Country leader proposes to posthumously prosecute European slavers

The measure would help bring justice to the victims of colonialism, Guyana’s president said

Guyanese President Irfaan Ali has proposed that historical figures who held African slaves should be charged posthumously with crimes against humanity. 

Ali made his comments in response to the decision by the descendants of British aristocrat and plantation owner John Gladstone (1764-1851) to travel to Guyana this week in order to make an official apology for their family’s ties to slave labor.

“Acknowledgement and apology are first steps,” Ali said in a video address released on Thursday. “I call on those who are complicit and who profited from the trade in captive Africans and African enslavement to offer just reparations.”

“I, therefore, propose that the intended apology include issues of compensation, reparative justice, and those involved to be posthumously charged for crimes against humanity,” the president said. 

Ali insisted that the demand for reparations was “not intended to promote or leverage shame or guilt,” but “a commitment to righting historical wrongs.”

Guyana, which is located on South America’s Atlantic coast, was a Dutch colony until the Netherlands formally ceded it to Britain in 1814. It became an independent state in 1966. 

A wealthy merchant, John Gladstone owned several coffee and sugar plantations in Guyana and Jamaica. He owned or held mortgages over 2,508 African slaves, according to the Guardian. He was also the father of 19th-century British prime minister William Gladstone. 

Six current members of the Gladstone family have pledged to donate £100,000 ($125,700) to the University of Guyana. “Slavery is a crime against humanity and to have someone in the family involved in that is horrendous,” Charlie Gladstone, an author and businessman, said of his ancestor, while speaking to the Guardian. 

Calls for reparations for the descendants of slaves have become more frequent in recent years as politicians, educators, and activists are campaigning to re-examine the legacy of colonialism.

Last month, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, issued a formal apology for his family’s historical involvement in the slave trade.

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