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Suriname establishes National Reparations Committee

Armand-Zunder1

Suriname’s President Delano Bouterse has wasted no time in setting up a National Reparations Committee in his country only weeks after CARICOM Heads agreed at their annual summit in Port-of-Spain to the establishment of reparations committees in each member state.

A National Committee was installed last week by President Bouterse, to steer the issue of reparations locally and represent Suriname in the CARICOM Reparation Committee. The CARICOM Heads agreed at to a joint approach for the matter of compensations.

Heading the Suriname national committee on reparations is economist Armand Zunder, a long time crusader on the issue. “It gives a great feeling that our Government and CARICOM adopted this issue. We thought we would be fighting this fight on our own, but we know now we have full support. We have made big strides,” said Zunder.

Zunder told the online publication DevSur that “We’re going to bring this dead info about reparations for slavery and about the genocide of our country’s first inhabitants to life.” He said the National Reparations Committee will write the correct version of history and keep it alive by running a professional reparations office with a permanent exhibition for people to see what their ancestors endured in colonial times. “It’s a comprehensive program with targets that aim forward and backward,” said Zunder.

Last month, Zunder, representing the Committee Reparations Slavery Past Suriname, filed a petition to The Netherlands for reparations to the descendants of slaves in Suriname. The petition demanded that The Netherlands acknowledge the suffering of the people who were enslaved. “We request that the Dutch Government appoint an institute with which we could enter into dialogue regarding the reparations of the damage we suffered,” Zunder told Charge d’Affairs Ernst Noorman at the Dutch embassy. He previously published research results that showed that the Netherlands earned some 125 billion euros from Suriname during slavery times.

Zunder explained that the National Committee will establish public education as one of its primary activities aimed at creating an awareness of the various atrocities of slavery. “During colonial times there were crimes committed against humanity. Aside from the fact that slaves were shipped in and forced to work on plantations, there were also the mass killings of the Indigenous populations that the colonials encountered when they came here. There needs to be consensus about reparations for those atrocities among the entire community.”

Zunder said that now that CARICOM has picked up the matter, the dialogue about reparations with the former colonizers of the Caribbean will be sought collectively.

At their 34th Heads of Government conference earlier this month, CARICOM leaders agreed that a committee under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart of Barbados will oversee the National Reparation Committees and a representative of a research unit at the University of the West Indies to drive the issue.

“The CARICOM Reparations Committee consists of representatives from all CARICOM member states, so we stand stronger. Our next step is to formulate a collective regional strategy to approach the former colonizers,” Zunder said.

An uphill battle it seems, as most people from the former colonizers do not even consider an apology for slavery a serious matter, as they feel they cannot be held accountable for what their ancestors (maybe) did. Of all nations that were involved in the trade of Africans for slavery in the “New World”, only the USA has formally said sorry; in 2008 the States passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and segregation. In England the Mayor of London in 2007 apologized for that part of his country’s history that is tainted by the slave trade.

In The Netherlands, the only organization that has formally acknowledged its involvement in the inhumane practice has been the church. Last June the Council of Churches released a statement in which it admitted that theology was misused to justify slavery and expressed regret that it did not have these insights earlier.

The Dutch Government on the other hand has so far stopped short of expressing “full-hearted regret” that slavery took place. Last July 1st, many were pleased that King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima attended commemorations in Amsterdam’s Oosterpark of the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery on July 1st 1863 to, but left disappointed because the King did not lay a wreath at the Slavery Monument.