Slavery and slavery-like practices still continue in many parts of the world, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today, calling for renewed international commitment to ensure that all forms of slavery are finally eradicated.
“We must create a climate in which such abuse and cruelty are inconceivable,” the Secretary-General said in a message marking the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
“One way is by remembering the past and honouring the victims of the transatlantic slave trade. By reminding ourselves of past injustices, we help to ensure that such systematic abuse of human rights can never be repeated,” the Secretary-General added.
Noting that slavery has mutated and re-emerged in modern forms – including debt bondage, the sale of children, and the trafficking of women and girls for sex – the Secretary-General said its roots “lie in ignorance, intolerance and greed.”
Similar motives drove the forcible removal of million of people from their homelands in Africa from the 16th to 19th centuries.
“Those who controlled the transatlantic slave trade made huge profits from death, misery and exploitation. Slave traders and owners subjected these forced migrants and their descendants to the most callous physical, mental and emotional abuse,” the Secretary-General said in today’s message.
The General Assembly designated the Day in 2007 to honour the 28 million estimated Africans who were violently removed and cast into slavery, mainly in colonies in North America, South America and the West Indies.
Mr. Ban said the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade is apparent in all the countries it affected, and should be used to for positive purposes.
“If we are wise, we will use this legacy for good. We will recognize that it is clear evidence of what can happen, if intolerance, racism and greed are allowed to triumph,” he said.
He also noted the achievements of the people who fought to end slavery and ensure the triumph of the values that the United Nations represents, “tolerance, justice, and respect for the dignity and worth of all human beings.”
Slavery is explicitly prohibited by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is reaffirmed in international documents, including in the Durban Declaration adopted at the 2001 World Conference against Racism.
“Today is an occasion not only to enhance awareness about the past, but also to commit that never again should human beings display such inhumanity towards other human beings,” acting General Assembly President, Ambassador Christopher F. Hackett of Barbados, said at a special commemorative meeting marking the International Day.
He paid tribute to Haiti, scene of the first successful resistance “which overthrew the forces of oppression and cast aside the shackles of slavery, bringing an end to the rule of the masters.”
Calling the slave trade “among the worst violations of human rights in history,” Mr. Hackett drew attention to the fact that it was the biggest deportation in history.
To honour victims of slavery and as a permanent reminder of the transatlantic slave trade, the UN plans to construct a sculpture at its Headquarters in New York for completion in 2012. The design has not yet been announced.