Guyana’s president has called for those involved in the slave trade to be posthumously charged with crimes against humanity, ahead of a formal apology from the descendants of a British slave owner.
President Irfaan Ali has also said people whose ancestors profited from the transatlantic slave trade should pay reparations to today’s generations.
Mr Ali – who previously called for the UK to apologise for its role in slave trade – spoke as six members of the Gladstone family are planned to travel to Guyana to formally apologise on behalf of Scottish 19th-century sugar and coffee plantation owner John Gladstone.
He was the father of former British prime minister William Ewart Gladstone and while he never set foot in the South American country or the neighbouring West Indian islands, he owned more than 2,500 slaves in Guyana and Jamaica.
Gladstone was in charge when the 1823 slave rebellion began on his plantation at Success Village on Guyana’s east coast.
Records show hundreds of slaves were killed. Their heads were then chopped off and placed on poles which lined the road to the capital, Georgetown, as a reminder to other slaves.
Gladstone was paid more than £100,000 in compensation when slavery was abolished in 1833.
Mr Ali has called for the family’s apology to go one step further and address the issues of compensation and reparative justice.
The president said that while he welcomes the family’s plans to acknowledge the past, it also implies “an acknowledgement of the cruel nature of African enslavement and indentureship in Guyana and an act of contrition that paves the way for justice”.
“The Gladstone family has admitted that it benefited from African enslavement and indentureship on the Demerara and other plantations owned by its patriarch, John Gladstone,” he added.
Making the case for compensation, Mr Ali argued that “reparations [are] a commitment to righting historical wrongs”.
“The transatlantic slave trade and African enslavement were an affront to humanity itself,” he said. “The heinousness of this crime against humanity demands that we seek to right these wrongs.”
The 15 nations of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) bloc have already hired a British law firm to examine their case for compensation from Britain and other European nations.
“The descendants of John Gladstone must now also outline their plan of action in line with the Caricom… plan for reparatory justice for slavery and indentureship,” Mr Ali said.
The current plan includes the apology and investments in health, infrastructure, education and cultural revitalisation to make sure that “future generations are unshackled from the chains of history”.
The Gladstones will make their apology at the opening of the University of Guyana’s International Institute for Migration and Diaspora Studies, which they are reportedly helping to fund with a £100,000 grant.
The Gladstone family could not be immediately reached for comment.