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In remembrance of 30 million victims of slavery

According to UNESCO, some 30 million Africans were forcibly uprooted from their homeland during the 400 year span of the transatlantic slave trade.

International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade © Jean-Marc Ferré/ UN photoConsidered to be the largest forced displacement of people in history, slavery and the transatlantic slave trade have only recently been recognized by the international community as crimes against humanity.

Since 2005, 25 March is observed as the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. People the world over pay tribute to the victims of the abhorrent commerce in humans and vow to abolish these crimes once for all.

The Day is also an opportunity to reflect on and address the historic legacy of the slave trades which still characterizes modern perception and treatment of descendants of enslaved Africans.

A hundred and fifty years after most countries officially abolished slavery, people of African descent who may or may not be descended from slaves continue to suffer the racial discrimination which characterized the frightful era.

The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, resulting from the 2001 World Conference against Racism, was a turning point for the international community that recognized past injustices and the need to rectify the current situation of people of African descent.

Furthermore, the General Assembly proclaimed 2011 the International Year for People of African Descent to promote the human rights of Afro-descendants and also acknowledge their contributions to the societies in which they live.

“Telling the truth about history is an essential component of international reconciliation and the creation of societies based on justice, equality and solidarity”, said the UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay at an event to commemorate the International Day in Geneva.  

The commemoration was organised at the UN Office at Geneva on 23 March by the African Group for Human Rights Issues and the NGO World Against Racism Network.

“Unfortunately, despite the unequivocal abolition of slavery, its contemporary forms and manifestations have not been eradicated”, Pillay added. “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.”

The UN established a Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary forms of Slavery in 1991. The fund provides financial assistance to grassroots NGOs and psychological support, housing, food and medical assistance to victims.

“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”, Pillay said.

In a written statement, the Director General of the UN Office at Geneva, Sergei Ordzhonikidze informed attendees that since beginning of February, the UN had launched a website for the creation of a Permanent Memorial at UN headquarters in New York honouring victims of the transatlantic slave trade.

“The Memorial, once finalized, is to acknowledge the crimes and atrocities perpetrated over the course of four centuries, and to serve as an educational tool to inform future generations of the mechanisms and mindsets that gave rise to this tragedy.”

Reed the full speech of the High Commissioner

25 March 2011