UN urges nations consider slavery reparations despite legal hurdles

The United Nations on Tuesday stated that countries could explore the option of financial reparations as part of a set of measures to address the historical enslavement of people of African descent. However, it acknowledged that legal claims are complex due to the passage of time and the challenges in identifying both perpetrators and victims.

According to a report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, no country has fully reckoned with the historical consequences or effectively addressed the ongoing impact of the brutal forced displacement of an estimated 25 million to 30 million individuals from Africa spanning over 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 emphasised that while making a legal claim for compensation might be challenging, these difficulties should not serve as a basis for dismissing the existence of fundamental legal obligations.

The idea of offering reparations or taking other actions to address the legacy of slavery has a lengthy history, but it has gained significant traction globally in recent times, driven by increasing calls from African and Caribbean nations.

In July, the European Union acknowledged that Europe’s history of slave trading caused “untold suffering” to millions and suggested the necessity for reparations, characterising it as a “crime against humanity.”

The report concluded that states should contemplate a “range of measures” to confront the enduring consequences of enslavement and colonialism, including seeking justice and reparations while also contributing to the process of reconciliation.

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