By Santo D. Banerjee
NEW YORK (IDN) – The Ark of Return by Rodney Leon, an American architect of Haitian descent, at the UN Headquarters in New Yok honours the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade that was perpetrated for over 400 years.
The permanent memorial was erected on March 25, 2015 – the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The Day also aims to raise awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice manifesting itself in racial discrimination in the hands of populists in several European countries and the U.S.
As follow-up to the commemoration of the two-hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, the UN Secretary-General submitted a report to the General Assembly on ‘Programme of educational outreach on the transatlantic slave trade and slavery’.
Three years on, the UN Secretary-General has tabled a report covering the period August 1, 2015 to July 31, 2018. The Department of Public Information organized three commemorations for the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade under themes related to the heritage and culture of the African diaspora; the legacy and contributions of people of African descent; and the triumphs and struggles for freedom and equality, the report states.
Introducing the report on November 21, General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés said the slave trade submitted millions of Africans to a regime of exploitation. “The impact of this major tragedy is still with us,” she added, urging the Assembly to work towards a better understanding of the trade. “We have to maximize efforts against racism,” she declared, and emphasised the importance of educational programmes and awareness‑raising efforts.
Espinosa, who represents Ecuador at the UN, said honouring the victims of slavery requires the international community to understand the issues affecting the descendants of slaves. She warned that 40 million people around the world are victims of modern‑day slavery and urged States to put an immediate end to the practice in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the third year of implementation. “Let us vanquish exploitation and inequality,” she appealed.
Speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Ambassador Sheila Carey of the Bahamas said that the world must never forget the estimated 15 to 18 million victims of the transatlantic slave trade that lasted for more than 400 years.
“This is one of the darkest chapters in human history: human beings were reduced to commodities and exploited for profit as a means to enhance the riches and maintain the status quo of the colonial entities,” she said.
CARICOM, a region largely populated by descendants of slaves, supports initiatives at all levels to highlight the lessons of the slave trade, she said, pointing to the launch of outreach programmes that mobilize educational institutions and civil society to inculcate in future generations an understanding of the causes and consequences of the slave trade.
“The world must never forget so that this unspeakable evil is never again perpetuated on societies,” she said. The international community must educate and raise awareness of the dangers of racism and prejudice. Commemorations of the slave trade must also be a motivating force to strengthen the resolve to stamp out contemporary manifestations of slavery, child labour and human trafficking, she added.
Georg Helmut Ernst Sparber, representative of Liechtenstein, said slavery persists and that “in fact, there are more slaves today than at the height of the transatlantic slave trade.”
An estimated 40 million people live in conditions that qualify as modern slavery, he added, explaining his country’s efforts to combat slavery which aim to develop actionable measures that the global financial sector can build upon. In his view, it is necessary to involve the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has jurisdiction over enslavement as a war crime and a crime against humanity.
Cuba’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo, said that by introducing the slave trade into the Western Hemisphere, once‑colonial powers committed a crime against humanity.
“The main beneficiaries of conquest and colonization, slavery and the slave trade must assume responsibility and provide compensation for the horrendous crimes committed,” she stressed. Emphasizing that the Cuban people are extremely proud of their African roots, she called for greater efforts to eliminate modern‑day slavery.
Sierra Leone’s Permanent Representative Francis Mustapha Kai-Kai accentuated the importance of countering the legacy of the slave trade and restoring the dignity of victims. Underscoring the role of education, he said, present‑day challenges – such as institutional racism, discrimination and prejudice – cannot be understood without knowing their roots in the slave trade.
Accounts of the transatlantic slave trade must be taught at all levels, from primary school to universities. Sierra Leone believes that the true hidden value of commemoration events is not only to honour lives lost or the resilience of descendants, but in building bridges between people of African descent and Africa, he said.
Qatar’s Alanoud Qassim M. A. Al-Temimi said States must work to educate future generations on the cruelty of the slave trade and the dangers of racism and bigotry. She called for the protection of all people regardless of ethnicity or religious background and said her Government rejects all forms of slavery. Qatar adopted curricula that promote tolerance and understanding, she said, adding that initiatives are also being implemented to combat trafficking in persons at the national and international level.
India’s representative, Paulomi Tripathi, said the transatlantic slave trade is “undeniably one of the most tragic and inhumane chapters in recorded human history.” The practice was a manifestation of greed and immoral pursuit of profit. It destroyed millions of lives and changed the socioeconomic fabric of societies in Africa, South America and the Caribbean and “was an instance of what ungoverned and lawless globalization can lead to”.
Noting that uprooted African communities face racial discrimination and oppression, she voiced support for awareness‑raising programmes undertaken by the Department of Public Information and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
UNESCO officially launched The Slave Route Project in 1994 in Ouidah, Benin. It is rooted in the mandate of the Organization, which believes that ignorance or concealment of major historical events constitutes an obstacle to mutual understanding, reconciliation and cooperation among peoples. [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 November 2018]
Photo: The Ark of Return, the Permanent Memorial to Honour the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, located at the Visitors’ Plaza of UN Headquarters in New York. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.
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