Dodging compensation for slavery to avoid complications

Durban- South Africa (PANA) -- The principle of compensation which is one of the hurdles at the World Conference against Racism, was deliberately caricatured to such an extent that one can't see the wood for the trees.
"This issue goes beyond the financial dimension", Doudou Diène, director of a UNESCO project, 'The Road of Slavery', told PANA.
He said its distractors were trying to confine it in order to reduce the aspirations of several millions of individuals to "an insignificant financial affair".
"Those advocating compensation know what they are talking about and those opposed to it are mistaken about the real nature of the basic problem that is at issue", Diene said.
He explained that the concept of compensation "does not only comprise a material dimension.
Africa and its children of the diaspora are also calling for moral, scientific, historical and educational compensation.
And there is no scale of values between these complementary and closely linked requirements.
In addition, he said, "all principles of justice call for compensation and once the principles are accepted, the debate on the modalities inevitably comes up".
At the moral level, Diene explained: "The blacks who have gone through a lot of hardships, particularly in this second millennium of the modern era, consider that the time has come to compel the rest of humanity to take its responsibility.
"By trying to have them accept here in Durban and in the weeks ahead, at the United Nations General Assembly, that slavery is a crime against humanity - a definition that has so far been universally applied only to the Jewish Holocaust - they are aware that, in so doing, they are initiating a real process of rehabilitation and setting the entire records straight.
"If countries are opposed to this obvious fact, it is because it has other implications which opens the way to paths that they do not wish to follow at the moment".
According to Diene, the first implication summarises "the scientific dimension" of this compensation.
"Admitting that slave trade and slavery are crimes against humanity and documenting it in national laws and international conventions, boils down to subjecting oneself to the duty of opening all public and private archives that have so far been hidden from universal memory, to researchers who wish to consult them".
The second implication relates to a duty of "historical compensation".
This supposes that the exact historical truth, in all its absurdity and cruelty, will be re-established in all the history books of countries around the world, said the UNESCO official.
The third implication, he said, "is a compensation at the educational level".
That would require reviewing all teaching programmes of all schools, institutes and universities, in order to teach new generations about the real abjectness of slavery and the slave trade.
This, according to Diene, is where the present African struggle concurs with the mobilisation of all the humanists and universalists.
"If our common humanity is recognised by all and taught to all the children of the world at a very early stage, then we can be sure that racial prejudices and all forms of discriminations, abuses and deviations they generate will no longer have their place in society".
The fourth and last implication relates to "material compensation".
Even though they are the most discussed, these remain the least known, said Diene.
The only idea of a fund raised so far - except for Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade's recent proposal - should help rehabilitate the historical memory of Africans and the diaspora.
The fund is proposed on the basis of voluntary contributions.
These countries, in fact, fear that the principle of material compensation and its consequences.
Diene said it might "establish that four centuries of trading in African slaves and the perpetuation of other forms of slavery, at a time when Africa was almost at the same level of development as the rest of the world, has effectively contributed to their prosperity, scuttled all the natural resources of the black continent and almost invalidated all the African productive networks".
"Admitting this obvious historical fact would lead one to review the entire development and aid issue, up to the present-day philosophy of international financial institutions", Diene pointed out.

03 september 2001 12:36:00

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