Reparation, Remembering the past, Shaping the future:

Slavery, slave trade and colonialism

I am particularly honored to speak face a such audience and I would like thank the government of Gambia for the invitation and the organization of the colloquium and particularly its representative, Mamadou Tangara, who, with his powerful team, did so much to make this rencontre possible.

Very quickly, I want mention, I’m independent expert and former chair of the Working group on people of African descent, an UN mechanism created, since 2002, in the wake of Durban 2001, International conference against racism, xenophobia, racial discrimination and related intolerance and announced in the Durban declaration and its Programme of Action, I quote « requests the Commission on Human Rights to consider establishing a working group or other mechanism of the United Nations to study the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the African Diaspora and make proposals for the elimination of racial discrimination against people of African descent“.

Our working group is guided by its mandate[1] negotiated with State representatives and works closely with them, with social movement, NGOs and civil society.

If the themes of this symposium «Slavery, slave trade and colonialism» are interesting, its objectives are really important ‘to table a United Nations General Assembly resolution on Recognition, Restitution, Reparations (…) to mitigate the damages that slavery and colonialism have inflicted on African and PAD’ ; we never finished exhaust the consequences of these three evils that have changed the world order from the 15th and 16th centuries until now; one of the most visible consequence, never questioned, even if people express their compassion through paternalistic behavior, is the inextinguishable suffering, since the ideology hat led to this worst crimes against humanity, it is visible both in Africa and in countries where descendants of enslaved use to live. This is visible at all levels: they are considered less human than others, so with less economic, cultural, social, environmental, civil and political needs.

Is it not expressed today in the way where financial and military globalisation treat African ? Is it not expressed in the way Occidental countries treat African descent, migrants and refugees ? All of them are considered as mere structural adjustment variables.

It is requested to African nations to follow the model of their former colonizers and no matter the founding principles of the UN Charter, inter alia self-determination, right to resist to oppression, sovereignty or to be freed from colonialism. Accepting it, African states are face to what Frantz Fanon had anticipated «a pseudo independence where ministers with limited responsibility are closer to an economy dominated by the colonial pact. “ in For the African revolution.

The question is to understand why most of African states have agreed to endorse the model of occidental domination while their people had to struggle endlessly to free themselves from the colonial rule. Why do they accept to be still kept under the yoke of structural adjustment programs, constrained by the Washington Consensus, felon bilateral agreements, under the security control of NATO or Africom basis?

It is requested to African descent to be assimilated in accepting «White supremacy » and to endorse the culture and the framework of Siècles des Lumières, to be mute even if they are discriminated with no equality and to accept for the survival of the national unity to be criminalized, stigmatized and marginalized; they are prohibited to assume their destiny and future. They are deprived of their voice and image.

For the proper functioning of the world, African and Afro descent must remain at the margin of this world ruled by the so called Modernity which had its origin in the establishment of categorization of people by setting up « the race » policy.

The pseudo-concept of « race » was imposed as a fundamental criterion of universal social classification of the world population ; it is around it that were distributed key social and geo-cultural identities of the world at the time. On this pseudo concept was based Eurocentric capitalist world power and global distribution of labor and exchanges deducted by them. On it, are also mapped the differences and specific distances in the specific configuration of power, with crucial implications for the process of democratization of societies and states and for the training process of modern nation-states.

Thus the pseudo-concept of « race, » both mode and result of modern colonial rule, has permeated all fields of the global capitalist power. In other words, coloniality was formed in the matrix of this power, capitalist, colonial, modern and Eurocentric. This coloniality of power proved more durable and entrenched than colonialism in which it was created, and it helped to win worldwide the concept of coloniality of power was presented ….

The use of that pseudo-concept of « race » as phenomenon of human biology is universal but the non-discrimination and equality are far from being universal. The very notion of the pseudo-concept of “race” as part of “nature” with implications for social relationships is maintained, virtually intact from its origins. In societies based on the coloniality of power, the victims are fighting to establish an equal relationship between the “races”. Those that are not, at least directly, can readily admit that the relationship between the “races” are democratic even if it is not exactly the relationship between equals.

The ideology of domination is still actual and was never questioned, even at the UN level built on this paradox of discriminating non-discrimination and of non-equal equality. Among the international community, the most visible example is the absence of former colonized States as permanent member of the Security Council. The international relations are guided by such coloniality of power to which must be added the coloniality of knowledge.

I have proposed as title of my presentation « the future of the world cannot ignore the history of enslavement » as a system. The history of our « modernity », in its aspects of domination, begins with the institutionalisation of the categorization of people.

You could note, I use the term enslavement and not slavery. It is to avoid any confusion or amalgamation with transaharian arab trade slave, East european trade slave or with the modern forms of slavery. There are, sometimes, a few temptations to minimize or even to silent the crime against humanity that was the transatlantique slave trade and the enslavement. even to put forward the horror of modern forms of slavery to hide what was the horror of transatlantique trade slave, enslavement, colonisation. A hypothesis can be put, it is not to be bashful about this period because some guilt is expressed, it is just to make justifiable which was done on behalf of the wellbeing of the world.

When we use « enslavement », we speak on the period inaugurated by the use of the pseudo-concept of « race » as scientific explanation to organise hierarchically the humanity. After that, the colonizers, with arrogance and cynicism, had had hands free to exchange junk against human beings, to accept that kings give to them as gifts or sell to them their subjects, or to have been able to snatch through crime, rape and use of extreme violence, millions of people. It allowed them to then organize, on large scale, the very productive transatlantique trade slave.

They inaugurated the first globalized market in human beings, 4 continents were affected, during 4 centuries, an incredibly long period, 12 million people, and even more, have lost, for reasons of financial gain, their humanity.

For certain colonizers, it was not enough. Arriving, sometimes by hazard, in the unknown islands or countries, they organized the systematic ethnic cleansing in killing indigenous people living on that lands, justifying their act by affirming those lands were totally uninhabited.

At the two ends of the chain, they took advantage of this transatlantique trade: first, in Africa, by plundering both human being and resources and secondly, by selling human beings they have taken from their continent.

The history is not over and is repeated, with some variations, tirelessly. The dominated, structurally and institutionally, are treated in the same way. Our societies have not ceased to refer to the ideology that led to classify humans from scientifically false and immoral concept. The collective unconscious is so deeply affected by this belief, it would take more than a reconciliation or than an apologize or the establishment of a pseudo living together to change the paradigm of racial domination.

There is total silence on racialising policies implemented by government that make racialized cannot get out of this assignment. There is a total disregard and ignorance of the UN resolution[2] launching the International Decade for People of African descent who, as confirmed by the UN Secretary General, “are among the most affected by racism” and “too often, (…) face the denial of basic rights such as access to quality health services and education[3].”

Its themes are Recognition, Justice, Development with 2 important decisions : first, to held, an annual International forum ; it is still not done, mainly by the lack of political will of States, and in this regard, we have to note unfortunately some African states are not really supportive; it is a question as they were very active to get a Working group of PAD, in the follow up of 2001 Durban conference.

Secondly, to get, before the end of the decade, a UN Declaration on Human rights for People of African Descent, as it was done for Indigenous people. Almost 2 years after, the beginning of the decade, nothing is done, not even the beginning of a reflection on the way to get that UN declaration.

Can it consider that the Resolution to be presented at the 71 session of the General Assembly emphasizes the importance of the International decade for people of African descent and particularly the urgency to implement the international forum and the rapid installation of a focus group to develop elements of the UN Declaration on Human Rights for people of African descent, as it is underlined in the Programme of activity, Resolution 69/16 (18 november 2014) ?hdlns7-reparationsAbout the themes, I would like draw your attention on one point, as WG, our first proposal was Reparation, Justice, development ; but certain states demonstrated an opposition to the term Reparation to the point of questioning the feasibility of the decade. For this reason, we replaced Reparation by Recognition. In our mind, behind Recognition, if this process is examined in all its conceptual sense, the question of Reparation arises.

Through Reparation, the most important is to oblige the former colonizers from transatlantique trade slave, from enslavement and colonisation to colonialism to repair the situation which saw humanity be broken because of the development of capitalism in its most brutal aspects, which confirms today by the seizure of all the liberal capitalist machine on the state apparatus and is expressed by an endless war conducted against the people so that the system continues on and on, while garnering even more profits.

Regardless peoples, regardless of the imperative norms of international law, regardless of national law. No longer prevails only the law of profit. It is exactly the same ideology which allowed individuals with a light pigmentation at reducing in enslavement, by the use of extreme violence, other people with a dark pigmentation. Until now the association between the commercialization of labor force and the hierarchy of the world population in terms of the pseudo-concept of “race” is still working.

It is true certain crimes against humanity have led to financial compensation, but this compensation is simply an alternative when the restoration is impossible. Could I suggest it is not a good argument to compare with what it was done for other crimes against humanity ? In fact to do so returns to open the door to those who have taken this opportunity in Durban 2001 to close the file of reparation, on the pretext there is some crimes against worst than others.

Let’s don’t forget, in some occasion, we have to deal with European culpability, the Western countries are concerned only when European are killed, let us see the last extremist attack in Paris or in Munich, all the countries were alongside these bereaved and bruised countries, their monuments are adorned with the color of national flags.

Is it the case when civilians die under the bombs attacks launched by the international coalition in IraK? Is it the case when civilians in Syria fall under the bombs given by foreign governments to help the opposition to Bashar al-Assad? Is it the case when innocent victims in Nairobi, in a shopping center, are killed by extremists?

No, until now there is a double standard. Some innocent victims are more important than others. In the mind of certain people, the categorization in terms of pigmentation of skin or racial phenotypes is deeply encysted.

We don’t want make competition between horror committed by European. We want just the colonizers repair what it has been destroyed in putting in place as a system the transatlantique trade slave, enslavement, colonisation and colonialism.

What it was destroyed is the fundamental principle of non-discrimination with its corollary equality. For going back to that, African and African descent want see the end of the use of the pseudo-concept of race, the end of the hierarchy of race as « race » does not exist. For that it is important to refer to the 1978 Unesco Declaration on race and racial prejudice and to make it the conceptual basis of the resolution be presented during the General Assembly in its 71 session.

 I quote the 1st article « All human beings belong to a single species and are descended from a common stock. They are born equal in dignity and rights and all form an integral part of humanity.

 And the article 5th « The differences between the achievements of the different peoples are entirely attributable to geographical, historical, political, economic, social and cultural factors. Such differences can in no case serve as a pretext for any rank-ordered classification of nations or peoples[4] ».

 I do not say that removing the word « race », this will solve the structural and institutional racism. Let’s not be naive but starting not to use it because it is not a concept allows could be the beginning to restore the fundamental equality and non-discrimination between all human being and to repair the consequences left after that use of categorization. To open the door to interrogate that construction of the modern human society can allow awarenesses and help to change the collective mind based on that belief.

African and African descent want see the end of the ideology of the imposed Modernity, we have our own cultural framework, for example if we look at the Charter of Manden -1222-, the principle of equality is mentioned, « une vie n’est pas plus respectable qu’une autre vie, de même qu’une vie n’est pas supérieure à une autre vie » (a life is no more respectable than an other life, in the same way one life is not superior to another life) and if a life is attacked there is a need to repair « toute vie étant une vie, tout tort causé à une vie exige réparation » (all life being a life, any harm caused to a life requires reparation). One must question the European Modernity in its thirst for discovery of new continents to conquer without to consider the culture of the people brought to their knee.

We want see the end of the hierarchy of culture, we want see our culture be considered as important as the others, and play its part in the enrichment of the others. It is the only way to learn from others, to learn together.

African and African descent want see respected their relation with the Mother Earth, it means we want see African and African descent’s sovereignty on land and on alimentation be respected and not see the natural resources plundered by foreign industrial groups. It is the only way to ensure a just development and a repartition of richness.

An other means to repair is to recognize the right to sovereignty over land that never belonged to settlers and colonizers ; do not forget that the right on property is only valid if it was acquired legally by prescription, while the acquisition of property belonging to other by armed violence is a crime. It is the way to establish conditions for a restorative justice to be truly established.

The framework of reference for African and African descent could be the Ubuntu ideology as defined by Desmond Tutu “Someone of ubuntu is open and available to others” because he is aware of “belonging to something bigger“, a way to refocus and to remobilize peoples on the main principal of the declaration of Pan-Africanism.

I  is also the way to build an African unity as required by Frantz Fanon, I quote « Il faudra que l’Afrique comprenne qu’il ne lui est plus possible d’avancer par régions, que, comme un grand corps qui refuse toute mutilation, il lui faudra avancer en totalité, qu’il n’y aura pas une Afrique qui se bat contre le colonialisme et une autre qui tente de s’arranger avec le colonialisme. Il faudra que l’Afrique, c’est-à-dire les Africains, comprennent qu’il n’y a jamais de grandeur à atermoyer et qu’il n’y a jamais de déshonneur à dire ce que l’on est et ce que l’on veut et qu’en réalité l’habileté du colonisé ne peut être en dernier ressort que son courage, la conception lucide de ses objectifs et de ses alliances, la ténacité qu’il apporte à sa libération. In Pour la révolution africaine

There is other means, of course, debt cancellation, the end of the so called colonial tax, to base international relations on non-discrimination and equality as it is required in the UN Charter, to annulate all the unfair agreements, included the washington consensus, inter alia…

And other mean is to study the Constitution of the former colonizers states, where very often the first article mention « all citizens are equal ». The US declaration of independence was mentioned during the colloquium, we could also look, for example, to the french first constitution.

In 1789, at the time of the French revolution, thousands of French persons were still considered as furniture.

They will have to wait for 1794[5] so that the first abolition opens the doors to the beginning of citizenship. But Bonaparte, furious to be face of troubles in Santo Domingo, reintroduced enslavement in 1802[6] until the second abolition, 1848. From this date,”The innumerable cohorts of all those oppressed who, for centuries, had suffered from bondage” will leave the vast night of the dehumanization and will become, in April 1848, the new cohort of precarious workers who have no choice except to continue to work on the plantations of their former masters.

Just before the abolition, Victor Schoelcher, presented as the only artisan of abolition, wanted a period of 60 years before giving back the humanity to millions of human beings who had been deprived by violence, because he did not see”(…) the need to infect the operating society with millions of brutes decorated with the title of citizen.”

He changed this position but only pushed by Cyrille Bissette [6], Martiniquan, who fought long time before Schoelcher for abolition. We have to mention there is something wrong when the national narrative hides the fundamental role played by a black citizen for the benefit of a white citizen, who capitulated on the compensation of victims of enslavement, because it was more important to “save the economy of the enslaves owners than to emancipate the enslaved.”

It was also the position asserted by the Minister of Economy [7] of the time, Hippolyte Passy, “what is needed is the restoration of credit, which (…) lacks to the settlers ». “This is the first colonial necessities that must be filled. This is the credit that alone will give back to the colonies the life, the activity. “

 These shows that enslavement was only abolished to ensure sustainability of the colonial economy, placing the “freed” slaves in a situation of economic dependence, forcing them to work in more precarious conditions, at the service of the wealth of former slave masters, perpetuating an economic model, where it is now demonstrated that it is total failure, and has mortgaged the future of these territories.

 Thus, a compensation was “assigned to enslaves owners [8] without repairing the consequences of this mass crime … it was the way to reinforce white domination in the colonies and to provide new means to industrial and financial capitalism.

But this principle that the victim has to pay the price for her alienation and for her enslavement is not new; in 1825, Haiti has to pay for 200 years, a debt as payment for its independence. Later, the newly liberated African states of colonial rule have to pay a colonial tax ; until now 14 countries[7] are still submitted to a number commitments coming from this colonial tax[8].

To want to mitigate the consequences of these crimes therefore assumes to look at the historical facts for what they are and not to try, as it was too often the case, to elaborate a story telling in order to provide a consensual picture of the atrocities committed. This forces the victims to not accept the rewriting, the denying of the history by certain historians. This forces to assume and to make assume the facts for what are, in their burning cruelty.

To want to reduce the effects and consequences of the implementation of the categorization of society is to participate in the business of the coloniality of knowledge and to maintain power through racialized racism, both structural and institutional. We are far from a fundamental need for liberation. Those historians participate, unfortunately, in the subjugation of citizens, the favourite weapon for keeping power in place, with less effort.

An other question is pending : how to emancipate oneself of the crime against humanity that was the transatlantique slave trade and the enslavement? How to work on the need to build a position of resilience ; well as noted by Frantz Fanon, the colonized must conquer his own emancipation but the colonizers too.

There is no doubt that reparations issue concerns both the descendants of those who were treated as property during that long period of this inhumanly human tragedy and also those who are descendants of this heinous capitalist system and have largely benefited from it in one way or another.

Reparations also concern all the Western countries that have never questioned that system of domination and perpetuate it in the name of a Eurocentric idea of democracy.

In conclusion, I would say that reparations concerning transatlantique trade slave, enslavement, colonialism, consist in taking into consideration all their effects, at all levels of the human society.

We see therefore that the issue of reparations is huge and cannot be limited to enslavement. The task is enormous.  To get the political recognition of reparations opens a significant political change for millions of people that allows them to move from victimhood to actors of social transformation. This is true emancipation even if is at a high price.

First of all, there is a need to decolonize the power, regardless of the concrete frame of reference, and fort hat it is important to decolonize all perspectives of knowledge. The pseudo-concept of « race » and racial racism are located, as any other element of modern capitalist relations of power, at this crucial juncture.

For those who call for an other world, it will be only possible if racial racism, afrophobia, racial discrimination, xenophobia, islamophobia are not anymore rules of “governance”. A possible alternative only if the coloniality of power and knowledge that has led the world in this inhuman abyss, from century to century, is finally identified, exposed and deconstructed in order to base the world on non-discrimination and its corollary equality between peoples and States, between human beings, different and equal so that they can politically act as citizens.

But for that, there is a need to achieve a human organization based on the principles of justice ; it is in this space that will build a political life opening a space for freedom.

It is with all these issues with which must deal, on political and diplomatic level, the Declaration to be presented at the 71 session of the General Assembly.

Let me definitively conclude by a wish, I quote once again Frantz Fanon,

« Bâtissons ensemble une Afrique qui soit à la mesure de notre ambition, de notre amour… Nous sommes Africains et descendants d’Africains, bannissons de notre terre tout racisme, toute forme d’oppression et travaillons pour l’épanouissement de l’homme et l’enrichissement de l’humanité ».

(Let’s build an Africa that duly reflects our ambition, our love … We are African and African descents, let us banish from our land all racism, all forms of oppression and let’s work for the development of human and enrichment of humanity).

Thank you,

By: Mireille Fanon-Mendes (France)

UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Decent (WGEPAD)

Banjul, Gambia

Original Source: Frantz Fanon Foundation


[1] To see the following resolutions CHR 2003/30, 2008/HRC/RES/9/14, 2011/HRC/RES/18/28, 2014/HRC/RES/27/25

The main objective of the mandate are :

(a) To study the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the diaspora and, to that end, gather all relevant information from Governments, non-governmental organizations and other relevant sources, including through the holding of public meetings with them;

(b) To propose measures to ensure full and effective access to the justice system by people of African descent;

(c) To submit recommendations on the design, implementation and enforcement of effective measures to eliminate racial profiling of people of African descent;

(d) To make proposals on the elimination of racial discrimination against Africans and people of African descent in all parts of the world;

(e) To address all the issues concerning the well-being of Africans and people of African descent contained in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action;

(f) To elaborate short-, medium- and long-term proposals for the elimination of racial discrimination against people of African descent, bearing in mind the need for close collaboration with international and development institutions and the specialized agencies of the United Nations system to promote the human rights of people of African descent through, inter alia, the following activities:

(i) Improving the human rights situation of people of African descent by devoting special attention to their needs through, inter alia, the preparation of specific programmes of action;

(ii) Designing special projects, in collaboration with people of African descent, to support their initiatives at the community level and to facilitate the exchange of information and technical know-how between these populations and experts in these areas;

(iii) Liaising with financial and developmental institutional and operational programmes and specialized agencies of the United Nations, with a view to contribute to the development programmes intended for people of African descent by allocating additional investments to health systems, education, housing, electricity, drinking water and environmental control measures and promoting equal opportunities in employment, as well as other affirmative or positive measures and strategies within the human rights framework.

[2] Résolution 68/237, ayant pour objectif de promouvoir le respect, la protection et la réalisation de tous les droits de l’homme et de toutes les libertés fondamentales des personnes d’ascendance africaine, comme le prévoit la Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme ; de promouvoir une meilleure connaissance et un plus grand respect de la diversité du patrimoine, de la culture et de la contribution au développement des sociétés des personnes d’ascendance africaine et d’adopter et de renforcer les cadres juridiques internationaux, régionaux et nationaux, conformément à la Déclaration et au Programme d’action de Durban et à la Convention internationale sur l’élimination de toutes les formes de discrimination raciale, et de veiller à les mettre en œuvre intégralement et effectivement ;

[3] Intervention de Ban Ki Moon, lors de la Journée internationale des Nations Unies pour le souvenir de la traite négrière et de son abolition lundi, 24 Août 2015

[4] To read the other articles : « 2. All individuals and groups have the right to be different, to consider themselves as different and to be regarded as such. However, the diversity of life styles and the right to be different may not, in any circumstances, serve as a pretext for racial prejudice; they may not justify either in law or in fact any discriminatory practice whatsoever, nor provide a ground for the policy of apartheid, which is the extreme form of racism.

  1. Identity of origin in no way affects the fact that human beings can and may live differently, nor does it preclude the existence of differences based on cultural, environmental and historical diversity nor the right to maintain cultural identity.
  2. All peoples of the world possess equal faculties for attaining the highest level in intellectual, technical, social, economic, cultural and political development. »

 [5] Loi du 4 février 1794, abolition partielle, la Réunion a tout fait pour la repousser et la Martinique l’a refusée

[6] Loi du 20 mai 1802 (30 floréal an X)

[7] Benin, Burkina-Faso, Guinea-Bissao, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Cameroun, Republic Centre Africaine, Tchad, Congo-Brazaville, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea

[8] The obligations of tax are as follows : 1. African countries have to deposit their national monetary reserves in France where the Central Bank manages the funds ; 2. Each country has to send an annual report to France on the amount of its balance and reserves ; 3. The obligation to use the CFA Franc, a colonial residue ; 4. France has the right to buy all natural resources from these ex-colonies ; 5. Priority is given to the interests of French corporations when awarding public contracts ; 6. Africans have to send their senior officers to France for training, and France also provides military equipment ; 7. France has the right to pre-deploy troops and to intervene militarily to defend its own interests. 8. The country has an obligation to make French their official language, including in the education sector ; 9. The country must renounce military alliances with other countries except with the permission of France ; 10. The country has an obligation to ally with France in situations of war or global crises. 

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