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French minister wants land for slaves’ descendants


France’s justice minister has said she supports land reform in the country’s overseas territories to help the descendants of slaves, two days after President Hollande declared reparations for slavery impossible.


Justice Minister Christiane Taubira has called on the French government to consider ways to redistribute land in its Caribbean overseas territories to favour the descendants of slaves, just two days after President François Hollande ruled out reparations for France’s role in the colonial-era slave trade.

“In the overseas territories there was a land grab, the general result was that the descendants of slaves were left without access to land. Therefore we should think about – without sparking a civil war – regrouping properties that were divided and about land reform,” Taubira said in an interview published in the Journal de Dimanche weekly on Sunday.

“There are steps that should be taken, without expropriations, and clearly explaining the reason behind the state’s push to purchase land,” Taubira added.

Vocal supporter

As a French MP representing her native French Guiana in 2001, Taubira authored a law that recognises slavery as a crime against humanity. More recently, as France’s justice minister, she was a vocal supporter of an approved bill legalising same-sex marriage.

Hollande’s unequivocal statement on Friday that France would not pay reparations for slavery sparked outrage among some groups.

The Representative Council of Black Associations (CRAN), a leading French racism watchdog group, promptly said it would sue the state-owned bank CDC, accusing the institution of collecting billions of euros from Haiti as part of France’s dark legacy in slavery.

Call welcomed

But on Sunday the CRAN welcomed Taubira’s announcement, saying land reform was another important way France could atone for its past mistakes.

“I am overjoyed to hear of Mrs. Taubira’s announcement,” CRAN president Luis-Georges Tin told FRANCE 24. “It’s clear that Mr. Hollande is an uncomfortable position. He is coming off as a man who turns people away, who tells the victims of slavery ‘too bad’.”

Tin said that the kind of land reform his group has championed – and that Taubira has espoused – would not lead to expropriations, claiming the state owned many tracts of unused land in the overseas territories.

“Our colleagues overseas have heard the announcement loud and clear… we all expect to be contacted quickly by Mrs. Taubira and the government to figure out how to put this policy in place,” Tin noted, adding that the new announcement would in no way dissuade his group from suing the CDC.

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