A Kenyan Victory Opens the Door to More Talks on Potential ICJ Slavery Reparations

Caribbean nations seek to bring a claim of reparations for centuries of slavery to the ICJ


This is an update to a blog posted on September 29th 2013

Its often thought of as a far-fetched idea, superpowers paying island nations reparations for their heinous acts consisting of pillaging and plundering all to promulgate their lucrative slave trade. However that far-fetched notion is now proving to be a reality with 15 Caribbean nations seeking compensation for the wrongs suffered by their ancestors.

This lawsuit has garnered more supporters after a recent Royal Courts of Justice decision awarded five elderly Kenyans a landmark €19.9 million settlement [roughly $27 million] to be shared with 5,228 similar victims.  This successful restitution claim concerning British torture during the 1950’s Mau Mau uprising was argued by the same law firm, Leigh Day, who current represent the Caribbean nations that banded together at the 34th annual Caribbean Community Secretriat (Caricom) to establish a national committee to pay reparations for forcefully removing millions of Africans from West and Central Africa around the world from the 16th to 19th centuries.

This victory is not the only award of reparations for forced labor as Japan recently was forced to pay five South Korean plaintiffs for forced labor after they were forced to work during the Japanese rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910-1945.

Scholars have noted that this may not be an easy claim to prevail on as reparations are awarded only for acts that were internationally wrongful at the time they were committed and during the 16th to 19th centuries the wrongfulness of slavery had not risen to being a violation of customary international law. In addition, this case differs because in the Kenyan case, there were living victims who were paid reparations and all of the individuals directly harmed by slavery are long gone.

Lastly, this claim may not be the easiest for the parties to win as the Article 28 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties [VCLT], which all the nations which are proposed parties to this action are state parties to, explicitly states that treaties are not to be applied retroactively.

What do you think; do these Caribbean nations have a significant claim? Should these European superpowers be penalized for the acts of their forefathers?

Royal Courts of Justice

Al Jazzera 

Wall Street Journal 

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