08 October 2010

Virgin Islands Activist Calls for Reconciliation on Slavery

Presentation to the United Nations Special Political and Decolonisation Committee

Edward L. Browne
Global Human Rights Activist and Historian
United States Virgin Islands

Mr. Chairman,

I am again honored to be here today to discuss what I and many other Virgin Islanders consider the continued colonial relationship that exist between the United States of America and the United States Virgin Islands.

Mr. Chairman, last year for the second time, I came before this distinguish body and I told everyone in attendance that King Frederick VII of Denmark in a royal decree on August 18, 1853 sanctioned a serfdom system of slavery that existed up until March 31, 1917. I also informed the members of this body that the Danish inhabitants primarily people of black African descent were not emancipated by King Christian X of Denmark or by President of the United States Woodrow Wilson before the official transfer of the Danish West Indian Islands took place.

Mr. Chairman since that speech, I have continued to collect information to support my position. Recently, I came across a confidential letter written by former Secretary of State Robert Lansing to the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations William J. Stone dated August 22, 1916. In the letter, Secretary Lansing states that in this connection, it should be borne in mind that the Danish subjects in the islands have had no voice in the proposed transfer of the sovereignty of the islands to the United States, and that many inconveniences must necessarily result to them if they retain Danish allegiance after the transfer.

Also on March 31, 2010, during transfer day ceremonies held on the island of St. Thomas, Soren Blak, Danish consul general to St. Thomas is quoted as making the following remarks. “The pages of history have turned with the realization that history should not repeat itself.” “You don’t sell a people and a culture.” “You do not enslave humanity, but those mistakes were made a 100 years ago and don’t excuse the fact that things are not getting better today.”

Again, I would like to state that there are still individuals alive today who were born in the Danish West Indian Islands before the transfer of the islands to the United States, and this is one of the reasons why this issue is so relevant at the present moment. With that being said, I would like to thank Soren Blak for taking the first step in bringing about healing and reconciliation between the people of Denmark and the Virgin Islands, and I would urge the governments of Denmark, the United States of America, and the United States Virgin Islands to embrace what I have titled “The Five Pillars of Reconciliation ” and do whatever is needed to finally bring closure to this very painful situation.

To my friends from Guam, I would ask you to continue to channel your energies in telling the world about the atrocities that were done to your elders by both the Japanese and American governments during World War II. I would also humbly ask the Japanese government to do what is right and seek total reconciliation with the people of Guam to include discussing the issue of reparations. History should never be forgotten and saying sorry and then providing repair in my opinion is the highest form of honor.

Hopefully, if the Japanese government can finally address the issue of reparations with the people of Guam then maybe there can finally be true dialogue and reconciliation between Japan and the United States over the attack on Pearl Harbor and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The world does not need any more nuclear weapons instead what our humanity needs according to words used by Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan is “courageous change towards peace”.

In closing, I would like to state that it is obvious that the United Nations is not a perfect institution, and it is confronted with many different challenges; however, the United Nations has brought hope to the hopeless, provided a voice to the voiceless and continues to inspire billions around the world to create a brighter tomorrow. I live in a nation that continues to treat me like a second class citizen, but from 2008 this committee has allowed me to tell and show the world that I am a first class human being, and for that I would like to thank this committee. One day, colonialism in all of its forms will come to an end and there will be no more non-self governing territories, and when that day comes what a better world we will all live in. Mr. Chairman, I thank you for the moment.