Comissiong makes strong case for slave trade reparations – – News Views Reviews

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PHILIPSBURG — Attorney David Comissiong made a strong case for the payment of reparations for harm caused by the Trans-Atlantic slave trade at the Governor’s Symposium in June, but a quote from a letter written by former Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte made clear that the Netherlands understands the situation very well but that it is not ready to commit to reparations.

Comissiong explained that the heads of state of Caricom decided in 2013 to pursue a reparations claim for native genocide and African slavery against all European nations that were implicated in it. Caricom created an infrastructure to pursue the claim and established a research center at the University of the West Indies in Barbados.

St. Maarten has applied for associate membership of Caricom and One St. Martin (SXM) Association is a member of the Caricom reparations committee.

The legal basis for the reparations-claim is the ruling in the Chorzov factory case by the Permanent Court of International Justice in 1927. That ruling, Comissiong said, contains the following conclusion: “Reparation must, as far as possible, wipe out all the consequences of the illegal act and reestablish the situation which would, in all probability, have existed if that act had not been committed.”

The reparation should thereby consist of a restitution in kind, or if this is impossible, the payment of a sum that corresponds to the value as compensation.

On January 25, 2016, the Prime Minister of Barbados wrote to six European heads of government informing them that Caricom would file a claim against them. The countries targeted by the claim are the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, France, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte took eleven months to respond to the letter. Comissiong quoted from it: “As a maritime country the Netherlands played a part in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. We profoundly regret the suffering of innocent people caused by the horror of slavery.”

Rutte furthermore wrote that the Netherlands understands that regional governments and Caricom remain troubled by the legacy of slavery: “We must always be mindful of the human cost of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and do everything possible to make sure it is never forgotten or repeated.”

It did not escape Comissiong’s attention that Rutte’s letter lacked a rather important component.  ”He responded to the claim for reparations in a very non-committal way.” Rutte was not the only one: “Caricom was asking these European countries for a meeting to discuss reparations but none of them responded in a positive way.”

On December 19, 2022, Rutte made an historic apology for the slave trade on behalf of his government. Comissiong: “His views evolved tremendously in six years time. He admitted that the slave trade was a crime against humanity. He admitted that the Dutch authorities were deeply involved in that crime. And he admitted that it still has a negative impact on people, saying: We cannot ignore the effect of the past on the present.”

Comissiong noted that Caricom should take the lead in a conversation about reparations, adding that Surinam is the only (former Dutch) member state of the organization. “The Netherlands played a role in the slave trade all across the Caribbean.”

Part of a proper reparation package ought to be independence. “St. Maarten must have its own nation because that is how it started,” Comissiong said. “Before the slave trade you had sovereignty, you had autonomy. I would think that you are entitled to autonomy, to national dignity and to self-determination.”

The claim for reparations is justified, Comissiong said. “Our ancestors were enslaved to help Europe develop an industrial economy. That same economy has created greenhouse gases and now we are at the receiving end of the climate crisis. We have been punished twice.”

Related news: One SXM Presents Reparations Claim on Behalf of St. Martin People Against the Netherlands