Sooner than later, CARICOM must put reparations on the Commonwealth’s agenda

QUEEN Elizabeth II was buried yesterday, and King Charles III is the new Head of Britain’s Royal Household, King of the United Kingdom (UK) and all its realms in the 56-nation Commonwealth or largely former British colonies worldwide, representing 2.5 billion people.

From the day she died, the topics have been about everything from Elizabeth II’s personal imprint on the monarchy to whether her son will keep The Commonwealth alive.

But while the English, Irish, Scots and Welsh ponder their future under the new king in a new era like no other, the focus of the international press is largely on Charles and The Commonwealth.

The stress has been on member nations that have indicated they will soon become republics, as if to renounce the Queen or Buckingham Palace, but Caribbean nations, with over half the remaining realms, have been moving on and up the constitutional ladder from as far back as 1975 with Suriname breaking from the Netherlands, and 1976, when Trinidad & Tobago led the way among the former British colonies, followed by Guyana in 1980.

Barbados became a republic on November 30, 2021, and by April 2022, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Jamaica and Saint Lucia had all indicated they will eventually engage mechanisms towards republicanism, through referenda where necessary, and parliamentary majorities where applicable.

Commonwealth membership grew steadily during Elizabeth II’s reign, from only eight when she acceded the throne in 1952 (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Canada, Australia, India and Pakistan) to 56 when she died, as Queen of 15 (known as the Commonwealth realms), while 36 others are republics, and still five others have different monarchs.

Most (if not all) the countries that became republics under Elizabeth II remained in the Commonwealth, largely out of constitutional requirements that institutionally tied them to the Royal Crown such as their parliaments, laws and judicial systems that are hard to break from without hefty electoral support surpassing two-thirds of votes cast in related referenda.

The Commonwealth is important to Britain’s history and legacy as a colonial power, with its headquarters hosted by the UK at Marlborough House in London, and the current Secretary-General, Baroness Patricia Scotland, is a former British Attorney-General, though born in Dominica.

Predictions of the Commonwealth’s future are many and varying: From those who boldly claim it’s no longer relevant and heading to oblivion, to those who feel it should simply be disbanded from within, to the many who feel it should continue, but with modernity and changes.

But CARICOM, with 15 of the 56 member-states and eight of the remaining 15 realms, can have a significant say in discussion and decisions on the future of the multinational body that Britain continues to wish long life for under King Charles III.

The Commonwealth urgently needs to find new glue to replace the queen, and, in this regard, apart from member-states’ historic loyalty to the monarchy, their only other common historical threads are Native Genocide, Slavery and Colonialism, with all the exploitation of human and natural resources over centuries by mainly European colonial financial enterprises, stealing of jewels to adorn royal crowns and specters, invasion and occupation of lands, decimation of Indigenous Peoples and subjugation of colonies to centuries of exploitation, together making reparations a common denominator in different forms, from financial compensation and economic development assistance to returning of stolen artifacts and reparatory justice.

Reparations isn’t only a Caribbean issue, as it also applies to every Commonwealth nation that experienced Slavery and/or Native Genocide, from most African nations to Australia and New Zealand, Canada and India.

Britain and Europe’s only legal defence against paying Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide is the fact that none of the European Union (EU) member-states that built empires off slavery have formally ‘apologised’, for fear of likely legal interpretations of acceptance of guilt, and therefore subject to provision of compensation and remuneration (Reparations).

The original collective 2013 call by 14 former European colonies in the Caribbean has led to similar demands in the USA in 2020, and India and Africa have both shown more recent interest in joining; and today, Poland is demanding reparations from Germany for World War II events, while The Netherlands says it’s embarking on raising funds to pay Reparations.

But rather than wait for Buckingham Palace, Downing Street or Marlborough House to decide on the Commonwealth’s future, it would be better for member-states to engage the new King as early as possible, even before his first summit as monarch, on giving action to royal expressions of sorrow and regret for slavery by himself, his son, William, and brother Edward, in 1921 and 2022 in Barbados, Jamaica and Rwanda.

Just as it was futile to expect the queen to have simply awoken one morning and apologised for Britain’s role in slavery over centuries, it would be likewise to expect King Charles to do likewise.

Instead, it would be better for Commonwealth member-states, starting with the Caribbean and including Africa and India, to start taking early steps to put issues like Reparations and the return of jewels and artifacts on the agenda for the first Commonwealth Summit with Charles III as its new head.

After nine long years, CARICOM still hasn’t had the benefit of even an acknowledgement from the UK or the EU headquarters in Brussels to their invitation for a decent discussion on how to approach the issue of reparations, and it would, therefore, be wise for the 14 member-states to engage the new king early enough, to ensure such issues are finally put on the agenda.

The queen met with Commonwealth leaders two days after taking the throne, but it isn’t yet clear whether King Charles will act with the same speed in these very different times.

But, the Caribbean should make hay while the sun shines, or Reparations from the British Empire will continue to simply be a noble cause, but living in limbo!

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