire, the Honourable Dennis Francis, it is a privilege and a joy to address this prestigious body, knowing that you, Sir, also symbolically represent the alumni community of The University of the West Indies, the number one ranked university in the Caribbean, which I have the honour to lead.

Mr President, we are gathered to reflect upon and to project our best thinking into the future, why it is that the United Nations has set aside this day in remembrance of the greatest Crime against Humanity in the modern era – the Transatlantic commerce in the enchained, enslaved, commodified, chattelized, and dehumanized bodies of African people.

This evil enterprise, by which Europeans, and their colonial empires, devised legal and financial strategies to convert criminality into capital accumulation, enabled their governments, banks, insurance companies, trading corporations, families-royal and common-churches, universities, men of the state, and the man on the street, to enjoy a bonanza of benefits then and now.

It has left behind for us to navigate and negotiate a legacy of harm, suffering, and unhealed wounds. It is a burden all of humanity must now carry. It is a burden that yokes all Black folks who tomorrow and into the foreseeable future, will continue to suffer the tsunami of economic marginalization, cultural oppression and political victimization. Their struggle for freedom with justice has been historic. Today, it is to secure for these crimes committed a commitment to reparatory justice.

As I speak, Mr President, we are calling for justice for the people of Haiti. This Caribbean nation in our Western world should have been held aloft as the first to end the evil of race-based chattel slavery.

The Haitian nation should have been held aloft as a noble exemplar of popular freedom and celebrated for creating the foundations for democratic citizenship in Western modernity. Instead, Mr President, for their audacity of action beyond hope, they were punished by the West they led, and demonized rather than deified.

Driven by France and backed by all of Europe and the United States of America, they were forced to pay a reversed reparation – a financial arrangement by which the victims were bullied into paying cash to their defeated enslavers.

For nearly one hundred years from 1825, they paid more than 50% of the national income to France as reparations crippling the process of all efforts for national economic and social development. Such an example of diplomatic duplicity continues to haunt the halls of humanity’s efforts to invest in political integrity.

Today we are called to bear witness once again, to the methods of military mendacity and the ideologies of ethnic hatred as we gaze upon the cruelties unleashed upon the innocent in Gaza.

We all know the narratives and the tools that are being used to justify and legitimize this cruelty. They were born and matured in the cradle of Caribbean slave societies. These instruments of terror were not abandoned and buried when the slave enterprise was discredited and dismantled. Human decency has not been spared. History has released them for duty today.

We must therefore unite once again all people of goodwill, and all institutions that hold in their bosom a passion for humanity, to end the military massacres of powerless masses whose only sin is their hope for freedom. We have seen in our story of struggle how the many are made to pay for the actions of the few; and how the principle of war continues to be that the blood of all is to be spilled to soothe the souls of offended egos.

As a result, Mr President, I come hither to lay this fundamental truth before you. I do so with deep respect to you and the nobility of this enduring institution.

This truth, Mr President is this:

That until our Western World deploys its considerable wisdom and agrees to pay just reparations to those who have been subject to the African slavery holocaust;

That until men and women of good conscience move together as one to bring closure to the crime of enslavement and native genocide in the form of sincere apologies and development compensation;

That until there is respect for the double burden the people of Africa have carried for the moral conscience of modernity, exemplified in our time in the super-humanity of Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela;

That until it is recognized and accepted that only a Reparatory Justice Development Framework can secure sustainable moral and economic development;

This 21st century will threaten to take us back to the 16th century when these Crimes against Humanity were conceived and concretized.

This Mr President is our fear. But we shall not be crippled by fear because we are more future focussed, now more than ever.

It took humanity all of the 19th century, beginning with Haiti in 1804 and ending with Brazil in 1888, to legally uproot slavery from our hemispheric civilization.

Then it took us all of the 20th century to institutionalize Emancipation into civil and human rights and citizenship. Therefore, Mr President, this 21st century will be the time of Reparatory Justice for Development, and it will be its greatest political movement.

Only such an approach to the future will provide the framework for inclusive economic and social development; it will secure the equity expected from the reform of our global and regional financial institutions.

We will not therefore, with our silence, allow the old, persistent inequalities and the barbarity it has bred to find a new beachhead upon which to launch further crimes against humanity.

We, therefore, celebrate the wisdom of these calls from CARICOM and the advocacy of visionary leaders such as the Honorable Ralph Gonsalves and Mia Mottley. This is the moment for all good and humane citizens to join the Reparatory Justice Movement, to come together, and to begin the healing of historic wounds that fester before our very faces.

The persistence of congenital colonialism remains a veritable source of human suffering. The Caribbean which honed the culture of colonial brutality continues to be the home of oppressive colonialism. France, Britain, and The Netherlands seem unwilling to relinquish their colonies in the Caribbean and to allow inhabitants to become citizens of their own nations. Mr President, I urge that the United Nations rekindle its efforts that bore fruit in the mid-20th century to end once and for all the era of colonialism.

The payment of moral and development reparations for the Crimes against Humanity we now wish to adjudicate with consensus will usher in the beginning of a new global order that will represent a break from the pain of the past.

It will signal the dawn of a dignified dispensation for all of humanity. This is the movement Mr President that will constitute the collective human victory of good over evil.

I thank you, Mr President.

Hilary McD Beckles

Chair, CARICOM Reparations Commission