BRUSSELS: The EU said on Tuesday that Europe’s slave-trading past inflicted “untold suffering” on millions of people and hinted at the need for reparations for what it described as a “crime against humanity”.
From the 15th to the 19th century, at least 12.5 million Africans were kidnapped and forcibly transported by mostly European ships and sold into slavery. Almost half were taken by Portugal to Brazil.
The idea of paying reparations or making other amends for slavery has a long history but the movement is gaining momentum worldwide.
Leaders of EU and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) met in Brussels this week for a two-day summit.
As the event started on Monday, Ralph Gonsalves, premier of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the current holder of Celac’s presidency, said he wanted the summit’s final statement to include language on the “historical legacies of native genocide and enslavement of African bodies” and “reparatory justice”,
But some European governments were wary of proposed language on reparations, diplomats said.
EU and Celac agreed on one paragraph that acknowledged and “profoundly” regretted the “untold suffering inflicted on millions of men, women and children as a result of the transatlantic slave trade”.
It said slavery and the transatlantic slave trade were “appalling tragedies … not only because of their abhorrent barbarism but also in terms of their magnitude”. Slavery was a “crime against humanity”, it said.
In the statement, adopted by leaders of both sides, the Celac referred to a 10-point reparation plan by the Caribbean Community (Caricom), which, among other measures, urges European countries to formally apologise for slavery.
The plan demands a repatriation programme that would allow people to relocate to African nations if they want to and support from European nations to tackle public health and economic crises. It also calls for debt cancellation.
The Caricom reparations commission “sees the persistent racial victimisation of the descendants of slavery and genocide as the root cause of their suffering today”, the plan said.
Earlier this month, Dutch King Willem-Alexander apologised for the Netherlands’ historic involvement in slavery and in April King Charles gave his support to research that would examine the British monarchy’s links to slavery.
In Portugal, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said his country should apologise for its role in the transatlantic slave trade but critics said apologies were not enough and practical measures were essential to address the past.