Roma Slavery: The Case for Reparations

tags: reparations, Roma Slavery

Margareta Matache is an instructor at the Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and former director of the Roma rights organization, Romani CRISS. She co-edited the forthcoming Realizing Roma Rights. Jacqueline Bhabha is director of research at the Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and professor of the practice of health and human rights at the Harvard School of Public Health. She is also the Jeremiah Smith, Jr., Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School and adjunct lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Bhabha is the author of Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age. They were instrumental in organizing a recent conference at Harvard on Responses to State Sponsored Collective Injustice. Thumbnail Image -  The Memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims of National Socialism, By Asio otus - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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After years of neglect or outright dismissal, movements calling for reparations for historical injustices have resurfaced with renewed vigor. Some of these movements are defined by race or ethnicity, others by religion, gender, social class or caste. They span a multiplicity of national or regional affiliations.

Participants at the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, for instance, pressed governments for substantial social and economic public investment in programs that target the needs and rights of harmed communities. In 2014, Ta Nehisi Coates wrote an influential article in The Atlantic revitalizing calls for reparations in the United States for the descendants of slaves. In 2015 at an Oxford Union debate, Shashi Taroor argued that Britain should pay reparations to India, a call that went viral in India itself. Those interested in Roma slavery, meanwhile, have prioritized memorialization through symbolic remedies, including public monuments, apologies, commemorative days, or history books.

Experts and advocates addressing the issue of reparations have formulated a range of conceptual arguments to advance their case. Many have discussed reparations in the context of public memory and the need to give “humanity and dignity” to the suffering of victims and survivors. Others have focused on reparations as a measure of accountability and responsibility for governments implicated in the ongoing legacies of injustice and exclusion that follow on from past harm. In a 2015 op-ed, we analyzed the role of reparations as a tool to mark a moral break with an inequitable past and to generate a rights respecting transition towards substantive social and economic equality, including in particular racial equality.

Reparations for slavery remain a highly sensitive and controversial topic. Many view it as a radical, divisive, and outdated response to historical injustice. Governments too have proved reluctant, with very few exceptions, to engage seriously with demands for reparations. They cite the risk of substantial financial losses and avoid accountability issues and the dangers of establishing precedents. Advocates critical of the demand for reparations, on the other hand, are wary of the potential moral hazards involved (“blood money” or opportunistic use of the past) and of the risk of encouraging more prejudice (in relation, for example, to welfare dependence or reliance on “begging” for easy cash by the Roma community).

These approaches all share a profound recognition of the enduring legacy of past harms. This legacy includes consequences such as persistent poverty, homelessness, and limited access to fundamental social and economic rights. It also consists of enduring civil, political and psychological harms, including social marginalization, statelessness, and the manifold consequences of exposure to persistent discrimination and stigma. ...

Read entire article at Foreign Policy In Focus

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