More and more global South and civil society leaders have started calling not just for debt cancellation but for reparations. But what does this mean and what is being called for?
Reparations seek to repair the harms of historical injustices such as colonisation, neo-colonialism and enslavement, and the ways they still show up in, and shape, society today. They also seek to put an end to these forms of injustice and instead create a world that is free from oppression, exploitation and extraction.
Centuries of global north profiteering and hunger for power has caused devastating harm – from centuries of enslavement and genocide during colonisation to present manifestations like the climate crisis and global inequality. In recognition of this, reparations force us to acknowledge that the global north owes far more to the global south than any financial debt owed by the global south.
For some, reparations are about financial compensation given the trillions that global north elites have plundered from global south countries (over $150 trillion since 1960 according to Jason Hickel). For others, they are holistic and can expand beyond the material including, for example, internal self-emancipation through psychological, cultural and relationship repairs. For many, reparations also include debt justice, including the cancellation or repudiation (when a country refuses to pay) of debt, and fixing inequalities embedded in the debt system.
Right now, debt relief efforts for many global South countries have stalled with wealthy private creditors like BlackRock doing their best to delay negotiations and get paid as much as possible. Big bondholders could make up to $30 billion in profit from the debt repayments of just 5 countries. With 90% of global south bonds governed under English law, the UK has a special responsibility to act and can introduce a new law that would force private creditors to the table, just as our campaign is demanding.
A debt is owed, but not by the global South. We look forward to joining our allies to demand that the global north pay up and take responsibility for the injustices they have caused. Half measures and dangerous distractions won’t cut it, and collectively we won’t let them get away with it.