ABC: The World Today – Slave Descendants sue British Insurance Company

HAMISH ROBERTSON: In a case set to test the bounds of the legal definition of “pain and suffering”, the American descendents of Africans forced into slavery have launched a legal action against the British insurance company, Lloyds of London.

The multi-billion dollar claim in the US courts alleges that Lloyds conspired with the American tobacco company RJ Reynolds, and the banking group Fleetboston Financial Corporation in “aiding and abetting the commission of genocide”.

The descendents want to be compensated for the loss of cultural identity inflicted as a result of the slave trade.

And, as Nick Grimm reports, here in Australia, indigenous groups are watching the case with interest.

DEADRIA FARMER-PAELLMANN: Let me just say that the injury that we’re focusing on is the loss of our… the destruction of our ethnic and national groups.

NICK GRIMM: Deadria Farmer-Paellmann is one of the claimants. She explained the motives behind the law suit to CNN.

DEADRIA FARMER-PAELLMANN: African-Americans today do not know who we are. That is a human right to know who you are. The evidence that we’re able to collect is based primarily on DNA research.

There are now DNA tests available where we can determine the precise ethnic and national groups we come from in Africa, so we’re able to trace ourselves back to the slave trade and determine who underwrote those slave trading expeditions, which nations, which companies supplied whatever resources necessary to brutally enslave my ancestors?

NICK GRIMM: Similar cases have failed in the American courts in the past, but this lawsuit has gathered more interest because of the lawyer representing the claimants. New York-based attorney Ed Fagan is famous for forcing Swiss banks into a $2 billion settlement on behalf of the holocaust victims of the Nazis. He believes the descendents of America’s slaves have a strong case.

ED FAGAN: First they have DNA tests that put them into the specific locations where Lloyds were shipping from. One of my clients actually has one of the manifests and one of the insurance documents where Lloyds insured the ship that this client’s ancestors were on.

NICK GRIMM: And while the slavery in some places took place centuries ago, the claimants are targeting those they say, profited from the enterprise. Fleetboston Financial Corporation is accused of financing the trade, and the RJ Reynolds tobacco company is said to have bought the slaves to work in its tobacco fields.

Meanwhile the insurer Lloyds of London has been included in the lawsuit, because it’s alleged to have underwritten the trade. The companies have so far declined to comment on the legal action, which has been filed in the US District Court.

Read More at ABC World Today.

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