Prince Charles voices 'personal sorrow' for slavery as he sets out vision for Commonwealth

In a speech at the opening of the Commonwealth summit in Rwanda, he expressed his “personal sorrow” for slavery and said the 54-nation association of mainly former British Empire countries could only move forward and be a force for good if the past was recognised. 

Charles, who is representing the head of the Commonwealth the Queen at the summit, once again stopped short of apologising for the role of the Royal Family in the slave trade down the centuries but said he was deepening his own understanding of its enduring impact. Caribbean countries have called for Britain to pay reparations.

The Prince, who will be the next head of the Commonwealth after a decision taken by member states in 2018, hailed the family of nations representing a third of the world’s population as uniquely positioned to achieve positive change, particularly on climate change and opportunities for young people.

But he said: “To achieve this potential good, however, and to unlock the power of our common future, we must also acknowledge the wrongs which have shaped our past.

“Many of those wrongs belong to an earlier age with different – and, in some ways lesser – values.”

He added: “For 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.

“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.

“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, who has previously described slavery as a stain on our history during visits to Ghana and Barbados, once again stopped short of apologising for the Royal Family’s role in the trade – one of the key demands of campaigners in the Caribbean.

But in the wake of Jamaica’s decision to begin steps to become a republic, he gave his blessing to any of the Queen’s 14 overseas realms that wanted to replace her as head of state with a president from their own country.

“The Commonwealth contains within it countries that have had constitutional relationships with my family, some that continue to do so, and increasingly those that have had none,” he told leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting opening ceremony.

“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. The benefit of long life brings me the experience that arrangements such as these can change, calmly and without rancour.”

Sources close to Charles said he saw his speech as an opportunity to “set out his vision” for its future.

He considers its power to be in its diversity, an aide said, and has been thinking deeply about what its priorities should be and “what it can do collectively, together.”

As 60 per cent of its 2.6billion population is under 30, he believes it “critical” to ensure young people have the opportunities, training and employment they need.

Members from Canada to the Seychelles are “massively impacted” by climate change and for the Prince to bring businesses to CHOGM to discuss potential solutions was “critically important.”

To achieve that vision, the Prince believes that the “historic shared past” must be recognised, an aide said, adding: “It is recognition that he is listening and learning in order to determine future action.”

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