Mark my words, there is certainly a history concerning the reparations payments by governments to injured parties. In1990 the U.S.A. paid $1.2 billion to Japanese Americans that had suffered internment during World War Two. That same year, Austria paid out $25 million to Holocaust Survivors following Jewish claims on the Austrian State. The point is that those receiving compensation were the ones who suffered, not distant descendants.
In 1988, Canada gave its Indians and Eskimos a whopping 250,000 sq. miles of land in compensation for their suffering. Of course, this wouldn’t work in the West Indies because the descendants of African slaves already own every island in the Caribbean – well, just about anyway. In fact, maybe the descendants of the original inhabitants, the Caribs, the Arawaks and the Ciboneys or Tainos, should maybe seek compensation for the loss of their lands from the present owners who might be viewed as modern-day receivers of stolen goods.
1988 was an expensive year for Canada; they also paid out $230 million to Japanese Canadians for the treatment they had received for a war some forty years previously but again, those who received the money were the actual survivors or their immediate families.
In 1971 under the Alaska Natives Land Settlement, the folks up there were awarded a whopping $1 billion and 44 million acres of land for perceived injustices. The eighties was a decade of retribution for Native Americans whose lands had been taken from them: in1986 the U.S.A. dished out $32 million to the Ottawas of Michigan for a treaty dating back to 1836; a year earlier the Chippewas of Wisconsin, the Seminoles of Florida, and the Sioux of South Dakota shared payments totaling $148.3 million. Five years earlier, in 1981, the Klamaths of Oregon had set the ball rolling by winning $81 million in compensation. The thing is that all these guys lived on tribal reservations with clear lines of lineage.
None of the abovementioned examples parallel the claims for reparations by those who profess to be the descendants of slaves. I say ‘profess’ because it seems that it would not only be the descendants of slaves, and politicians, that would benefit from such reparations, but also thousands of people whose forefathers never suffered the evils of the slave trade would presumably be included. Not all West Indians can, or wish to, trace their roots to Africa. In fact, I have noticed that there’s sometimes quite a divide, almost an antipathy, between West Indians of Indian descent, those of high colour, and “black Africans.”
In 1952, almost immediately after the War, Germany paid out $822 million to Holocaust survivors. Claims against Germany provided an important impetus for the evolution of traditional state-centered international law to a system that included non-state actors as both active and passive subjects of the law. This point is relevant because the slave-trade crimes were committed by individuals against individuals, and not by warring states.
Several issues may be considered. Do state claims for reparations encompass compensation for particular harms suffered by a subject of the claimant state? May that subject make a claim directly against the other state? Do claims, either by the state or its subjects, encompass compensation for harms caused by non-state actors of the offending state? The question of whether private actors may be sued directly, either by the claimant state or, more typically, by the victim-subject of that state does not arise, as no surviving claimants or actors exist. Was the nature of the atrocities committed qualitatively different from contemporary behavior at the time of the slave trade? Slavery might even be considered the norm in certain African nations even today. Did the claimant state exist at the time of the atrocities? Such are the niceties upon which lawyers will thrive.
Historically, the payment of reparations was made by a vanquished state to a victorious state and had no particular moral connotation until World War I, which differed from earlier conflicts in scale and the total involvement of civilian populations, justified higher monetary reparations by reference to moral and political responsibility. Article 232 of the Treaty of Versailles expressed: “Germany undertakes that she will make compensation for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allied and Associated Powers.” The French government successfully argued for “war guilt” concessions that provided the impetus for much of Germany’s domestic politics between the two World Wars that brought about Hitler’s rise to power and all that followed.
Two centuries have passed since the abolition of slavery. Does the world really want to revisit that time, open old wounds, risk existing agreements on aid and assistance, pit families and allies against each other? I detest the very thought of slavery, but I do not accept any collective guilt for centuries-old crimes. Let’s move on – there are plenty of evils to face in today’s world without raking up old injustices.