Prince Charles has expressed deep sorrow over slavery in a speech to Commonwealth leaders in Rwanda, acknowledging crimes of the slave trade and colonialism.
“While we strive together for peace, prosperity and democracy, I want to acknowledge that the roots of our contemporary association run deep into the most painful period of our history,” Charles told assembled Commonwealth leaders at the opening ceremony of a two-day summit in Kigali on Friday.
“I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery’s enduring impact.”
Rooted in the British Empire, the 54-nation Commonwealth has not previously grappled publicly with the legacy of colonialism or slavery, but there have been increasing calls, especially from Caribbean member states, for it to do so.
A dark past
“If we are to forge a common future that benefits all our citizens, we too must find new ways to acknowledge our past. Quite simply, this is a conversation whose time has come,” Charles continued.
He was at the summit representing his mother, Queen Elizabeth, who has been head of the Commonwealth since her reign began in 1952. The baton will pass to him, according to a decision by Commonwealth leaders made in 2018 that some Caribbean nations are now contesting.
In his speech, Charles also acknowledged growing republican sentiment in some of the 15 Commonwealth nations that currently have the Queen as head of state.
They include the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, Belize, the Bahamas and Papua New Guinea.
“I want to say clearly, as I have said before, that each member’s constitutional arrangement, as republic or monarchy, is purely a matter for each member country to decide,” Charles said.
“The benefit of long life brings me the experience that arrangements such as these can change calmly and without rancour,” said Charles, who is 73.
“We should never forget the things which do not change, the close and trusted partnership between Commonwealth members.”
Caribbean pressure for change
The remarks will have particular resonance in the Caribbean, a region where post-colonial ties to Britain and its royal family are being questioned and in some cases upended.
Barbados ditched the monarchy to become a republic last November. Jamaica, Belize and the Bahamas have signalled they may follow suit soon.
Britain and its royal family have no power to stop any of the Queen’s realms from becoming republics, but Charles’ comments suggest he believes it is in the interests of the monarchy’s long-term future to be gracious about it.
His son Prince William, who is second in line to the throne, told Caribbean nations in March that he supported “with pride and respect” their decisions about their future.