Howard Law Professor Justin Hansford addressed the United Nations Permanent Forum on People of African Descent last week and called for the establishment of a United Nations Reparations Tribunal that could order the payment of reparations to African Americans.
Professor Hansford objected that white lawyers and politicians have been allowed to control this debate in the United States for too long:
But so far we have left it to the scholars of the past, the lawyers of the past, the white scholars, white lawyers, to determine the bounds of our legal imagination, to determine the narrow structures that we will use to determine what justice looks like for our own people.
So I come to you today with a novel proposal, that we begin to think our own thoughts, propose our own vision of justice, and implement that justice, as part of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent.
It is not clear what Professor Hansford meant when he suggested that a United Nations program for reparations should not only be crafted but “implemented” by people of color.
Professor Hansford notes in his address that the United Nations previously recognized the need for reparations for victims of racism and cultural genocide.
The speech to the United Nations is part of growing calls for action on reparations after years of study and proposals. As task forces in states like California have issued recommendations for payments, the demands are presenting a challenge for Democratic politicians who have long campaigned on such payments as a moral imperative. That bill has now come due but politicians like California Gov. Gavin Newsom have sought to pivot away from demands from his own Reparations Task Force for massive payments.
It may be too late for this effort as activists demand actual payments, including up to $5 million for each eligible citizen in cities like San Francisco.
Now Professor Hansford is calling on the United Nations to order such payments by the United States. It is an interesting pitch to countries that were directly involved in the slave trade or enslaved other people in their own histories. Reparations would appear to apply to many of the same countries and might be looked at with some skepticism and concern in their own capitals.
Professor Hansford is a scholar who has written extensively on critical race theory. He has been an advocate for not only reparations but “police abolition”:
“Well, yes, when I think of police abolition, I think that it’s the right word. I think about the abolitionists that we saw in the 19th century — Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass — and their work, which was our destiny as a people, to be free. And I think that’s part of the same tradition. I think that it’s the same work. I think that the systems that we’re facing today are continuations of the systems that the abolitionists in the 19th century worked against. So, yes, I support that. I think that has to be the ultimate goal.”
I have serious objections to these views, but value the debate. Indeed, part of the effort to combat the intolerance for opposing viewpoints at schools like Howard University is to allow a more robust debate on these issues.
Reparations is a debate that we should have as a nation, including in Congress. Recently, Democrats introduced a bill demanding $14 trillion in reparations. I have major misgivings over the legal and policy basis for such payments, but welcome any forum for a free and civil debate. The United Nations did not offer an opposing view on this question, which is often the case on our campuses.
Professor Hansford called on the United Nations to stop “cultural genocide” and to end the “continuation of slavery” through means like “mass incarceration” in the United States.
The Biden Administration nominated Professor Hansford to work with the United Nations Permanent Forum on People of African Descent (PFPAD) for the 2022-2024 term. Hansford is the only American representative.
Here are Professor Hansford’s remarks: