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Guyana’s president demands reparations from descendants of European slave traders

Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali is demanding reparations from the descendants of European slave traders and is calling for posthumous charges of crimes against humanity. These remarks were made ahead of a formal apology scheduled for Friday from the descendants of John Gladstone, a 19th-century coffee and sugar plantation owner and the father of four-term Prime Minister William Gladstone.

President Ali, aged 43, views these reparations as “a commitment to righting historical wrongs.” He further stated that the transatlantic slave trade and African slavery were an affront to humanity itself. The enormity of this crime against humanity necessitates efforts to rectify these injustices.

CARICOM nations, including Guyana, have enlisted the services of a British law firm to assess their case for financial compensation from Britain and other European nations. The regional trade bloc has affirmed that the legal team has presented a strong case that should be pursued.

Six of John Gladstone’s descendants, including several historians, arrived in Guyana on Thursday, coinciding with the country’s commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the 1823 slave rebellion, which historians credit with laying the groundwork for the abolition of slavery. This family participated in a Friday’s brief ceremony at the University of Guyana. The university itself was established on plantation land “where revolutions were initiated,” according to the institution.

President Ali welcomed the apology from the Gladstone family, characterizing it as an acknowledgment of the harsh reality of African enslavement and indentured servitude in Guyana and a step towards achieving justice. He also noted that the Gladstone family has admitted to benefiting from African enslavement and indentured servitude in Demerara and other plantations owned by its patriarch, John Gladstone.

During the ceremony, the university will launch the International Center for Migration and Diaspora Studies, in partnership with Guyana’s national reparations committee and Heirs of Slavery, a lobby group established by British families with ancestral ties to the enslavement of Africans.

While several nations, such as the Netherlands, have formally expressed regret for their involvement in slavery, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, in April, declined to offer an apology for the UK’s role in the slave trade or commit to making reparations. However, earlier this week, Judge Patrick Robinson, known for presiding over the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević, noted that the international perspective on reparations claims related to slavery was swiftly evolving. He urged the UK to reconsider its current stance on the issue, saying he believes the UK will ultimately be compelled to support reparations.

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