Source: (2012) Social & Legal studies 21(2) 227-242

This article addresses the claim that some contemporary states may possess obligations to pay reparations as a result of the lasting effects of colonialism. Claims about the harms and benefits caused by colonialism must make some kind of comparison between the world as it currently is, and a counterfactual state where the injustice which characterized so much of the historic interaction between colonizers and the colonized did not occur. Rather than imagining a world where there was no interaction between such communities, this article maintains that the appropriate counterfactual state is one whereby relations between different communities took place in a context characterized by an absence of domination and exploitation. The conclusion is that there are good reasons to go beyond a focus on symbolic reparations and hold that many affluent contemporary states possess extensive but unfulfilled duties of rectificatory justice to some of the world’s poorest peoples.