UN revives call for slavery, colonialism payouts


A United Nations official revived calls Wednesday for governments to pay financial reparations to victims of the historic slave trade in a move likely to prove controversial in the United States.

Addressing reporters in New York Tendayi Achiume, the UN’s racism investigator, said the world body could be a platform for settling who pays, who receives, and how much money is doled out.

In her 23-page report, Achiume outlined a legacy of slavery and segregation that sees black Americans jailed at almost six times the rate of whites, while blacks are also “brutalized at alarming rates by law enforcement authorities.”

“Slavery and colonialism allocated rights and privileges on a racial basis, and they also entrenched economic, social and political inequalities along racial lines,” Achiume, a California-based law professor, said in a statement. “Formal abolition of slavery and colonialism was by no means sufficient to undo these racial inequalities that were consolidated over centuries.”

The issue of payouts to descendants of slave trade victims remains contentious in the U.S., where only 29% of Americans say the government should make reparations, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll this month.

In 2016, a call by the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent for reparation payouts to some African Americans caused controversy, with hostile reactions from conservative news websites.

“To date, the individuals who have benefitted most from reparations related to the end of slavery have been perpetrators and their descendants — that is, slave-holding families and their descendants,” said Achiume. “Descendants of people who were enslaved and traded as property, on the other hand, remain unheard, and in some cases even vilified for seeking to relief from racial injustice.”

Achiume is the special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and she does not speak for the whole UN system. Her report covers the impacts of slavery and colonialism globally.
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