British Prime Minister David Cameron stirred outrage this week when he rejected growing calls for slavery reparations and instead offered £25 million for a new prison that would allow his government to deport Jamaican nationals incarcerated in the UK to serve out their sentences on the Caribbean island.
“It is absolutely right that foreign criminals who break our laws are properly punished but this shouldn’t be at the expense of the hardworking British taxpayer,” said Cameron, who has maintained that it is impossible to send the roughly 600 Jamaicans locked up in Britain to the island because of its poor jail conditions.
“That’s why this agreement is so important,” he continued in a Wednesday announcement. “It will mean Jamaican criminals are sent back home to serve their sentences, saving the British taxpayer millions of pounds but still ensuring justice is done. And it will help Jamaica by helping to provide a new prison, strengthening their criminal justice system.”
According to the British government, the deal means that “more than 300 Jamaican prisoners serving time in British jails will be returned back to Jamaica to serve their sentence under an agreement.”
However, when it came to demands for slavery reparations—and an apology—Cameron was far more withholding, insisting it was “time to move on.”
Jamaica’s prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, addressed the issue on Tuesday, declaring in the presence of Cameron: “I brought the prime minister’s attention to the issue of reparations indicating that Jamaica is involved in a process under the auspices of the Caribbean community to engage the UK on the matter.”
But Cameron’s office rejected the request in a statement released Wednesday which declares, “We are talking about issues that are centuries old and taken under a different government when he was not even born.”
The outraged response was swift:
For people in Jamaica, the impacts of slavery have not gone away.
“British legacies of slavery, colonialism, and native genocide “continue to derail, undermine and haunt our best efforts at sustainable economic development and the psychological and cultural rehabilitation of our people,” wrote Hilary Beckles, chairperson of the Caricom Reparations Commission, in an open letter published Monday.
“We ask not for handouts or any such acts of indecent submission,” the letter continued. “You owe it to us as you return here to communicate a commitment to reparatory justice that will enable your nation to play its part in cleaning up this monumental mess of Empire.”
Fourteen Caribbean nations sued Britain, Holland, and France in 2013 demanding reparations for slavery, and the International Criminal Court is expected to hear the cases at an undetermined date.
And Jamaica’s parliament unanimously passed resolutions in January demanding reparations, determining that “the Government of Jamaica is entitled, on behalf of the former slaves and via the basic tenets of labor law and human rights, to receive payment from Great Britain, equivalent to the sum paid to the British slave owners as compensation for their loss of slave labor.”
Cameron also faces growing calls from communities within Britain for reparations to be paid to Jamaica.
However, Jamaicans have never received a formal apology from the UK government, which paid slave owners, but not former slaves or their ancestors, when slavery was abolished. Cameron himself is a distant relative of Sir James Duff, who inherited a Jamaican sugar plantation in 1785, and was “compensated” by the British government for the 202 slaves freed from his estate.
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