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UN implores US to pay reparations for slavery

AUTODIDACT 17 | 3/24/2016, 1:27 p.m.
During a Washington D.C. press conference in early February, three human rights activists, who are also members of the United ...
United Nations General Assembly hall

Shortly after the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1865, physical slavery in the land of the free was allegedly abolished, and the kidnapped Africans as well as Native Americans were supposedly unshackled and offered 40 acres and a mule as compensation for their centuries of toiling for free while building the country into the superpower it eventually became. Land was initially set aside for them to establish themselves. However, the deal was reneged. Ever since then the debate regarding reparations has raged.

During a Washington D.C. press conference in early February, three human rights activists, who are also members of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent panel, suggested that Congress pass the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. The bill, which Michigan politician John Conyers introduced last year, calls for the set up for a commission to study the issue of paying reparations to the descendants of kidnapped and enslaved Africans in the U.S. as a first step.

The panel also urged that a national human rights commission be established, as well as public recognition that the dehumanizing trans-Atlantic slave trade and several other atrocities be acknowledged as crimes against humanity.

“Contemporary police killings and the trauma it creates are reminiscent of the racial-terror lynchings in the past,” noted chairwoman of the committee, Mireille Fanon Mendes-France. “Impunity for state violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

After an 11-day fact-finding mission in the U.S., where they interviewed various people nationwide, the committee released its preliminary findings, blaming slavery for the dire conditions Americanized Africans currently endure.

“The colonial history, the legacy of enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the U.S. remains a serious challenge, as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent,” Mendes-France continued.

She says the U.S. hasn’t properly addressed its slave legacy or adequately compensated those descendants of kidnapped Africans who were forced to labor with little compensation.

Fanon Mendes-France, daughter of legendary Martinique-born Black intellectual/writer Franz Fanon, recommended that reparations be funneled through the financing and “full implementation of special programs based on education, socio-economic, and environmental rights.”

The group’s full report on its investigation will not be available until a September meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council. However, a preliminary statement suggests that issues such as mass incarceration and police terrorism are proof that there is “structural discrimination” in the U.S.

“Despite substantial changes since the end of the enforcement of Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, ideology ensuring the domination of one group over another continues to negatively impact the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of African-Americans today,” the report reads. “The persistent gap in almost all the human development indicators, such as life expectancy, income and wealth, level of education and even food security… reflects the level of structural discrimination that creates de facto barriers for people of African descent to fully exercise their human rights.”

Some argue that the deplorable dehumanization and exploitation of African-Americans cannot be properly compensated.

“Reparations will never bring one life back, and it’s totally inadequate to the terror of the [past], but having a meaningful symbol of reparations is a good thing, not just for recipients but for the people who provide it,” says University of Connecticut researcher, Thomas Craemer.

Although most are skeptical, some remain hopeful that the government would provide reparations because it allowed slavery to occur and slave-makers were permitted to operate legally, during that time.

Previous estimates on reparations financial compensation have ranged between $36 billion and $10 trillion (in today’s money), Craemer indicated. As of 2012, Germany had allegedly paid approximately $89 billion in similar compensation for the genocide it committed during World War II.

“Now the question is what is the U.S. government going to do with the recommendations?” wondered Baltimore attorney and activist Stephanie Franklin, “and how we, as activists of civil society, are going to hold the U.S. accountable for all the human rights violations that are happening to Black people in this country?”

This U.N. human rights panel last visited the U.S. in 2010.