The Queen says 'No' to Rastas - But they plan appeal to United Nations
published: Wednesday | January 8, 2003
QUEEN ELIZABETH II has rejected a claim from Jamaican Rastafarians for compensation for slavery, and repatriation to Africa.
In a letter dated January 2, 2003 and sent to the Rastafarian Brethren of Jamaica in care of Howard Hamilton,Q.C., the Public Defender, the Queen, through Kay Brock, her assistant private secretary, said that although the slave trade was barbaric and uncivilised, it was not considered a crime against humanity at the time the United Kingdom government condoned it.
She said, however, that the UK Government "is looking at ways to commemorate all victims of the slave trade."
"A body of independent experts is advising the Home Secretary on the most appropriate form of UK slavery commemoration; the aim is to express the profound regret we feel about slavery while looking positively to the future," the letter said.
It continued: "Under the statute of the International Criminal Court, acts of enslavement committed today... do constitute a crime against humanity. But the historic slave trade was not a crime against humanity or contrary to international law at the time when the UK government condoned it.
"It is a fundamental principle of international law that events have to be judged against the law as it stood at the time when they occurred. We regret and condemn the inequities of the slave trade, but these shameful activities belong to the past. Governments today cannot accept responsibility for what happened over 150 years ago."
The Rastafarians who had submitted to the Queen during her three-day visit to Jamaica last year, queries about being repatriated to Africa and compensation for slavery, were quite disappointed when presented with the news at the Public Defender's office in Kingston yesterday.
Ras Robert Cover said that they would now bring the matter to the wider Rastafarian community to see what action they would take. This includes appealing to the United Nations and other international organisations for help in dealing with the "debt".
Clinel 'Ras Lion' Robinson said they would still seek monetary compensation for repatriation, as "slavery is a crime against humanity."
"We'll take it to the larger communities, to the people, to the Government," he said. "Slavery breeds poverty and the poverty we're in right now was derived from slavery. They inherited the benefits while we suffered; it's fair enough that we get recompense that our kids don't suffer this poverty."
Mr. Hamilton said he saw as positive the move by Britain to condemn the slave trade from the highest possible source, but said it was not sufficient for them to pass it off because it didn't happen in their time.
"The letter indicates that it was not a wrong committed by the current government, but they admit wrong," he said. "But a remedy must be found. We may not be able to identify the remedy today but this letter may prove to be a powerful weapon in the quest to identify this weapon."
The Rastafarians are from the Nyahbinghi and Bobo Ashanti houses and had made queries through the mediation of Mr. Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton had said that while some were sceptical about the success of the Rastafarians request, other nations had won compensation for atrocities committed against them.
The letter stated that the United Kingdom was working with the International Labour Organization and other UN bodies, non-governmental bodies and governments, to combat the diverse forms of contemporary slavery such as forced bonded labour.
"There are no short-term solutions to slavery, but by working in partnership with these organisations we can work towards its elimination," the letter stated.http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20030108/lead/lead1.html