PARAMARIBO, Suriname—Delegates from 25 countries vowed at a racism conference Wednesday to unite efforts to seek reparations from corporations and countries that were involved in slavery.
Wrapping up the six-day meeting, the Global African Conference adopted a constitution calling for the creation of a committee to oversee lawsuits demanding reparations for the descendants of African slaves. There was no decision on when the committee would be named.
“Never before have Africans been so united on one issue,” said Ray Winbush, a psychologist from Morgan State University in Baltimore and author of the book “Should America Pay? Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations.”
More than 200 delegates gathered in this South American country for the second meeting of the Global African Conference, an attempt to forge an international movement. The first meeting was in 2002 in Barbados and was billed as a follow-up to the 2001 anti-racism U.N. conference in South Africa.
Winbush said the reparations movement was given a boost when the United Nations declared the trans-Atlantic slave trade a “crime against humanity” in 2001, giving “African people from all over the world legal status” to sue nations and companies.
“The argument that this happened a long time ago, these are irrelevant questions,” Winbush added. “You have a moral duty not to commit crimes against humanity and these companies didn’t do that. Neither did these nations.”
Winbush estimated there were more than two dozen efforts worldwide seeking reparations from governments and companies.
In January, a federal judge in Chicago dismissed a lawsuit by descendants of slaves in the United States seeking reparations from tobacco companies, railroads, banks and other corporations they claimed profited from slavery. Winbush said that case will be appealed.