Reparations

The right to reparation is well established in international law. The United Nations General Assembly has adopted two resolutions that contain mechanisms and procedures to implement legal obligations regarding reparation under international human rights and humanitarian law. The Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, adopted in December 2005, sets forth the right to reparation in the form of restitution, compensation, rehabilitation and satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. The Basic Principles and Guidelines are designed to aid governments in implementing reparations by means of legislation, commission, or otherwise. The guidelines have been referred to by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and used as a model for legislation in Argentina, Chile and other Latin American states.

The Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, adopted in November 1985, defines the term “victim” and sets forth the right to access to justice, restitution and compensation for the victims of crimes, whether or not they amount to gross violations of human rights or international war crimes.

These two documents support a theory of reparation that extends beyond state responsibility to private perpetrators of international crimes and human rights violations.

Concern about the gendered dimensions of reparations policies led to the adoption of the Nairobi Declaration on Women’s and Girls’ Right to a Remedy and Reparation, in Nairobi in March 2007. The Declaration was the result of a study of the mechanisms for reparations for women and girls in connection with truth-seeking processes in Guatamala, Peru, Chile, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Timor Leste.

Reparations Legislation

Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978

The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (25 U.S.C. 1901) established federal standards for the removal of Native American children from their families. The Act recognized the federal government’s power and responsibility to protect and regulate Indian affairs. The federal government acknowledged that the wide-scale state removal of Native children from their families violated the social and cultural norms and the rights of the affected communities.

Japanese-American Internees during World War II

In 1988, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act (50 App. U.S.C. 1989b) officially apologizing for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The Act authorized $1.25 billion to be paid in the form of $20,000 for each of the surviving 60,000 internees. The measure created a $50 million foundation to promote the cultural and historical concerns of Japanese Americans.

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The Rosewood Massacre

Reparations were paid to survivors and descendants of the Rosewood Massacre by Florida. 1994 Fla. Sess. Law Serv. Ch. 94-359 (C.S.H.B. 591). The Rosewood Commission recommended that reparations be paid to the victims of this massacre.

1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission Recommendations

The final report of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot commission recommended restitution to survivors and descendents of the 1921 Tulsa riot. Oklahoma failed to pass a reparations statute. In 2003, a lawsuit seeking reparations was filed, but it was later dismissed on statute of limitations grounds. The victims have petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, where they are requesting a ruling that the failure of the US courts to hear the case on the merits violates the victims’ rights under international law.

Oklahoma created a scholarship for post-secondary education for residents of the Tulsa school district. The scholarship recognizes that this district was affected socially and economically by the Tulsa Race Riot. The Act sets up a state-funded trust fund to make the grants.

In November 2008, Tulsa broke ground on the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park. The park contains three sculptures and three towers representing hostility, humiliation and hope. At the center, is a twenty-seven foot tower of reconciliation, depicting the history of African-Americans and Native Americans in Oklahoma.

In April 2009, a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee adopted by voice vote a bill to allow the survivors and descendants of victims of the riot in Tulsa to pursue civil claims within five years after the enactment of the proposed law. The bill, H.R. 1843, titled the “John Hope Franklin Tulsa-Greenwood Race Riot Claims Accountability Act of 2009,” extends to five years the statute of limitations for federal claimants whose claims were previously filed in court and dismissed without reaching the merits. Representative John Conyers, D-Mich, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is the bill’s principal sponsor.

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Proposed Reparations for Slavery

Proposals for reparations for former slaves have been made since 1760. A range of reparations proposals are currently under discussion.

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Reparations by Private Companies

J.P. Morgan Chase

J.P. Morgan Chase has acknowledged its involvement in the slave trade and set up a scholarship fund of $5 million dollars for Black students. Two of Chase’s predecessor banks in Louisiana allowed enslaved Africans to be used as collateral on loans and took possession of 1,250 of these Africans when the loans defaulted.

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Bill H.R. 40

In January 1989, Representative John Conyers, D-Mich, now Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, first introduced the bill H.R. 40, the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. He has introduced H.R. 40 every Congress since 1989. He plans to continue to reintroduce the bill annually until it passes. The proposed legislation does four things: (1) acknowledges the fundamental injustice and inhumanity of slavery; (2) establishes a commission to study slavery and its subsequent racial and economic discrimination against freed slaves; (3) studies the impact of those forces on today’s living African-Americans; and (4) allows the commission to make recommendations to Congress on remedies to redress the harm inflicted on African-Americans. The legislation receives increased support over the years.

Resources

John Conyers Jr. for Congress, Reparations, http://www.johnconyers.com/issues/reparations

On July 28, 2009 the U.S. House of Representatives issues an apology for the institution of slavery and the subsequent Jim Crow laws. Representative Steve Cohen, (D-TN) drafted the resolution.