I am particularly honored to speak in front of you and especially in front of people, some who have worked tirelessly for mobilized for several years to put the issue of reparations on the political agenda so high that those who do not want it, will be forced to hear and listen. For your determination and commitment, I thank you.
I Thank you, as a member of the Frantz Fanon Foundation.
Let us be clear that reparations is a collective issue that goes beyond the usual talk of rights – even the right of peoples to self-determination, their right to sovereignty, their right to natural resources, to development and food security, or to cultural tradition. That is to say, the sort of humanism – or “pseudo-humanism” to speak with Aimé Césaire – that Frantz Fanon himself questioned and instead gave us an alternative conceptual framework that now can serve as a guideline.
I thank you, as the chair of the UN Working Group on People of African descent.
The question of reparations is one of the topics that we as a working group want to bring forth. Many people, including representatives of States, and curiously some African states too, tried to minimize the horror of the greatest genocide in human history that lasted for several centuries, believing that it is time to move beyond it to mutual and reciprocal forgiveness, without any further amendments.
There is no doubt that reparations should be spoken of on its own terms It concerns both those who once were treated as property during that long period of this inhumanly human tragedy and also those who are descendants of this heinous capitalist system and have largely benefited from it in one way or another.
Reparations also concern all the Western countries that have never questioned that system of domination and perpetuate it in the name of a Euro-centric idea of democracy – to which now we have to add the fight against terrorism—to impose a system based on the hierarchy of races and cultures. The significance of this hierarchy has allowed most societies to organize social categorization from the paradigm of race and forget that of class.
Furthermore, reparations concern countries, which by submission, agreed to endorse the model of occidental domination while their people had to struggle endlessly to free themselves from the colonial rule. If the people have been freed, their emancipation is still to come. But how can they emancipate themselves when they are kept under the yoke of structural adjustment programs, constrained by the Washington Consensus, felon bilateral agreements, security control in the framework of NATO or Africom basis?
How to emancipate themselves of the genocide that was the slave trade and the enslavement? How to accept that this crime against humanity, that is processed by Eurocentric history as a form of accident, or even, for some, a simple blot, affirming instead that France has given so much to the world? Remember that France developed an edict (1), the so-called Black Code "concerning the Police of the Isles of French America" which gave a status to slaves as heritage items.
France legitimized enslavement on the basis of a denial of equality; it is also the only country that abolished slavery (2) and re-introduced (3) it at the demand of the colonizers who were in financial crisis.
Nonetheless, since 1789, the French Declaration of Human Rights (4) recognized the equality between human beings before the law; adding that equality was bolstered by the Preamble of Decree abolishing slavery (5) .
Yet a year later, the French government takes, by a decree having the force of law, the decision to establish a compensation fee based on the value of the slaves. The criminal is seen consolidating his property, which is the fruit of the crime; the victims are being denied any form of rehabilitation, either by compensation or by land reform.
By doing so, the French parliamentarians based their decision on the premise of human inequality, reflected in their objectification of people and seemingly contradicting the abolition and French law. Victor Schoelcher, advised by Cyrille Bissette (6) , had nevertheless proposed compensation to former slaves : the allocation of a piece of land and the expropriation of usurped land by the families of planters since the early days of colonization.
A contradiction that has never embarrassed anybody and which continues to exist today since the law who compensated criminals has never been abrogated.
Beyond these facts, even if international and European Law is unanimous in condemning slavery as a crime against humanity, the French State continues to deny its reality and refuse reparation.
The only answer given to the descendants of slaves was the law for the recognition of the slave trade and slavery as a crime against humanity (7). However, fourteen years after this law was passed, we can safely say that it merely allows the system to continue.
It is right to say that this "law" is an illusion since it is devoid of any normative force. Nevertheless, certain crimes against humanity have led to financial compensation, and especially this compensation is simply an alternative when the restoration is impossible. But no argument prohibits the redistribution of land, where such possession was illegal from the beginning and was maintained through violence.
In fact, the French State recognizes a crime against humanity for which the peoples of the Overseas departments and certain territories were victims, and also recognizes that their economy is undermined by this operating model; for reparations, it only offers speeches, commissions and museum.
The physical observation of the situation in the French Overseas departments and territories shows that the state continues methodically with its politics, namely always to adapt to facts for maintaining an operating system as follows:
• it is because of its economic interest that slavery was regulated by law, especially by the Black Code
• the 1794 abrogation was totally insincere, found as a parade to restore a military force capable of maintaining the French presence in Santo Domingo and developing
• the law and the 1802 Decree consular wanted to take advantage of the return of Caribbean under the French power and develop the navy
• Compensation for slave masters and the refusal of any compensation of slaves reinforce the economic power of masters and force the former slaves, after abolition, to the status of precarious employment, to work for their survival, which freezes to decades the economy of exploitation.
• in 1946, the departmentalization and jobs plans in metropolitan France are designed to block the possibility of independence, while the former British colonies in the Caribbean will all achieve their independence
• large agricultural properties remain to descendants of slave masters, yet unable to prove a valid property title; GNP per capita is still two times lower in these areas than in France.
One of the central points of slavery are the work and texts from 1794 and 1848, which marked the beginning of the second colonization. These show that slavery was abolished to ensure sustainability of the colonial economy, placing the "freed" slaves in a situation of economic dependence, forcing them to work in more precarious conditions, at the service of the wealth of former slave masters, perpetuating an economic model, where it is now demonstrated that it is total failure, and has mortgaged the future of these territories.
So how do we forgive the unforgivable? How do we forgive the suffering and denial of humanity imposed on our ancestors? How do we forgive colonialism which continues, in the name of globalization, to deploy its financial and military tentacles stifling our people? How can we accept that today a widespread attack against the reparation movement is being organized, trying, in the same spirit, to minimize crimes against humanity and at the same time compel people involved in this movement to never forget the genocide committed by Europe during the second world war? here there is no competition. It is merely a structural assymetry, on the one hand an expression of racial hierarchy and the dehumanization of the other, while on the other hand fear and the hate of the other.
The French State might be considered fully responsible for putting enslavement in the context of colonization after the ethnic cleansing of indigenous people. Moreover, the French state is responsible for always having acted (8) - - in order to maintain an order of domination, thereby breaking the human dignity and equality of slaves and their descendants and of course also indigenous people.
These lands, when the first colonizers arrived, were populated and these peoples, in their vast majority, were systematically exterminated, not by legal State decisions, but by the decisions of private persons. The Caribbean region experienced a very old civilization of the Indians - Arawak and Carib, more accurately Kalinas - several thousand years BC. This population stable for the V ° and VI centuries, lived a life based on custom and collective property.
The French process of "colonization- slavery" took an systematic tour in 1626, under the influence of Richelieu, with a charter that will be the legal framework until 1635. With this text, Richelieu gave to Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc (9) and Urbin du Rossey (10) , the order to form a company and to establish a colony in the Caribbean America and then to bring their commission to "Association des Isles des seigneurs des Amerique."
In fact, in 1634, d’Esnambuc and du Rosey discovered and occupied the islands of St. christophe, Barbados and others. They were able to establish themselves without major conflict, have built forts, leave men and chaplain. Then they came back to ask to the king what to do.
The Kingdom has subsequently adopted the Charter (11) , which was the legal framework for the extermination of Kalinas the Caribbean. With this text, the king conceded, in perpetuity, to a private company to colonize the islands were "not occupied by Christians." The Company of St. Christophe islands was converted into American Islands Company, which was awarded the concession.
It was only several years after the massacre - another genocide too often silent- the gestion of enslavement was transferring from private decision to public law. In short, we can say, there are serious and systematic violations of law, and that we now have to qualify crimes against humanity. The attitude of the French State is more unacceptable as it continues to organize its impunity among others, with the instrumentalization of the 2001 Law.
In conclusion, I would say that reparations consist in taking into consideration all the effects of extermination and of slavery and colonialism as a system to restore the order of things, and especially in two main areas:
• land restitution, on that issue the Frantz Fanon Foundation is part of legal part –with LKP (12) and Cose (13) , inter alia- of a legal process in Guadeloupe that will start in the coming weeks,
• political –inter alia debt cancelation, respect of self-determination and natural resources etc...., historical, financial collective compensation.
We see therefore that the issue of reparations is huge and cannot be limited to enslavement. The task is enormous. But so are the potential rewards. To get the political recognition of reparations opens a significant political change for millions of people that allows them to move from victimhood to actors of social transformation. This is true emancipation even if is at a high price.
For those who call to another world, it will be only possible if racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, anti-Muslim and anti-black racism are not anymore rules of "governance". A possible alternative only if the coloniality of power and knowledge that has led the world in this inhuman abyss, from century to century, is finally identified, exposed and deconstructed in order to base the world on non-discrimination and its corollary equality between peoples and States, between human beings, different and equal so that they can act politically as citizens.
1. March 1685
2. in 1794
3. in 1802
4. Article 1
5. 27 April 1848
6. Martinican politician, http://www.la1ere.fr/2014/05/21/22-mai-1848-cyrille-bissette-l-abolitionniste-oublie-de-la-martinique-154399.html
7. No. 2001-434, 21 May 2001
8. in 1794, 1802 and 1848 http://www.karaibes.com/estambuc.htm
11. February 12, 1635 ; that Charter was effective until 1664
12. Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon, LKP, « Collectif contre l’exploitation outrancière », est un collectif guadeloupéen qui regroupe une cinquantaine d’organisations syndicales, associatives, politiques et culturelles de la Guadeloupe. Ce collectif est à l’origine de la grève générale de 2009 qui a touché l’île entre le 20 janvier et le 4 mars.
13. Collectif de paysans, situé dans la région de Daubin en Guadeloupe, luttant pour la réappropriation des terres illégalement occupées par les héritiers des maîtres esclaves