Caribbean ambassador calls for global action to establish slavery tribunal

By Thomson Reuters Apr 17, 2024 | 5:36 AM

By Catarina Demony

(Reuters) – A high-level Caribbean ambassador said on Wednesday it was crucial to establish a new international special tribunal to seek reparations for transatlantic slavery and its legacies in today’s society.

Reuters reported earlier this month that support was building among Africa and Caribbean nations for the creation of such a tribunal on atrocities dating to transatlantic slavery.

For over four centuries at least 12.5 million Africans were kidnapped, forcibly transported thousands of kilometres by mainly European ships and merchants and sold into slavery.

David Comissiong, the Barbados ambassador to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and a well-know reparations advocate, said a tribunal was needed as there was no international court properly equipped to deal with reparations claims of such magnitude and complexity.

Comissiong was speaking at the third session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent (PFPAD) in Geneva. The PFPAD initially suggested the establishment of the tribunal last year.

He said the tribunal would require a “positive decision” by the U.N. General Assembly, the main policy-making organ of the organisation.

“Let us resolve to put in the international advocacy work to successfully deliver the creation of this critical institution at the U.N. General Assembly,” he added. “Let us all rally around the forum and make this happen.”

At the session, representatives of other nations, such as of Guyana and Venezuela, echoed Comissiong’s call.

In a video message at the opening of the PFPAD session on Tuesday, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres reiterated that racism was based on centuries of enslavement and colonialism. He said reparations should be part of efforts to tackle it.

The idea of paying reparations or making other amends for transatlantic slavery has a long history and remains deeply disputed, but has been gaining momentum worldwide.

Even supporters of the tribunal recognise that establishing it will not be easy. Hurdles include obtaining the cooperation of nations that were involved in transatlantic slavery and the legal complexities of finding responsible parties and determining remedies.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Sharon Singleton)