The Issue of Reparation

There are opponents and proponents of the issue of Reparation.

The word Reparation comes from the Latin word repair and means the redressing of a wrong.  In International law, the principle is recognized as a means to restore damage suffered by individuals or nations.  The wronged party will receive reparation for the harm suffered from the offending party.  Historically, these cases have sought redress in cases of crimes against humanity.  War reparations are payments intended to cover damage or injury inflicted during a war. Generally, the term war reparations refer to money or goods exchanged rather than property such as by transfers or annexation of land.  Dictating that the defeated party in a conflict will pay a war indemnity is a common practice with a long history.

Reparations after World War II

After World War II, Germany, the aggressor in the Second World War, was ordered to pay the Allies US$23 billion mainly in machinery and manufacturing plants. Reparation payments to the Soviet Union continued until 1953. In the end, war victims in many countries were compensated by the property of Germans who were expelled after World War II. Before the official surrender of Germany and continuing for another two years, the United States commandeered all technological and scientific knowledge as well as all patents from the combatant nation and captured most of the leading scientists in Germany.  The seizure has been referred to as intellectual reparations which were taken by the U.S. and the UK and has been valued to have been at least $10 billion. German reparations were partly exacted in the form of forced labour and by 1947, approximately 4,000,000 German POWs and civilians were used as forced labor, reparations labor, or enforced labor in the Soviet Union, France, the UK, Belgium and in Germany in U.S operated Military Labor Service Units.

Reparations in South Afrrica

The African National Congress’s (ANC) liberation movement in South Africa struggled against apartheid, a system that was designated by the United Nations as a crime against humanity as a political, social, and economic violation of human rights. In its approach to reparations, justice was understood to be not only punishment, revenge or retribution but that an important element of justice was restoration, restitution and reparation. The ANC recommended a set of actions that included monetary awards, paid in lump sums or as a monthly pension; other forms of material assistance and support; psychological support; the restoration of dignity and honour and the good reputation of the victims; to ensure the involvement of communities in the process of reconciliation; and steps taken to safeguard the memories of South Africans.

In safeguarding lasting reconciliation and nation-building, the violations of human rights in South Africa were recalled as infractions that originated during the system of colonialism that had evolved for centuries. Doctrines of racial superiority and the pursuit of narrow interests and privileges for the white minority in general, and Afrikaners in particular, had rested on the exclusion of the black majority.

Reparations in Kenya

The most recent case for Reparation involved legal action taken against the British government to compensate four Kenyans allegedly tortured during the Mau Mau uprising. The Mau Mau fighters were members of Kenya’s major ethnic group, the Kikuyu whose resistance led to Britain declaring a state of emergency in Kenya in 1952. An aggressively fought counter-insurgency lasted until 1960 when the state of emergency was ended. Official figures claimed the number of Mau Mau and other rebels killed was 11,000, including 1,090 convicts hanged by the British administration. However, unofficial figures suggest a much larger number were killed during the campaign. The Kenya Human Rights Commission has said 90,000 Kenyans were executed, tortured or maimed and 160,000 were detained in appalling conditions.

The London law firm Leigh Day & Co lodged a claim in 2009 on behalf of five elderly Kenyans who were held in British detention camps. In 2013, British Secretary William Hague acceded that, “The British government recognises that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration …. The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place and that they marred Kenya’s progress towards independence.” Mr Hague confirmed that 5,228 victims would receive payments of £19.9 million following an agreement with lawyers acting for the victims. The compensation amounted to approximately £3,000 per victim and applied only to the living survivors of the abuses.

West Indian Reparation

In the context of West Indian reparation, the issues specifically refer to wrongs endured by persons of African descent during the transatlantic slave trade and the era of enslavement of Africans in the Americas.

The National Commission on Reparations in Jamaica has stated that the issue of West Indian reparation is more than monetary payments and involves a process of reconciliation.  This process may include external restitution on behalf of the former colonial governments of Spain and Britain from their present administrations through which enslaved Africans were subjected to crimes against humanity and whose rights to a solemn apology have gone unacknowledged. Nevertheless these countries’ economies were enriched through the profits of enslavement and a natural result of the process of reparation will also include monetary compensation; the former owners of the enslaved received compensation, not the individuals who were emancipated in 1838 having lived through decades of inhumane working conditions.

There is some consensus that populations continue to endure the oppression forced upon their ancestors and that these issues include poverty, loss of family life replaced by antisocial structures, racism, and the prevalence of violent attitudes and structures that haunt today’s society.  The issue of reparation was first introduced for parliamentary debate in 2007.  Although there are reparation committees in other countries in the Caribbean, Jamaica was the first to convene a National Commission on Reparations. The African Caribbean Institute/Jamaica Memory Bank’s (ACIJ/JMB) 2014 February Programme focused on the topic of Reparation.

The activities began with a public lecture titled, “Why Reparations?” with Mutabaruka, dub poet and host of the popular radio program, The Cutting Edge on Irie FM. The lecture was held at Emancipation Park on February 10th and began at 6:00 pm. Partnered with Emancipation Park, the ACIJ/JMB, the lecture was strategically placed to stimulate public awareness of the Division’s initiative on the issue of Reparation. Mutabaruka statements were supported by from Professor Verene Shepherd, Chairperson of the Reparations Committee.

The second activity was the screening of the documentary film on Nelson Mandela, Mandela: Son of Africa, Father of a Nation (1996), shown at the Shortwood Teacher’s College, on Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 to coincide with the 24th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela from the Victor Verster Prison on February 11th 1990. The screening was a joint initiative of the African Caribbean Institute of Jamaican/Jamaica Memory Bank (ACIJ/JMB) and the South African High Commission with the endorsement of the Jamaica South Africa Friendship Association (JASAFA). The screening was followed by a question and answer session. The activity also served to commemorative the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Jamaica and the Republic of South Africa.

The third event was a Youth Forum on Reparations on February 20th, 2014 at the Institute of Jamaica’s Lecture Hall at which Secondary and Tertiary level students and members of the public up to age 25 were invited. The Youth Forum featured a panel discussion with Jaevion Nelson, Omar Ryan, Emprezz Golding and Maurice McCurdy, moderated by Jermaine McCalpin. The discussion was organized to sensitize a young audience on the issues of Reparation followed by an open discussion.

The ACIJ/JMB’s 2014 focus on Reparation will continue through 2014.

MutaBaruka delivers public lecture titled, “Why Reparations?” at Emancipation Park on February 10th 2014.
MutaBaruka delivers public lecture titled, “Why Reparations?” at Emancipation Park on February 10th 2014.
Youth Forum on Reparations on February 20th, 2014 at the Institute of Jamaica’s Lecture Hall at which Secondary and Tertiary level students and members of the public up to age 25 were invited. The Youth Forum featured a panel discussion moderated by Jermaine McCalpin, with Maurice McCurdy, Jaevion Nelson, Emprezz Golding and Omar Ryan. The discussion was organized to sensitize a young audience on the issues of Reparation followed by an open discussion.










BBC News Uk. (2013). Mau Mau torture victims to receive compensation – Hague.

Stanley, Elizabeth. (2001). Evaluating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Journal of Modern African Studies: Cambridge University Press, Vol. 39, No. 3.

National Commission on Reparations. (2013). Right the Wrongs of the Past … Build a Peaceful World.