Letters & Opinion

CARICOM Must Urgently Put Reparations on UN and Commonwealth Agendas

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Queen Elizabeth II was buried Monday and King Charles III is the new Head of Britain’s Royal Household, King of the United Kingdom (UK) and Britain’s 15 realms in the 56-nation Commonwealth of largely former British colonies representing 2.5 billion people.

From the day his mom died, topics have ranged from her personal imprint on the monarchy to whether Charles will (be able to) keep The Commonwealth alive.

But while the English, Irish, Scots and Welsh ponder their future under the new king in a new era like no other, the focus of the international press — largely ignorant about Commonwealth affairs — focused on speculating about its future under the new monarch.

Not that the Commonwealth has been dying, but with more member-nations indicating they plan to become republics, the major international media houses competing for royal limelight coverage mis-interpreted this as a slap in the face for Buckingham Palace.

However, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nations, comprising over-half of the remaining realms, have been moving on-and-up the Constitutional ladder from as far back as 1975 (when Suriname broke from the Netherlands) and 1976 when Trinidad & Tobago led the way among the former British colonies, followed by Guyana in 1980.

Barbados followed suit on November 30, 2021 – and in the 11 months since Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Jamaica and Saint Lucia have all indicated likewise.

Commonwealth membership grew steadily during QE2’s reign, from only eight when she acceded the throne in 1952 (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales with Canada, Australia, India and Pakistan) to her death as Queen and Head-of-State of 15 realms, while 36 are republics — and another five have their own monarchs.

Most (if not all) of the independent former British colonies globally that became republics after independence have remained in the Commonwealth largely because of constitutional requirements that institutionally tied them to the Royal Crown (including their parliaments, laws and judicial systems) — hard to breakout-from without hefty electoral support (over 66.6% of votes cast) in related referenda, or more than two-thirds of elected seats in the parliament.

Created by Britain in the middle of the first half of the 20th century, the Commonwealth is headquartered at Marlborough House in London; and the current Secretary General, Baroness Patricia Scotland, is a former UK Attorney General, though born in The Commonwealth of Dominica, which has republican status, with its own President.

Predictions (for the Commonwealth’s future) range from those who boldly claim it’s no longer relevant and heading to oblivion, to others who feel it should simply be disbanded from within, to the many who feel it should continue, but modernized — and with changes.

But CARICOM — with 15 of the 56 member-states (more than 25%) and eight of the remaining 15 realms (over 50%) — can have a significant say in discussion and decisions on the future of the multinational body that Britain continues to wish long life for under Charles III.

But there’s nothing common about the wealth within the Commonwealth.

Apart from being required to swear allegiance and loyalty to ‘Her Majesty the Queen’ (and now ‘His Majesty The King’), member-states’ other major common historical tentacles to Britain are histories of having experienced Native Genocide, Slavery and Colonialism, invasion and occupation of native lands, decimation of indigenous populations and subjugation to centuries of exploitation of human and natural resources.

The British empire also stole crown jewels from colonies to adorn royal crowns and spectres — altogether making demands for Reparations another common denominator requiring financial compensation and economic development assistance through Reparatory Justice — and returning stolen gems and artefacts, are already being demanded by South Africa and other Commonwealth republics.

Indeed, Reparations applies to every Commonwealth nation that experienced Slavery and the ravages of centuries of sustained British colonialism.

Britain and Europe’s only legal defense against paying Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide to the 14 CARICOM nations that have called for reparatory justice since 2013 is that no European Union (EU) member-state that benefitted from TransAtlantic Slavery have formally ‘apologized’, fearing legal interpretation as voluntary admission of guilt and consequent obligation to compensation and remuneration (Reparations).

CARICOM’s call on Britain and the EU was followed by similar demands in the USA in 2020; and India and the African Union (AU) have recently also shown interest.

But rather than wait for Buckingham Palace, Downing Street or Marlborough House to call the tune on the Commonwealth’s future, member-states should engage the new King, from now, on giving action to royal expressions of ‘sorrow’ and ‘regret’ for slavery made by himself, his son William and brother Edward in 1921 and 2022 in Barbados, Jamaica and Rwanda, respectively.

Really, just as it was futile to have expected QE2 to have simply awoken one morning and apologized for Britain’s role in slavery over centuries, it would be likewise to expect King Charles III to do likewise.

Instead, Commonwealth member-states — including Africa and India – should start taking early steps to put issues like Reparations and return of stolen gems and jewels on the agenda for their next summit.

After nine years, CARICOM still hasn’t had the benefit of even an acknowledgement from London or Brussels to their joint invitation for a decent discussion on how to approach Reparations, so it would therefore also be wise for the 14 CARICOM member-states to engage the new king earlier than later.

Queen Elizabeth II met with the Commonwealth leaders two days after taking the throne and it isn’t yet clear whether King Charles will act with the same speed in these very different times.

But CARICOM should make hay while the sun shines and leaders can start by putting Reparations on the United Nations (UN) agenda as of this week’s General Assembly in New York, ahead of the next Commonwealth Summit – or Reparations from the UK and EU will continue to simply be a noble cause, largely living in limbo!

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