• 20 Minutes

    and the International Center for Research on Slavery and Post-Slavery (Ciresc) present an interactive map of requests for reparations linked to slavery across the planet, as part of the REPAIRS project, which

    20 Minutes

    unveils in three parts (see links at the end of the article).

  • Among the most advanced countries on the issue of reparations in recent years, we find in the first place Mauritius and Jamaica, the latter being a real pioneer.

  • And in France ? In France too, forms of reparation have taken place, without necessarily being called as such.

In many corners of the world, descendants of slaves are holding governments to account for the atrocities their ancestors suffered, and which they still indirectly bear the brunt of. In France, movements have been active for twenty years. But have countries actually succeeded in obtaining reparations? And how big is the issue outside our borders? 

20 Minutes

 provides a picture of the situation, with an interactive map to help you find your way around and explore the issue, the result of a partnership between our media and the International Center for Research on Slavery and Post-Slavery (Ciresc), which coordinates the project. REPAIRS (see box at the end of the article).

"The idea was to make a panorama of the question of reparations in the world, a cartography", explains Elisabeth Cunin, anthropologist and project manager.

In all 17 countries, auscultated by a team of 14 researchers from around the world, whose research is summarized in this map:

40 acres and a mule

One country very early on set out to establish a reparations policy: the United States. In 1865, in the wake of the abolition of slavery, a military order provided for the confiscation of 1,600 km2 of land along the Atlantic coast, to be returned to thousands of slaves. This policy will be called "40 acres and a mule", each freed slave being supposed to receive 40 acres (16 hectares) of land to cultivate and a mule. "It did not work, due to strong opposition from white elites," says Elisabeth Cunin.

In the years which followed, personalities tried to obtain by themselves in court reparation for the damages they had suffered.

This is the case of Henrietta Woods, who received at the time the sum of 2,500 dollars, or more than 65,000 dollars today.

This sum remains the largest ever received by an individual for this reason.

A commission created in Jamaica

Among the most advanced countries on the issue of reparations in recent years, we find first and foremost Mauritius and Jamaica, the latter being a real pioneer, according to Ary Gordien, post-doctoral researcher within the REPAIRS project. It was in the 1990s that a working group was organized around a local politician, Mike Henry, and personalities of the Rastafarian movement. In 2009, the issue experienced a real boost when the government of the time decided to create a commission, with the explicit objective of advising it.

This commission collaborated in 2013 with Caricom, the Caribbean community, which developed ten specific demands, including a full and official apology, the creation of a cultural institute in Europe which explains the role of slavery, a health intervention against the very salty and sweet diet inherited from the period of slavery, the transfers of competence to facilitate the development of the Caribbean countries or the cancellation of their debts.

Jamaica's demands have so far never been successful, at least as far as governments are concerned, adds Ary Gordien.

Colombian associations avoid the word "repairs"

In other countries where the issue of minorities is very sensitive, activists have chosen another strategy.

This is the case of Colombia, one of Elisabeth Cunin's fields of research, which observed that black populations have found other ways of obtaining redress, than to tackle this question head-on.

"The associations prefer to defend access to land or to education rather than asking for repairs which are controversial and will lead to nothing," explains Elisabeth Cunin.

In 1993, the law of “negritude” or law 70 recognized the “multiethnic” character of the Colombian nation.

In particular, the law provides for the attribution of “collective property” titles to black populations who do not have recognized land titles.

"The subject is treated by multiculturalism", summarizes the researcher.

In France, the claims were born in the 2000s

And in France ?

In France too, forms of reparation have taken place, without necessarily being called as such.

This is the case with the departmentalization law of 1946, carried by Aimé Césaire, and which transforms Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion and Guyana into departments.

“Until then, overseas representatives voted for laws that did not apply to their departments,” explains researcher Audrey Célestine.

Family benefits, for example, were not paid directly to the inhabitants of these territories, unlike the inhabitants of the metropolis.

The preparatory work for this law then evokes "reparation for the crime of lese humanity"

It was in the 2000s that the first formal requests for reparations, ringing and stumbling, were born.

First in the preparatory debates for the Taubira law, which recognizes slavery as a crime against humanity, but which quickly eliminates material claims.

Then and above all, with the actions of the International Movement for Reparations (Mir), in 2005, and of the Representative Council of Black Associations in France (Cran) in 2013, both of which lodged complaints, respectively against the State and against the Fund. deposits and consignment, accused of complicity in a crime against humanity.

Repairs for businesses and institutions, not for states

None of these complaints were successful, and in the end, reparations movements around the world never got a single penny from a state through this. On the other hand, locally, companies and institutions have put their hand in the wallet. This is the case, for example, in the United States of the bank JPMorgan Chase, whose capital was built in part on slavery. She was forced in 2005 by law to distribute scholarships to young people in Chicago's black ghettos. This is also the case for several universities in the United Kingdom which have launched reparation programs, notably through a system of scholarships for Caribbean students.

"The issue of reparations has been very present but does not go beyond a minority or alternative framework because the governments do not want to appropriate it", notes Elisabeth Cunin.

However, for Audrey Célestine, if we want to take the issue seriously, strong political support is necessary.

“If only because precisely measuring requires significant resources,” explains the researcher.

Not sure that as a health crisis, repairs are a priority for the government.

Were your ancestors slave owners?

"The inequalities of slavery persist", according to Magali Bessone

The REPAIRS project

REPAIRS is a research project that studies compensation, reparations and compensation for slavery between the 19th and 21st centuries. Three axes structure the project, between Philosophy, History and Sociology. “There are few informed, data-backed answers to the question 'is it legitimate to talk about reparations?' We said to ourselves that we were going to take it seriously, ”explains Myriam Cottias, director of the International Center for Research on Slavery and Post-Slavery (Ciresc) and coordinator of REPAIRS.

At the center of the program, a database and a search engine which will allow the public to have precise information on the indemnities received by the owners of French slaves. A painstaking work on thousands of people carried out by doctoral student Jessica Balguy in the documents of the time, which made it possible, among other things, to find the archives of Guyana in Aix-en-Provence, to which researchers had never had had access.

The database of the REPAIRS project will allow each French person to do their own research on their ancestors.

The director of Ciresc herself was able to find her grandfather, Eugène Ozier-Lafontaine, a man of color, who received compensation for the equivalent of five or six slaves.

For Myriam Cottias, “this database provides content, even answers, to questions that haunt the mind and makes it possible to understand what a slavery, complex and perverse society was like, a society of domination and domination. violence.


  • Research

  • Slavery

  • History

  • Racism

  • Society