Fourteen Caribbean countries have filed lawsuits against the European countries that colonized them, seeking reparations for slavery, Al-Jazeera America reports.
Speaking Friday at the U.N.’s General Assembly, Saint Vincent and Grenadines’ Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves (pictured) told the crowd that the countries must repent for their past actions.
“The awful legacy of these crimes against humanity – a legacy which exists today in our Caribbean – ought to be repaired for the developmental benefit of our Caribbean societies and all our peoples,” he said. “The European nations must partner in a focused, especial way with us to execute this repairing.”
The countries plan to focus on Britain for its slave role in the Caribbean’s English-speaking nations, France for its role in Haiti, and the Netherlands for colonizing Suriname, a colony located in South America.
To file the suits, the Caribbean nations have hired British law firm Leigh Day, which previously won compensation for Kenyans tortured by the British government during the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s and 1960s.
Martyn Day, a lawyer for the firm, said the first step in filing the suits is pursuing a negotiated settlement with the French, British, and Netherlands governments similar to the agreement Britain reached with Kenya in June, issuing a statement of regret and $21.5 million in compensation to the Kenyans who survived the massacre.
“I think they would undoubtedly want to try and see if this can be resolved amicably,” Day said. ”But I think the reason they have hired us is that they want to show that they mean business.”
The suits are all under the CARICOM umbrella. The organization features 15 Caribbean nations and promotes economic integration among its members.
Some Caribbean nations, such as Jamaica, Antigua, and Barbuda, already have national commissions on reparations; countries that have yet to set up commissions have agreed to do so. The 14 nations unanimously voted to file the suits simultaneously, believing this attempt will be more successful than prior attempts.
In the United States, slave reparations has often been a controversial topic. Though the House apologized for slavery in 2008 and the Senate in 2009, neither has mentioned reparations for African Americans descended from slavery.
Back in 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama said he didn’t support reparations, This placed him at odds with the NAACP, the Urban League, SCLC, and more than 20 members of Congress who introduced legislation to create a commission on slavery.