UN: States should make monetary and other reparations to descendants of enslaved and colonized peoples


The UN report floats a “multipronged approach” to address the legacies of slavery and colonialism, which includes the possibility of providing monetary reparations for descendants of enslaved and colonized peoples. The UN report proposes a “multipronged” approach to address the legacy of slavery and colonialism. This includes the possibility of providing financial reparations to the descendants of those who were enslaved or colonized. The report highlights that despite the fact that slavery is now illegal under international human right law, Africans and those of African descent still face systemic racism. The UN stresses that although there is a trend in states willing to apologize and address the tragedies of the colonial era, “no states had comprehensively accounted for the past and addressed its contemporary legacies and ongoing manifestations.”

The report provides three recommendations that states should adopt to ensure that reparatory justice is embedded in the construction of truly inclusive, equal societies that are free from racism and discrimination.

The first recommendation is to ensure that people of African descent can effectively participate in guiding the design and implementation of reparatory justice measures. The UN believes that effective participation by affected groups can ensure adequate consideration of their needs and lived experiences.

The second is to adopt an intersectional, gender-sensitive and inclusive approach. The report emphasizes the need to address the gender-related aspects of racial injustice, as acknowledged in the Durban Declaration. The intersectionality theory states that social categorizations such as race and gender create their own unique experiences of oppression and discrimination. Thus, the UN recommends that reparation initiatives account not only for different types of discrimination, but also for how those forms of discrimination interact with each other.

Lastly, reparation measures must also comprise different forms, including “compensation, restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.” The report suggests several measures, such as promoting academic research in the truth-seeking and truth-telling process, making public apologies and acknowledgement of the nature, scale, duration and impact of the harm inflicted, commemorating victims, and compensating economically assessable damages proportional to the gravity of harms suffered.

The idea of reparations has often been subject to debates on whether and how governments should make reparations for slavery. Pew Research Centre’s survey reveals that reparations are a hotly debated topic in the US. The responses were polarized by race. The UN praised the proposal in its report, pointing out that it includes a variety of methods to address the history of enslavement and colonialism, including “memorialization” and “structural measures.” The UN favorably cited the proposal in its report, pointing out that it includes varied methods to address the history of enslavement and colonialism that go beyond financial compensation, including “memorialization” and “structural measures.”

Following the release of this report, the UN human rights chief Volker Turk said,

“It is high time reparatory justice is made a priority, to address one of the biggest injustices in human history, and one that continues to negatively impact the daily lives of people of African descent across the globe.