Younous Omarjee, Member of the European Parliament for Insubordinate France, today proposes in Strasbourg that the European Parliament solemnly recognize the slave trade and slavery as crimes against humanity. New aftermath of the memorial cult or the need to resuscitate communities? Interview.
Le Point: Why want the European Parliament to officially recognize today by a vote that slavery and the slave trade are crimes against humanity?
Younous Omarjee: We are at an important moment in the history of the struggles against racial discrimination. The eight minutes during which, in Minneapolis, Georges Floyd said several times that he could not breathe while he was suffocated by a white policeman paradoxically gave breath to those who, around the world, fight against racism and discrimination, but also to Afro-descendants in general. As if they recognized themselves in this suffering, that they no longer wanted to be suffocated, too, and that they wanted to make their voices heard. At such a moment symbolic acts and gestures are of great importance, and the European Parliament cannot and must not remain outside this debate. It is not the first time that he has been asked about this subject. When she was an MEP, Roselyne Bachelot had proposed a written resolution and after her, Paul Vergès. But there had been no vote. Today, this proposal is included in a joint resolution to be voted on. It would be the first time that an international organization would recognize slavery and trafficking as crimes against humanity, but it would only follow the example of France, with the Taubira law of 2001. I also proposed that December 2, the date retained by the UN for the fight against the slavery of all the human beings, is retained as a European date of commemoration or of the memory for the crimes of slavery, as it exists in France with May 10.
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What is the interest for Europe?
Slavery and especially racism yesterday and today belong to the European reality. There were born the “scientific” theories of racial hierarchy which served to justify slavery, but also colonization and the Holocaust, etc. At a time in its history when more and more admirers of fascism are making their voices heard, Parliament must seize this historic opportunity to fulfill its duty of memory and to reaffirm the values of civilization that found Europe. All Europeans are affected, not just Afro-descendants.
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Europeans have practiced the slave trade for several centuries, it is true, but they have declared it illegal since the end of the XIXe century. And they are the ones who promulgated the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Isn’t memorial worship a handicap for moving forward and building your own destiny?
It is not a question of locking people into a victim attitude. I am from Reunion. In this multicultural island, people feel fully French, but the problem of slavery and the exploitation of Indian workers is not taboo. It was, it is true, a long battle. If slavery was abolished in 1848, it was not until 1981 and the arrival of the socialists in power, then Jospin in 1997, to claim real equality. Even today, in Mayotte, equality is not complete. We must not cast a veil over these periods of history which are the basis of current inequalities and discrimination. We must be able to recognize the mistakes and wrongs that have been committed. Look things in the eye, together, it is also to show our attachment to the values of France, but also of European unity. This must be done in diversity. And it is not to be separatist to claim it, contrary to what President Macron says. On the other hand, to refuse to hear the claims is to risk going towards confrontation.
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Can such a vote have legal consequences, particularly with regard to reparations?
This recognition can only be symbolic. Hardware repairs? How to calculate them? I believe more in solutions such as debt cancellation for African countries.
Across the world, Americans are attacking the ghosts of the past, destroying or destroying statues of figures who played a role in the colonies or in the slave trade. What do you think ?
There too, it is symbolic. Statues, street names are elements of the national narrative. We honored people who turned other humans into things. It was, it seems, normal in the XIXe century. But is it acceptable today? I repeat, to recognize the wrongs that have been committed is also to restore vitality to the values of the Republic and of Europe.
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