Britain’s Prince Charles expressed deep sorrow over slavery in a speech to Commonwealth leaders in Rwanda on Friday and acknowledged that the roots of the organisation lay in a painful period of history.
The Commonwealth, a club of 54 countries that evolved from the British Empire, encompasses about a third of humanity and presents itself as a network of equal partners, but some member states have been calling for a reckoning with the colonial past.
“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.
“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.”
Britain and other European nations enslaved more than 10 million Africans between the 15th and 19th centuries and transported them across the Atlantic to toil on plantations in the Caribbean and the Americas. Many died on the way.
Commonwealth members include West African nations such as Nigeria and Ghana, where slaves were captured, and 12 Caribbean nations where they spent the rest of their lives.
The Commonwealth has not previously grappled publicly with the legacy of slavery. Some Caribbean ministers have called for it to be discussed, including the issue of reparations, which Charles did not mention.
“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 said.