Judge says UK owes trillions in reparations

A United Nations (UN) judge says the United Kingdom is likely to owe more than £18tn in reparations for its historic role in transatlantic slavery.

A report co-authored by the judge, Patrick Robinson, says the UK should pay $24tn for its slavery involvement in 14 countries.

But Robinson said the sum was an “underestimation” of the damage caused by the slave trade.

He said he was amazed some countries responsible for slavery think they can “bury their heads in the sand”.

“Once a state has committed a wrongful act, it’s obliged to pay reparations,” said Robinson, who presided over the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president.

Robinson spoke to the BBC ahead of his keynote speech at an event to mark Unesco’s Day for Remembering the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Abolition at London’s City Hall on Wednesday.

He’s been a member of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) since 2015 and has been researching reparations as part of his honorary presidency of the American Society of International Law.

He brought together a group of economists, lawyers and historians to produce the Brattle Group Report on Reparations for Transatlantic Chattel Slavery.

The report, which was released in June, is seen as one of the most comprehensive attempts yet to put figures on the harms caused by slavery, and calculate the reparations due by each country.

In total, the reparations to be paid by 31 former slaveholding states – including Spain, the United States and France – amount to $107.8tn, the report calculates.

The valuation is based on an assessment of five harms caused by slavery and the wealth accumulated by countries involved in the trade. The report sets out decades-long payment plans but says it is up to governments to negotiate what sums are paid and how.

In his speech at the London mayor’s office, Robinson said reparations were “necessary for the completion of emancipation”.

He said the “high figures” in the Brattle Report “constitute a clear, unvarnished statement of the grossness” of slavery.

The Brattle Report has generated interest within the reparations movement, but the governments implicated are highly unlikely to accept its recommendations.

Caribbean countries have sought slavery reparations from these governments for years with limited success.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak dismissed calls for the UK government to apologise and pay reparations for its role in slavery. (BBC)

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