BARBADOS

Statement by

the Head of the Barbados Delegation,
Professor Hilary Beckles,


to the Plenaro the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance,

Durban, South Africa,

September 3, 2001.



Thank you very much Madam President.

It is my intention Madam President to convey to you, as well as all esteemed and distinguished delegates and participants, the considerable pleasure and honor the Government and people of Barbados feel in having this opportunity to be an active part of this historic world community encounter and dialogue.

We have made every effort to engage the themes and objectives of this conference with the kind of flexibility, reason and integrity that you have requested, and which the community of mankind, so fully represented here, has come to expect of those who are serious about its welfare and meaningful advancement. This is our approach because this land, this beloved country that has so gloriously welcomed us, is no place for anyone to be irresponsible.

We are sensitive to the significance of the specific and general features of this moment in the evolution of world affairs. Our intention is to use the knowledge we have accumulated from our experiences and our reflections on the experiences of colleagues whose experiences may differ from our own, to facilitate the attainment of the agreed objectives.

Madam President, there was a time in the not distant past when we in the Caribbean, in tandem with many parts of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, embarked on our nation-building proj ect after a prolonged and sometimes acrimonious quest for sovereignty and independence. We were encouraged to believe that the racism of old, with which we were all too familiar, and had opposed at great human cost, would be a diminished and insignificant force in the post colonial world.

Many among us accepted this, and thought that practitioners of racism were akin to a chicken whose head was cut off; very noisy and animated, but in fact quite dead. Well, it now seems that headless chickens have discovered how to endure and flourish because the previous two Conferences in respect of the United Nations' effort to rid racism from the world community have not been as successful as we would have wished. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that the incidence of racism and xenophobia continues to determine social conflict and tension at dangerously high levels.

Madam President, an important principle of quantum physics is that it may never be possible to effectively grasp at once the totality of our universe, not to mention those beyond, but we can and must make full use of our understanding of those little parts of it that we know. From our corner of world history we can generate and share useful knowledge for the purpose of informing collective action.

In this spirit, and within this context, I wish to say a few things about the Caribbean world, the primordial site of one of modernity's greatest crimes against humanity. It was here, following the Columbus landfall of 1492 that the ancient civilizations of Africa, the Americas, Europe and later
Asia were forever linked, and through sustainable interactions forged the new colonial dispensation that became known as phase one of the Atlantic System.

Its sponsors considered the Atlantic System, with its first hub in the Caribbean, quite progressive in that it revolutionized levels of international trade, engendered large-scale production, and produced material surpluses at unprecedented levels.

But it was a system that was based on crimes against humanity in the form of genocide against the indigenous peoples, its invention and ultimate reliance upon a new and historically unprecedented form of racialized chattel enslavement that targeted the African people, as well as its inhumane exploitation of the defenseless poor of Europe and Asia under various forms of bondage.

The crimes against the indigenous and African peoples, in particular, were recognized at the time by many informed and well-meaning persons, as is the case today. They were always individuals, and groups of persons within organizations, whose grasp of the legal and philosophical issues of the time led them to conclude that the involuntary reduction of persons to forms of property, the denial under law of their humanity, and the organized destruction of their capacity to exist as legitimate communities, were indeed crime against humanity. But Madam Chair the voices of such noble men and women, raised in defense of humanity, were silenced by the considerable power of those persons, institutions and States, who benefited from these crimes. Some of the finest thinkers of the European Enlightenment, for example, wrote and spoke of these crimes. In so doing they told us that new forms of terror were in the making and that civilized mentalities had long condemned and outlawed.

Judges and other legal thinkers of many countries in Europe recognized the effects upon society of these crimes, and drew judicial lines that divided humanity to the vein. Only Africans and their offspring could be reduced to property under law; and chattel slavery, they adjudged, could exist in distant colonies but was unacceptable at home.

The Caribbean was home to the first societies in the Atlantic system in which enslaved Africans became the majority. The effective destruction of the native communities enabled these new societies to be created as wealth generating machines that were sustainable entirely on the basis of the racialised chattel enslavement of Africans. Elsewhere in the Atlantic system, what became known as the Caribbean model, an extension and development of what had began earlier in Brazil, was celebrated by property investors. Its laws and values were imported into the North American colonies and domesticated as the basis of sustainable economic development.

Of the 15million enslaved Africans imported by Europeans to build the Atlantic system, 42% went to the Caribbean, 38% to Brazil, 10% to North America and 10 % to the Spanish mainland colonies. From the Caribbean this horrendous system was globalized. The Caribbean was celebrated by the rich and powerful as a place that had supplied a global strategy for wealth generation. Today, it is looked upon by the poor and marginalised as a place actively in pursuit of social justice and reconciliation.

The turbulence of this quest, which continues to tear and torture our civilization, has not deterred us. We feel some pride in the considerable achievements we have made in the creation of a viable multiracial and multi-cultural sensibility. But the legacies of the first Atlantic system of genocide, slavery and colonialism, continue to trap the imaginations of many of our people within a cycle of shame and guilt that serves to sustain the worst of the past and inhibit the attainment of our shared vision for the future.

Madam President, the crisis of modernity that finds expression in spiraling racial hatred, xenophobia and related intolerance is not the sole burden of any one part of the global community, even though the victims of these crimes of which I speak continue to feel in the course of everyday life the kind of pain and anguish not easily imagined by others. If the future, said the late James Baldwin, is just another country, then the contested pasts are its senior citizen. In finding solutions that will enable the past to dwell comfortably in the future we will all have to hang together or we will surely hang separately.

The shared vision of the majority, who inhabit Barbados and the Caribbean, and the policy actions of those who administer their affairs, are consistent with the objectives of this conference. In order to counter the backward forces endemic to those terrible racial aspects of our past, we have adopted, since attaining Independence, the political philosophy of democratic inclusion as our guide and framework. Recently, the Government of Barbados established a National Commission for Reconciliation in order to deepen national resolve and to reformulate more relevant public policies in furtherance of our shared vision. We continue to dwell upon the positive aspects of our past that speak to survival, achievement, restraint and creativity.

But we share the view of UNESCO's Secretary-General that the silence which surrounds our past must be broken in order to liberate our creative potential, and that a greater crime resides within the bosom of those who seek to promote that silence. For this reason we are committed to the generation and public ventilation of scientific knowledge about our past in order to fashion relevant education policies and strategies that will enable our youth of all races and ethnic groups to face the future, not trapped within the guilt-shame cycle, but with confidence as energized citizens with contributions to make to world civilization.

The silence that surrounds our experiences with genocide, slavery and colonialism has had the effect of distorting aspects of national curriculum and education pedagogy, thus producing an educational experience for our youth that is not always relevant and is dangerous in parts. An effect of this circumstance is the promotion of attitudes and actions among a significant part of the citizenry that are not consistent with our development needs.

Considerable amounts of scarce time and resources continue to be dedicated to engaging, defusing, and removing these negative historic legacies. Getting on with the tasks of planning for development is rendered oppressively difficult as a result, and there is no way around it. Resources have to be found to promote a scientific understanding of the past and to fashion policies that are consistent with the internal and external logic of our history.

Within this context we support the call for a formal but scientific discussion of reparations and compensation for past crimes against humanity, as well as the issue of an apology by those states that have collectively benefited from these crimes.

The terrible past is not without its ironies. The French Government demanded and received 20 million gold francs from the Haitian government between 1825 and 1922 as compensation to French slave owners because the enslaved dared to abolish slavery by self assertion. These payments were the great price that the young nation, starting in 1804, paid for its international recognition. The logic of our history tells us that the principle of debt cancellation for developing nations is one that is morally correct and consistent with the justice of reparation which we are calling for.

Did the other European governments not pay millions of national currencies as compensation to slave owners when they ended formal slavery in the Caribbean during the 191' century? Were compensation funds not established in order to facilitate a new start, a new beginning, for slave owners? What did the enslaved received by way of compensation? Nothing! They too had made claims for a new start. Why were their requests rejected out of hand?

Such a context will enable us to address some of the objectives of this conference in a fashion that is developmental of our educational infrastructure and consistent with our shared vision of multiracialism and a culture of peace.

We share the view that this conference should be action-driven with a strong emphasis upon programme formulation to meet strategic development objectives. In this light we commit to the establishment of an Education Fund that will enable the creation of education facilities such as an Institute of Multi-Racial Studies and Policy Development that will generate disparately needed research that is relevant and scientific in order to foster and enhance the shared vision on which we have embarked. Such an institute will work in collaboration with universities elsewhere, be funded with scholarships in such a manner that would enable students and researchers to access knowledge centers in developed countries. It would house a Text and Testimony Slavery Multimedia Center that will collect, record, organize, exhibit, and publish the data relevant to this history, paying particular attention to the thoughts and actions of victims in their quest for freedom and justice.

The contribution of Africans and people of African descent to world civilization before and after the advent of the Transatlantic Slave trade remains an important part of the silence and denial that informs the making of the modern world. Only significant advances in research, publication, and curriculum development can facilitate the laying of foundations for exploding harmful myths and other forms of distortion that have enlivened racist thinking and actions. We believe that such a facility can also play an active role in the global search, safe repatriation and preservation of historical artifacts. The countries of origin of such artifacts have a right to integrate an understanding of the past within the modalities of public display.

We are cognizant that this second phase of globalization, following upon the first that was characterized by the universalization of racialised chattel enslavement of Africans, also carries with it the potential for both considerable human progress and an enormous increase in levels of racialised misery. It is the principal contradiction of our time, and we need not repeat the tragic errors of the first phase. We must continue to learn from our past, and in so doing prepare with earnest to fashion a new approach to globalization that will neither foster nor rekindle the racism of old or new forms of ethnic conflict and intolerance. This phase of globalization must not be allowed to mature with race and ethnicity as organizing principles and universalised negative racial images.

Following the first phase of globalization, despite the transformations associated with emancipation and a century later national Independence, people of African descent, because of persistence racism, continue to be marginalised within economic institutions and environments. We have called for the creation of a culture of democracy within our economy as part of the process of redress and reparations. We call for this process on a national as well as an international level. Democracy for us is not only about the operations of the political system, but a system that is also reflected in the functions of the economy as seen in access to the ownership and possession of productive resources.

Finally, madam President, we take these positions and offer these thoughts because it is our view that the best chance we have of enhancing communities everywhere that are safe, peaceful and free is to commit to programmes of action that will tackle simultaneously the horrid legacies of a divided past and craft a high fidelity reality of community respect and coherence for the future.

I thank you.