On International Day, top UN official urges continued reflection on slavery
Marking the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today urged reflection on slavery’s “tragic past” and noted that its modern forms cause the suffering of millions worldwide.
The Day commemorates the uprising on 23 August 1791, when slaves of Santo Domingo in the Caribbean launched an insurrection which ultimately led to the Haitian revolution and promoted the cause of human rights.
It also “serves to pay tribute to all those who worked collectively and individually to trigger the irreversible process of the abolition of the slave trade and slavery throughout the world,” said Koïchiro Matsuura, UNESCO’s Director-General.
The occasion also seeks to encourage rumination “on a tragic past that may be distant but whose repercussions continue to fuel injustice and exclusion today,” he said. “This reflection on the barbarity our society is capable of unleashing with a clear conscience is all the more necessary, salutary even, as millions of men, women and children still today suffer the horrors of new forms of slavery.”
The main aim of the Day – which UNESCO is commemorating for the 10th year – is to strike a balance between paying homage to the past accurately while also promoting debate on the issues of painful memories, dialogue and democratic citizenship in multi-ethnic and multicultural societies in the present, he noted.
Earlier this year on 25 March, the UN honoured the bicentennial of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the bravery of those who opposed it.
On 25 March 1807, the British Parliament banned the slave trade, often referred to as the first example of globalization, throughout its Empire, marking the end of trans-Atlantic trafficking in human beings. Finally in 1833, an act was passed emancipating British slaves.
Millions of those forcibly taken from Africa died en route, in what is known as the middle passage across the Atlantic, to their destinations, while many others perished due to terrible conditions at the other end.
Over a decade ago, UNESCO launched the Slave Route Project, which, among other aims, seeks to clarify the consequences and interactions resulting from the slave trade.
“There is a greater awareness even in countries and regions of the world that did not feel concerned or were reluctant to re-open dark chapters in their history,” Mr. Matsuura said.
“Its clear definition of the ethical and political stakes involved in the issue, its emphasis on a multidisciplinary scientific approach and its prioritizing a holistic view of this tragedy, meant that the Slave Route Project had a significant impact both internationally and locally.”