December 1, 2006

Blair expresses sorrow over slavery


British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called slavery “profoundly shameful” and has expressed “deep sorrow” for Britain’s role in it.

Writing in an exclusive article in the weekly ethnic New Nation which bills itself as Britain’s largest black newspaper, Blair describes the 450 years during which Africans were transported to the Caribbean and the Americas as ‘one of the most inhuman enterprises in history’.{{more}}

His statement comes in the run-up to the March 2007 bicentennial of the bill that outlawed the slave trade in the British empire.

In his article he speaks of his ‘deep sorrow’ that the trade ever existed; describes as ‘profound’ the impact it had upon Africa and the Caribbean; agrees that Britain’s present-day economic prosperity owes a lot to the despicable trade and; admits to Britain’s ‘active role’ in the evil enterprise.

“Personally I believe the bicentenary offers us a chance not just to say how profoundly shameful the slave trade was – how we condemn its existence utterly and praise those who fought for its abolition, but also to express our deep sorrow that it ever happened, that it ever could have happened and to rejoice at

the different and better times we live in today,” he said.

“As we approach the commemoration for the 200th anniversary of that abolition, it is only right we also recognise the active role Britain played until then in the slave trade. British industry and ports were intimately intertwined in it. Britain’s rise to global pre-eminence was partially dependent on a system of colonial slave labour and, as we recall its abolition, we should also recall our place in its practice.”

He did not offer a formal apology.

Esther Stanford, of the Pan African Reparation Coalition, said all countries that had ever been involved in slavery should give a full apology.

“An apology is just the start – words mean nothing,” she told BBC News.

“We’re talking about an apology of substance which would then be followed by various reparative measures including financial compensation.”

She said: “If we do not deal with this now it is tantamount to saying that you can commit crimes against humanity, against African people and get away with it.”

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has been drawing up ideas for the 25 March anniversary, including the possibility of a “statement of regret” for Britain’s involvement.

He has already ruled out a formal apology.

Culture minister David Lammy said Tony Blair has gone further than any other leader of any western democracy.

March 25, 2007 is the 200th anniversary that the British Parliament outlawed slavery. However it was until 30 years later that slavery actually ended.

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