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UN report calling on countries to consider financial reparations for transatlantic slavery has been hailed as a significant step forward by campaigners.

The report by the UN secretary general, António Guterres, said no country had comprehensively accounted for the past and addressed the legacy of the mass enslavement of people of African descent for more than 400 years. 

“Under international human rights law, compensation for any economically assessable damage, as appropriate and proportional to the gravity of the violation and the circumstances of each case, may also constitute a form of reparations,” the report said.

“In the context of historical wrongs and harms suffered as a result of colonialism and enslavement, the assessment of the economic damage can be extremely difficult owing to the length of time passed and the difficulty of identifying the perpetrators and victims.”

The report stressed, however, that the difficulty in making a legal claim to compensation “cannot be the basis for nullifying the existence of underlying legal obligations”.

Campaigners have described the report as an important step forward in the fight for reparative justice.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the Labour MP and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Afrikan reparations, said: “This is a hugely significant step for the international reparations movement. For decades, grassroots organisations have fought for this level of recognition for their claim. 

“Those who were enslaved were not in a position to push for reparations, but their descendants who continue to suffer the impact of African chattel slavery are.”

She added: “UK civil society organisations are coming together in Black History Month to discuss this more widely as the all-party parliamentary group on Afrikan reparations hosts its inaugural conference – Charting a Pathway to Reparations.”

Michael McEachrane, a researcher and member of the UN permanent forum on people of African descent, agreed the report was “a huge step forward”, but added it came amid significant recent activity on the international stage.

McEachrane said: “There seems to be a big emphasis on reparations as a matter of financial compensation [in the report]. Various initiatives at the UN level, including the Caricom call for reparatory justice, moves way beyond a conception of reparations as a matter of financial compensation.

“There is no financial compensation for 500 years of enslavement and colonialism, and what most of us are calling for is a systemic and structural transformation.”

A recent report by the UN permanent forum on people of African descent, which was sent to the human rights council and general assembly, also called for reparative justice.

McEachrane said: “To address the lasting consequences of these histories – in terms of inequities, structural and systemic injustices, lack of equal enjoyment of human dignity and rights – that will include financing, but the point is not the financial compensation, but the structural and systemic transformation.”

The secretary general’s report concluded that states should consider a “plurality of measures” to address the legacies of enslavement and colonialism, including pursuing justice and reparations, and contributing to reconciliation.

A leading UN judge stated recently that the UK would no longer be able to ignore the growing calls for reparation for transatlantic slavery.

In April the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, refused to apologise for the UK’s role in the slave trade or to commit to paying reparations.

Judge Patrick Robinson, who presided over the trial of the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević, said the international tide on slavery reparations was shifting and called on the UK to change its stance.

Robinson said: “I believe that the UK will not be able to resist this movement towards the payment of reparations: it is required by history and it is required by law.” 

 by Aamna Mohdin Community affairs correspondent, Guardian

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