UN chief calls for slavery reparations to overcome 'generations of discrimination'

FILE PHOTO: United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres holds press conference at U.N. headquarters in New York

By Catarina Demony

(Reuters) - United Nations chief Antonio Guterres called on Monday for reparations over the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved people as a way to tackle its legacy in today's society, including systemic racism.

From the 15th to the 19th century, at least 12.5 million Africans were kidnapped, forcibly transported by European ships and merchants and sold into slavery. Those who survived the brutal voyage ended up toiling on plantations in the Americas, mostly in Brazil and the Caribbean, while others profited from their labour.

In a statement to mark the U.N. International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery, Guterres said the past "laid the foundations for a violent discrimination system based on white supremacy".

"We call for reparatory justice frameworks to help overcome generations of exclusion and discrimination," Guterres said.

In September, a U.N. report suggested countries should consider financial reparations to compensate for slavery. The idea of paying reparations or making other amends for slavery has a long history but the movement has been gaining momentum worldwide.

"This is the movement that will signal, finally, the collective victory of humanity, of good over evil," Hilary Beckles, chair of the reparations commission of the Caribbean Community political and economic union (CARICOM), said at the U.N. General Assembly.

The CARICOM reparations commission was set up to seek reparations, including debt cancellations and support to tackle public health crises, from former colonial powers such as the United Kingdom, France and Portugal.

The Repair Campaign, which is producing socio-economic reparation plans for CARICOM nations, released a poll on Monday that showed four in ten people in the United Kingdom agreed the Caribbean should receive financial compensation, while three in five agreed a formal apology was due.

Verene Shepherd, Director of the Centre for Reparation Research at the University of the West Indies said it was time for "Britain and other former and current colonial powers to own up to their responsibility".

(Reporting by Catarina Demony in Lisbon; Editing by Christina Fincher)