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…Phillips says as UN creates new Permanent Forum of People of African Descent
By Svetlana Marshall
Chairman of Guyana Reparations Committee, Eric Phillips is hopeful that the new platform established by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly to improve the lives of Afro-descendants, who have for centuries suffered the ills of racism, racial discrimination and the legacy of enslavement around the globe, will trigger a sincere movement by the Dutch, British and the Government of Guyana to give Afro-Guyanese reparations.
Last Monday (August 2), the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution establishing the United Nations Permanent Forum of People of African Descent – a 10-member advisory body intended to work closely with the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.
According to the UN, the new Forum will serve as a consultation mechanism for people of African descent and other stakeholders, and will contribute to the elaboration of a UN declaration – a “first step towards a legally binding instrument” on the promotion and full respect of the rights of people of African descent.
“For Guyana, hopefully we will see sincere movement in the quest of People of African Descent for reparations both from the Dutch and British as well as the Government of Guyana,” Phillips told the Village Voice Newspaper.
He said that President Irfaan Ali, in his Emancipation speech, recommitted to the goal of gaining international reparations for the crime of African enslavement.
“Reparative justice must include a full and unconditional apology from those responsible and/or who benefitted from the transatlantic trade in captive Africans and their consequent enslavement. Reparative justice, however, cannot be confined to such an apology. It but must go further. Guyana will continue to support the efforts being made within the Caribbean Community to press for the convening of an international summit to demand reparative justice for the victims of the transatlantic slave trade, African enslavement, and its enduring effects,” the President said.
Phillips said Guyana is the only country in the western hemisphere that passed a reparatory justice Act – the Amerindian Act of 2006.
“It gave a minimum of 13.8% of Land to 9 Amerindian nations as well as an Amerindian Development Fund and a Toshaos Council that is funded by the Government. We look forward to equal treatment from the Government of Guyana as our legal case for reparations in Guyana is very strong given the Amerindian Act of 2006,” the Chairman of the Guyana Reparations Committee said.
He added: “Most Guyanese do not know that three of the nine nations who received reparatory justice from Guyana in 2006 came to Guyana 100 to 200 years after Africans were brought here. The Wai Wais, the Macushis and the Wapishanas. Yet they received lands for reparatory justice.”
He said Guyanese must never forget that over 473,000 Africans died to build Guyana during enslavement. Quoting the Venn Commission, which was commissioned by the British Government, Phillips said “They [the Africans] had driven back the sea and had cleared, drained and reclaimed 15,000 square miles of forest and swamps.”
“This is equivalent to 9,000,000 acres of land. In short, all the fields on which the sugar estates are now based were cleared, drained and irrigated by African labour forces,” Phillips added. The Venn Commission of 1948 also noted in its report that “to build these coastal plantations alone, a volume of 100,000,000 tons of earth had to be moved by the hands of African slaves in the digging of trenches and irrigation canals.”
Phillips said he is hopeful that both the Government and Opposition will support the claim of the Guyana Reparations Committee both for reparations from the Dutch and British, which are currently being pursued through CARICOM as well as from the Government of Guyana to immediately address the issue of reparatory justice for Afro-Descendants based on the legal precedence set by the Amerindian Act of 2006.
“Lawyers, both internal and external, have told us that our case is legitimate and strong,” Phillips said.
He added: “So, the establishment of the permanent Forum may also be a mechanism to take this case because Reparations would be JUST, MORAL AND LEGAL.”
Phillips noted that the Guyana Reparations Committee has already drafted an Ancestral Rights for Reparatory Justice similar to the Amerindian Act of 2006 as well as a Perpetual Trust that will allow 23 Trustees to oversee all reparatory justice benefits.
“Land is generational wealth and as we see the affirmative action given to other groups over the last 150 years, it is now appropriate for the Government of Guyana to live to the words of the Guyana Constitution…namely…equal justice for all,” he said.
Phillips said oil has shown that African Guyanese have no generational wealth given the 15 discriminatory steps taken by the various Governments of Guyana – Dutch, British and Guyanese – that have resulted in today’s ongoing political, economic and cultural tragedies.
“This is not about the politics or political parties. This is about doing what is morally and legally right and of all citizens of Guyana having equal access and equal justice,” Phillips said.
Negotiations on the modalities of the Permanent Forum were initiated since November 2014, when the General Assembly officially launched the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024).
However, Phillips, who also served as the Vice Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, explained that September 2021 will mark 20 years since the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action was adopted at a landmark UN summit – the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
The Durban Declaration took into account a total of 122 general issues confronting people of African Descent among them an acknowledgment “that slavery and the slave trade, including the transatlantic slave trade, were appalling tragedies in the history of humanity not only because of their abhorrent barbarism but also in terms of their magnitude, organized nature and especially their negation of the essence of the victims…”
It further acknowledged “that slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so, especially the transatlantic slave trade, and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and that Africans and people of African descent, Asians and people of Asian descent and indigenous peoples were victims of these acts and continue to be victims of their consequences.”
Phillips said that the September 11 terrorists attacks in the US created setbacks for the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, however, thankfully there is movement.
“Finally, after 20 more years of denial by the West, especially the USA, UK, Israel and a few other countries, there is a key milestone event that should bring global focus to the plight of Africans in Guyana,” Phillips posited.
The Chairman of the Guyana Reparations Committee said in addition to the International Year for People of African Descent (2011) and the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), which is being rolled out under the theme ‘Recognition, Justice, Development,’ there was also the CARICOM Reparations Movement, which also revived global discussions on Reparations.
He said just last month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet spoke about the “compounding inequalities” and “stark socioeconomic and political marginalization” faced by Africans and People of African descent in many countries. “Her report also stated that ‘no State has comprehensively accounted for the past r for the current impact of systematic racism’ and calls for a transformative agenda to tackle violence against Afro-descendants,” Phillips pointed out.