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International Day for the Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and Transatlantic Slave Trade: Opening Statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay

25 March 2011

Every 25 March, we observe the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. On this day, we honor the memory of the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade and express our profound commitment to ensure that no human being is treated as a commodity.  

In 2001, in Durban the international community acknowledged the suffering and evils inflicted on millions of men, women and children as a result of slavery and the slave trade. It also agreed that slavery and slave trade are crimes against humanity and appalling tragedies that negate the very essence of humanity. Telling the truth about history is an essential component of international reconciliation and the creation of societies based on justice, equality and solidarity.

The Transatlantic trade was the largest forced migration in history. This trade had a remarkable broad scope and brutality. Although estimates vary due to a lack of accurate documentation, it is thought that around 14 million Africans were transported to the Americas as slaves, and an additional 14 million were sent to the East.
I would like to use this opportunity to recall that this year was proclaimed the International Year for People of African Descent. At the center of this initiative is the promotion of the economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights of people of African descendants, as well as their participation and integration in all aspects of society.

My Office has adopted the theme that the Working Group proposed for the Year, that of “Recognition, Justice and Development”. For my Office, the International Year is about giving due recognition to the achievements of people of African descent and the contributions they have made in all areas of human endeavour. It is about striving for justice for the wrongs they continue to suffer at the hands of prejudiced individuals and discriminatory institutions. And it is about fully achieving the right to development so that all people of African descent can enjoy a dignified standard of living and expect an even better future for their children.

Unfortunately, despite the unequivocal abolition of slavery, its contemporary forms and manifestations have not been eradicated. Millions of human beings including women and children from all over the world are trapped into serfdom, forced and bonded labor, trafficking, domestic slavery, sexual slavery, and other abhorrent practices.

We must remain vigilant and reinvigorate action and advocacy to counter these scourges. I urge all UN Member States to ratify existing international human rights treaties and to implement their obligations to abolish this international crime.

Each year, the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery allocates grants for projects of humanitarian, legal and financial assistance to hundreds of victims of contemporary forms of slavery. Grants include medical, psychological, and housing assistance aid for victims of forced marriages, human trafficking for sexual and economic exploitation as well as income-generating activities that help the victims to recover financial autonomy and generate sustainable sources of income.

To honor the memory of the victims of slavery and Transatlantic Slave Trade, I appeal to Member States to contribute generously to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery to allow the Fund to continue to provide direct assistance to victims and contribute to ending these intolerable and unacceptable practices.

We must generate long overdue remedies that can address the plight and aspirations of the victims of slavery, their rights and entitlement to a life in dignity and prosperity.   Thank you