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Friday, 23 August, 2002, 00:57 GMT 01:57 UK
Campaigners demand slavery compensation
An illustration of slaves in chains in the Americas
Slaves: British transported some three million

Campaigners for slavery reparations are planning to sue the UK government to pay off African debt as an apology for its part in the long-gone trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Reparations pressure groups, backed by the race adviser to London Mayor Ken Livingstone, say they will begin their legal action on the 10th anniversary next May of the first raising of the issue in the House of Commons.


Seeking reparations for the debt that now exists in Africa is valid and would offer a credible response to the problems created by European powers.

Lee Jasper
Friday sees London take part in a string of international events, backed by the United Nations cultural and educational body, marking the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its eventual abolition in the 19th century.

Last week saw the reparations movement in the United States hold its largest event with a protest march and rally in Washington.

The US campaign is focused on a disputed post-civil war promise that every freed slave would receive "40 acres and a mule".

Campaigners say this promise was unfulfilled and it is now time society made amends.

In Europe, campaigners are focusing on the issue of developing world debt.

A US campaigner for slavery reparations
US: Individual reparations demanded
They say the colonial powers that most benefited from the slave trade, including the UK, should act to end African debt and a dependence on the industrialised world which they created.

Calls for reparations, or an apology at the very least, became a critically divisive issue between developing nations and Europe at last year's fractious United Nations summit on racism.

The gathering's final declaration included an acknowledgement of the legacy of slavery - but the UK and other former colonial powers successfully resisted the pressure for an apology.

Lee Jasper, senior adviser to Ken Livingstone, said the British reparations campaign was valid - not only in combating modern debt but also the "absence" of teaching colonial history and slavery in schools.

"European nations benefited from slavery. The City of London's wealth came from the trade," said Mr Jasper.

"Seeking reparations for the debt that now exists in Africa is valid and would offer a credible response to the problems created by European powers.

"There is a fundamental issue here of how slavery contributed to a world today where for every 1 that our government spends on development, Africa pays back 6 in servicing debt.

"That single issue is a sensible place to start the debate when it comes to thinking about reparations."

'No self-determination'

Esther Stanford of the Society of Black Lawyers and a member of the reparations campaign, said that it was time for the government to act to redress the balance.


We may have seen the end of the slave trade but Africa still does not have self-determination

Esther Stanford
"It's 10 years since the late Bernie Grant first raised this in the Commons," said Ms Stanford.

"The government's had 10 years to come to terms with the issue.

"When we talk about reparations, people think that it's about money.

"But it's about making repairs, be they economic or social, to Africa and for African descendents in Europe.

"We may have seen the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade many years ago, but Africa remains totally dependent on the former colonial powers. It still does not have self-determination."

London events

London's anti-slavery events are taking place in Maritime Greenwich, one of the centres of the country's slave trade at its 18th century height.

Some of the UK's leading slave merchants lived in the area, running ships on the triangle from West Africa to the Caribbean and then back to the UK.

Beth Herzfeld of Anti-Slavery International said: "London played a very important role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

"But very often people don't think of the UK of being that involved in the trade, despite the vital place it had in its rise as a power."

"Even the Tate Gallery owes its existence to slavery, as it was built from the profits of sugar grown in the Caribbean and cut by slaves."


For more details of the events in Greenwich, go to the Anti Slavery International website, in the internet links on the right hand side. HR>

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International Labour Organisation's Roger Plant
"You use the language of slavery, we talk about forced labour"
See also:

03 Sep 01 | Africa
04 Sep 01 | Americas
17 Aug 02 | Americas
27 May 02 | In Depth
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