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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK
Should Europe apologise for slavery?
European countries are split on whether to apologise for the transatlantic slave trade at the United Nations summit on racism being held in South Africa.
Britain and other countries such as Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands fear that an apology would put them into unchartered territory in terms of international law.
The question of reparations for slavery has been among the most divisive issues at the Conference on Racism in Durban.
Some African countries and many black American groups say countries that traded in slaves should pay reparations.
Do you feel that Britain and other EU countries should apologise for slavery? Or would such a move create more complications?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I believe in "better late than never". Yes, I think that England and other EU Countries should apologise. EU countries make wars for humanity (as they claim) and they are trying to stop killings and make sure that human rights are being met everywhere in this world (as they again claim). I believe that those excuses they use, would be more realistic and people would believe them if England and other countries apologise for their mistakes against human rights and humanity in general.
Great Britain was the first nation to abolish slavery, we abolished slavery across the then Empire and yet we still somehow racist simply because we haven't apologised for a business we made illegal? I think Rev Jackson is more than a tad confused on this issue.
Alphonse Otieno, Kenya
I'm afraid the demands for an apology and reparations by the African nations appears to be little more than assertive begging. Africa's problems today are caused by Africans not Americans or Europeans and what they did 150 years ago. Also at what point does it stop as shown by Nambia's suggestion that South Africa should pay them reparations.
I'm also afraid that the people trying to draw parallels with the reparations for the slave workers of Nazi Germany failed to note that this is only being paid to living ex-slaves and I would please ask them to find any living ex-slaves of the colonial era. In fact the only countries that appear to still foster a form of slavery are in Africa and the Middle East.
Why is the world going through this soul searching, agonising and apologising about what happened NOT last week, NOT last month, NOT last year, NOT even last century! Surely there are far more important issues to discuss, debate and find solutions for. Please get a grip with reality and concentrate on present day problems like Aids.
Those involved in the slave trade should certainly apologise. The tricky bit is that it was abolished in 1807 (and slavery itself was abolished throughout the Empire shortly thereafter), so they're all long dead. An honourable man cannot apologise for something he hasn't done, and so we should not apologise for the slave trade or for slavery. We should express our regret that it happened, and make clear that we believe in the position of those of our forebears who stamped out this vile practice (much to the displeasure of African tribal chieftains, I might add), and not of those who, regrettably, participated in it.
If anyone is asked to apologise for slavery in Africa, then it should be the Africans themselves as well as the European countries which greatly participated in it.
Slavery, by any moral standard, is insupportable. Those who participated in it acted immorally. Those Governments which did not stop the trade have a culpability, but in the main this was individual or corporate action. The individuals and almost all the companies are defunct. I think the boat has left the harbour in terms of reparations.
I guess it is far more than trading in human beings merely for corporate benefits and the so-called "progress". What happened 200 years ago and at the time of the Romans, and of the Spaniards, was simply that a loathsome mentality believed one human being was different from another just because his or her skin was a different colour. Regrettably this has not changed a bit today either.
An apology will not heal the wounds, because it happened long ago. Instead individual governments should improve the lives of those affected through other means. For instance the Affirmative Action programme in the US has enabled minorities get good education and access good jobs thus creating a new middle class of the disadvantaged. African countries need to be given special attention to their needs. Primary products should be purchased at competitive prices, and joint ventures with progressive enterprises. Low interest loans to nations that have reformed their economies and those willing to improve on living conditions, could help more than just an apology.
Everybody who was involved in the slave trade should apologise. That includes countries of Africa, America, Arabia and Europe. If compensation is ever to be paid, it should go to the victims - Afro Americans and Afro-Caribbeans. Also America/ Europe did not start the slave trade - they purchased the slaves from African traders who had been supplying slaves and eunuchs for hundreds of years to Arabia.
John Hopper, UK
Not to apologise but to consider what happened in the past to plan better the feature - and we have many opportunities to apologise by acting properly - not by words only.
An apology is pointless and its absence does not - despite Jesse Jackson's simplistic rhetoric - mean that Europeans are racist or do not believe slavery was and is wrong. The very fact that that slavery was outlawed in England in the late 18th century and in the then Empire by 1832 demonstrates that a sizeable body of opinion in this country has long recognised the disgusting nature of slavery. All countries can find evidence of slavery in their past (many even allow it tacitly in their present - and not just due to pressure from multinational corporations either) and arguing over who should or should not say sorry is not going to help. What we need now for Africa is a workable development program and an answer to the many problems of the continent. Apologies and indiscriminate claims for "reparations" will not achieve those goals.
Julie Toyne, England
Of course we should apologise. Refusing to do so perpetuates our treatment of these African people and their families as sub-humans.
European companies made huge profits by kidnapping these people and trading them as labour commodities. Of course we should pay reparations just as we rightly expect Swiss banks to pay money stolen from Jewish victims of the holocaust back to the victims' families.
Was slavery any less of a holocaust in its day?
Express apology for the past - yes.
Reparations - No.
Debt cancelling - yes.
Investment yes, as well as a commitment to assisting each state to autonomy and independence.
For my part, I'm wondering when England will apologise for what it has done in Ireland.
Apologise: of course not. Recognise evil and strive to challenge it where it exists today: of course.
Another example of sloppy shoulder syndrome, whereby an individual, company or government will go to any lengths to avoid admitting liability for anything which might result in legal action to obtain compensation, resulting in weasel words including "regret." Frankly, a little refreshing truth, honesty and integrity in accepting blame for the slave trade matters far more than financial reparations. Whatever the implications, the guilty parties should admit their blame now.
I presume that African countries involved in the slave trade should also apologise and pay reparations. African countries had long been involved in the buying and selling of slaves before the Europeans arrived. We just exploited a situation that was already happening, except we could afford to buy large numbers of slaves.
If reparations were payable, who do we pay them to? The West Indies and Black Americans?
Yes, slavery happened and we should regret our past misdemeanours, but this generation of Europeans did not participate in this evil trade.
Definitely not, unless we can claim
the Italians for all
the slaves taken from Britain during the Roman occupation.
No, they should not apologise. Yes, by today's standards, slavery was terrible, but when and where do we draw the line? Should the Spanish say sorry for colonising South America. Should Scandinavians (Vikings) apologise for rampaging through England, France etc. Should the Italians (Romans) apologise for conquering Europe and the Middle East.
Too many conflicts are looking back to (distant) past events and seeking vengeance. We must understand and learn from the past but look forward, and work together, to make a better future for all.
By apologising, the EU countries will effectively be taking responsibility for the trade. With responsibility will come blame and, surely, requests for compensation payments from Africa and Black America. This is the only fair way of recognising that some of the economic development that Europe has benefited from duing the previous century, was partly down to the people of Africa/America.
In principle, of course we should apologise. If we don't we'll be seen to be happily racist and exploitative, as suggested by Jesse Jackson (though I don't believe we are). But then, reparations could cripple us. What's that phrase about the sins of the father?
Why should anyone alive today apologise for what people did hundreds of years ago? Also there were far more black Africans involved in the slave trade than white Europeans and they made fortunes from it as well. If we are ever to be rid of racism, we need to move on from what our ancestors did and work together for the future - this issue is holding back progress and is counterproductive in stopping racism.
Slavery was and is wrong. It will always be so. However, to make it a crime solely attributed to Europeans/Americans is also wrong. Slavery was alive and well in Africa long before the Europeans got there. It is estimated that over a million slaves had been sold by African tribes to the middle east before the first Europeans joined in the practice. The Europeans were accomplices, but many Africans were just as guilty.
The slave trade was just that - trade - with sellers in Africa as well as purchasers from Europe and many parts of the Americas. The UK realised the moral wrong of slavery nearly 200 years ago, made it illegal and tried to stop it. Therefore the UK government has no reason to apologise for actions of private individuals and not the government's. Slavery is still widespread in Africa and Asia. Politicians should right current wrongs and not be sidetracked into long-past grievances.
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