|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-third General Assembly
29th Meeting (AM)
ADOPTING CONSENSUS RESOLUTION, GENERAL ASSEMBLY PAVES WAY FOR PERMANENT MEMORIAL
AT UN HEADQUARTERS ACKNOWLEDGING VICTIMS OF SLAVERY, TRANSATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE
Also Concludes Annual Consideration of New Partnership for Africa’s Development
In an effort to expose the roots of modern-day racial prejudice and to acknowledge the lingering consequences of the centuries-long enslavement of and trade in Africans supplied to the colonies of the Americas and beyond, the General Assembly today welcomed the initiative of the world body’s Caribbean Member States to erect a permanent memorial at United Nations Headquarters to the victims of the 400-year transatlantic slave trade.
The resolution, adopted by consensus, stresses the importance of educating and informing future generations about the causes, consequences and lessons of the slave trade and slavery, and welcomes the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) proposal to erect, “at a place of prominence at United Nations Headquarters that is easily accessible to delegates, United Nations staff and visitors, a permanent memorial in acknowledgement of the tragedy and in consideration of the legacy of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade”.
Further, the text welcomes the establishment of a committee of interested States to oversee the permanent memorial project, drawn from all geographical regions, “with Member States from the Caribbean Community and the African Union playing a primary role”, in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), representatives of the Secretariat, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library, and civil society.
Recognizing how little is known about the 400-year-long slave trade and its lasting consequences, “felt throughout the world”, the resolution welcomes the increased attention that the Assembly brought to the issue when it observed, for the first time on 25 March 2008, the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, including the raising of its profile in many States.
The text also “takes note with appreciation” of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moons’ report on the United Nations programme of outreach on the transatlantic slave trade and slavery led by the Department of Public Information, which highlights developments relating to a diverse strategy to increase awareness of and to educate future generations about the causes, consequences, lessons and legacy of the slave trade and to communicate the dangers of racism and prejudice, and encourages continued action in this regard.
Adoption of the resolution capped a morning-long debate, during which delegations stressed how the terrible and lingering effects of the transatlantic slave trade showed up even now in the form of racial intolerance, damaged economies and human trafficking. Speakers also underscored the importance of giving future generations an understanding of the history and consequences of slavery through educational programmes. At the same time, many backed the creation of a permanent memorial at the United Nations to honour not only slavery’s victims, but those who forged its abolition.
Nearly two years after first formally bringing the issue to the Assembly with resolution 61/19, CARICOM delegations and others reiterated their commitment to address the slave trade’s repercussions and remind people of the horrors that had devastated the African continent and poisoned race relations around the world. The November 2006 resolution was titled “Commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade”.
Introducing the text under consideration today, the representative of Guyana, speaking on behalf of CARICOM, the African Group and other co-sponsors, said that in the earlier resolution, the Assembly had acknowledged that slavery and the transatlantic slave trade represented one of humankind’s lowest points. That text had highlighted the forced removal, during five centuries, of more than 18 million people from Africa to the Americas, including the Caribbean, the United States and Brazil, and Europe.
He said a permanent memorial would recognize one of the most horrific tragedies of modern history, which was often forgotten. The memorial’s placement at United Nations Headquarters was a significant symbol of what the world body represented: the promotion and preservation of the dignity and worth of all human beings -- principles that were central to its Charter.
The representative of Kenya, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said a permanent memorial would be a reminder of the heroic actions of the slaves, abolitionists and “many unheralded people of conscious” who acted in the face of grave danger and adversity. It could also serve as an educational resource and a model for lifelong learning. Moreover, it would remind everyone of the current challenges, such as racism, xenophobia and discrimination, facing people around the world.
Turning to the impact of the slave trade on today’s society, Morocco’s representative said the large-scale, forced migration of people held cultural implications that marked belief systems and social relations on several continents. He asked the international community to examine the intellectual legitimization of slavery and its ideological base. He also urged Member States to help finance the memorial and “deal swiftly” with modern slavery.
The representative of the United States said human trafficking was the modern day form of slavery. It used many of the same tools -- kidnappings, fraud, threats and beatings -- applied in earlier centuries to force men, women and children into labour and sexual exploitation. Human trafficking was a borderless crime and about 800,000 persons were trafficked globally. Millions were traded within their own countries and the crime occurred in virtually every country in the world, including the United States.
In other business, the Assembly completed its annual debate on the state of Africa’s development efforts, including the causes of conflict and the promotion of durable peace in Africa, and the implementation of the 2001-2010 Decade to Roll Back Malaria. General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto of Nicaragua praised delegations for recognizing the impact that the global financial crisis would have on the funding, technical cooperation and market opportunities needed for Africa’s development.
He said African countries should allocate more resources towards the priorities of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and encourage private-sector participation in the continent’s development, including a stronger infrastructure. Africa’s development needed to benefit Africans first, and according to the Assembly President, China’s representative, who had spoken at the start of the debate last week, said it best: “We must listen to African voices, respect African views, accommodate African concerns and support Africa’s efforts to implement its own programmes.”
Also speaking today on NEPAD were the representatives of Rwanda, Italy, Kazakhstan, United States and Malawi, as well as the observers for the Holy See and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Speaking on the transatlantic slave trade were Jamaica, Cuba, Ghana, Russian Federation, Bahamas, India and Cape Verde.
The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 22 October, to elect members of the Economic and Social Council.
The General Assembly met today to discuss the follow-up to the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, and implementation of the resolutions of the United Nations. It was also expected to conclude its joint debate on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the causes of conflict and promotion of peace in Africa, and the 2001-2010 Decade to Roll Back Malaria in Developing Countries. (Please see press release GA/10767)
On remembrance of past victims of the transatlantic slave trade, the Assembly had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the Programme of Educational Outreach on the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery (document A/63/213), which describes the Department of Public Information’s multifaceted educational outreach strategy to raise awareness about the little-known and little-discussed history of slavery.
Through its programme, the Department seeks to address the lack of knowledge about the slave trade and encourage broad discussion of the topic, particularly among intermediate and high school students, the report states. Its goals are to impress upon civil society the importance of educating future generations about the causes of the slave trade and communicate the dangers of racism; encourage educational institutions to incorporate into their curricula the subject of slavery; and mobilize civil society to examine the links between the slave trade and modern forms of slavery.
The programme’s theme of “Breaking the Silence on the Transatlantic Slave Trade: Lest We Forget” aims to shed light on the largely ignored history of slavery. To kick off the programme, various events were held during the week of 25 March 2008, including a remembrance ceremony, a remembrance website launch, a “meet the author” event at the United Nations bookstore, exhibitions in connection with the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and outreach by United Nations information centres.
In the coming year, the Department’s activities will include dissemination of a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) documentary entitled The Slave Route: A Global Vision; work with Member States to expand civil society partnerships; and relationship building with partners to widen the range of activities offered in the programme.
Statements on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development
JOSEPH NSENGIMANA ( Rwanda) said his country was committed to addressing its “peculiar” development challenges under the NEPAD umbrella and through achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Information and communications technology was at the heart of Rwanda’s development strategy. Under the Kigali protocol, the implementation of the NEPAD ICT Broadband Infrastructure Network, comprised of a terrestrial and a submarine cable, would provide quality and affordable telecommunications connectivity to the African continent, helping to bridge the digital divide. He therefore urged those counties that had yet to ratify the protocol to do so to ensure its implementation.
He discussed Africa’s Peer Review Mechanism and Rwanda’s progress with respect to elections, budget transparency and other socio-economic development. However, the country’s progress risked being eroded by the food, energy and economic crisis, all of which impacted Africa far more than any other continent. It was therefore imperative that the international community responded to these crises promptly and decisively. Prevention remained the best and most preferred method to promote peace and sustainable development in Africa.
Despite wishing he could share in the Secretary-General report’s “optimism” on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said recent events had shown the situation was far from optimistic. Failure to address the “genocidal” threat of the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), Ex-Forces armées rwandaises (FAR) and the Interahamwe had led to the perpetuation of conflict. In closing, he noted the progress being made to “roll back” malaria in Africa, saying that Rwanda had managed to reduce the disease by about 60 per cent in a six-year period trough a number of measures.
GIULIO TERZI ( Italy) reiterated that, in light of the current global crises, Africa’s needs should not be pushed “outside the radar screen of the international community”. He firmly committed Italy’s efforts to ensure the goals established seven years ago at the Group of Eight (G-8) Summit in Genoa -- an Africa free of conflicts, hunger and violations of human rights -- and called for the G-8 to reaffirm its support during the upcoming 2009 Summit.
He went on to say that improving the quality of assistance was a key priority and needed to be more coordinated and more predictable, rather than at the mercy of mercurial conditions. That would support the goals set by the Heads of State and Government of the African Union and their 10-year capacity-building plan for a conflict-free Africa, the development of a common denominator between donor and recipient States, and the corner stone to cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations. For its own part, Italy had contributed €40 million to the Italian-African Peace Facility.
He concluded by reminding the Assembly that there needed to be a clear, political and shared vision informing actions and decisions in Africa’s development and that the ownership of all African Governments, regional and subregional organizations in creating that vision was the crucial element to assure success. As an elected member of the Security Council, he observed that such ownership assured concrete results in crisis management and that this year’s joint meeting between the Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council had been a significant step in that process.
BYRGANYM AITIMOVA ( Kazakhstan) said her delegation supported the efforts towards mobilizing resources for the realization of programmes and projects within NEPAD, noting that Africa remained the only continent that would not achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. In that connection, the United Nations and its structural divisions should reconsider their approach to distributing funds to Africa.
As a transition economy with large deposits of natural resources, Kazakhstan was well aware of the problems faced by African countries entering the international economic relations system. Thus, Kazakhstan fully supported the efforts of the G-8 and other donor countries to ease the debt burden at both the multilateral and bilateral levels, and to promote foreign direct investment (FDI). She welcomed initiatives by donor countries to expand capacities, diversify and develop regional markets and form a pool of highly qualified human resources. In particular, the Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations should determine trade preferences granted to Africa to speed up development.
Calling for the United Nations to play a critical role in forming partnerships and fulfilling donor countries’ commitments to the Millennium Development Goals, she was concerned about the decrease in official development assistance (ODA) to Africa. In accordance with the view of African States, such assistance should be provided unconditionally and in compliance with the national and regional priorities of the African continent.
She said South-South cooperation between developing and middle-income countries would enable Africa’s development to progress; Kazakhstan was ready to cooperate, in that regard, by providing technical assistance in the financial and agricultural sectors, as well as by training experts and diversifying the economy. Kazakhstan also supported expanding the Security Council with the maximum possible seats allotted to Africa.
ANTHONY GIOIA ( United States) said NEPAD’s activities were central to fulfilling the vision “that each generation do better than the one before, in freedom, prosperity, and security”. Support for Africa’s farmers remained crucial to achieving poverty eradication and fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals, along with good governance, infrastructure development and creating conditions for sustainable private investment.
The United States had pledged to tackle key barriers to the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program and had committed $5.5 billion to combat hunger and promote agricultural development. He said that private sector leaders had also responded by investing billions in plant breeding and biotechnology, enhanced equipment and improved farm management practices, among others. The Millennium Challenge Corporation had also announced a venture with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.
He said the United States was supporting the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program in six countries that were meeting their pledges, and through the Initiative to End Hunger in Africa, which provided assistance in three areas: science and technology; linking producers to markets; and reaching out to the vulnerable. Additionally, $1.2 billion had been pledged under United States President Bush’s Malaria Initiative through 2010 for 15 of the hardest hit African countries. The Initiative was partnering with host Governments, non-governmental organizations and other local groups to create access for “the poorest of the poor” to indoor residual spraying, insecticide-treated bednets and preventative malaria treatment for expectant mothers.
He urged the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to continue and enhance its support in the field for African States and the implementation of NEPAD programmes, and said his country continued to stand with its African partners in achieving lasting poverty eradication and the promise of a better life for all.
STEVE D. MATENJE ( Malawi) noted positive trends such as the launch of the African Union and its socio-economic development programme, NEPAD, and increased African leadership in resolution of conflicts in Africa. He also noted, among other positive signs, growing commitment to people-centred development and regional integration, and increased willingness through the African Peer Review Mechanism to discuss and deal with political and socio-economic questions, making necessary reforms.
However, such progress was being impacted by rising food and energy costs, climate change, the failure of the Doha Development Round and the international financial market collapse. Further, because of deepening poverty, economic gains currently on the continent had not yet translated into visible wealth to help the poorest of the poor, currently living on less that $1 a day. Unless commitments to the objectives of NEPAD were met, he said, it was unlikely that Africa would meet internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, in time.
Many African leaders at the Assembly’s recent high-level meeting on Africa’s development had called urgently for foreign direct investment and infrastructure development in Africa, in the fields of agriculture, health and transport, and in climate change efforts, which Malawi also supported. For its part, Malawi was implementing agricultural initiatives such as subsidy programme for poor smallholder farmers with the goal of achieving food security nationwide. “Green belts” were also being developed along its rivers and lakes, he added.
To reduce transport costs and increase access to international trade, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia had submitted a project to NEPAD and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to open a water channel, and had requested support from the international community towards its launch. In that vein, he said, industrialized countries were urged to fulfil their NEPAD commitments by increasing ODA to developing countries, and also to facilitate an early resumption and conclusion of the Doha Development Round.
Recognizing that economic development in Africa could not be achieved without genuine peace and security for “both person and property”, he welcomed the progress by the United Nations in the prevention and resolution of existing conflicts in Africa, as well as the ongoing work of the Peacebuilding Commission. Malawi pledged to continue participating in United Nations peacekeeping missions on the continent and beyond. Addressing malaria, “the greatest threat” to Africa’s development, he expressed support for the Roll Back Malaria initiative, and welcomed assistance from development partners, including the United Nations and its institutions, to that end.
ELISABETH RITOLA, Observer for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said the IFRC approach to African development began with communities. Noting that Africa currently faced a “development emergency”, she spoke of the need to have sustainable development efforts better enable the poor and vulnerable to handle risks. Multidimensional challenges, such as the food and energy crises, climate change and natural disasters contributed to risk potentials and made more and more people vulnerable. Pointing out that political will and commitment were as essential for human development as a successful outcome at the Doha review conference on development financing, she said non-achievement of the Millennium Development Goals would further aggravate those vulnerabilities.
Speaking of the role of IFRC, she said that, as auxiliaries to their public authorities, the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies had a unique capacity to work with Governments to strengthen communities and drive development. In particular, the role of IFRC was crucial to mobilizing millions of trained and respected volunteers to raise awareness on health and disaster risk, promote good community practices and support improved access to water and food resources. Consistent with the NEPAD view of partnership-building, no one Government or organization could, alone, make a significant difference to the challenges confronting Africa.
Regarding specific initiatives, she said IFRC had launched a five-year strategic food security framework with 15 national societies in southern Africa. In Mali, it had also helped to improve the prospects of 43,000 people in the Goundam Circle area, while a three-year project in Burundi had trained 30,000 volunteers in its first year and had ensured elected village committees would support community services to more than 2,700 villages.
She also said the IFRC’s malaria and HIV programmes were not just public health initiatives, but “essential ingredients in development programming”. In that regard, she noted that the seventh Pan-African Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies convened in Johannesburg on 19 October, bringing together 53 African national societies and observers from around the world.
PHILIP J. BENÉ, Observer for the Holy See, said that the Assembly’s decision to increase attention to malaria in developing countries, especially those in Africa, “is a positive step in the right direction”, since it recognized that the disease could be reduced substantially through public awareness, education and the commitment of resources for research and treatment. Noting that there had been an increase in malaria cases over the past 15 years, “which could well double the death rate in the next 20 years”, he urged the international community to work together to fight the epidemic, which killed over 1 million people annually -- 90 per cent of which were in sub-Saharan Africa.
Malaria remained a threat to human security and it seriously impacted those living in poverty because of the cost of prevention and treatment. Therefore, prevention, treatment and research must remain a priority. He recalled that the Abuja Declaration called for mechanisms to provide reliable information to decision-makers at varying epidemiological levels so that strategies for control and surveillance of the disease could be better devised by health authorities. He also called for appropriate treatment in the form of free diagnostic testing and drugs, as well as resources to develop new, safe and cost-efficient vaccines for prevention and medicines for treatment.
He called attention to attempts to educate and help families care for those stricken with malaria, noting that many Catholic organizations were deeply involved in that field. He also stated that other infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis demanded equal attention.
The President of the General Assembly, MIGUEL D’ESCOTO of Nicaragua, closing the joint debate on NEPAD, commended the Assembly for its astute assessment of the global financial crises and its effect on the funding, technical cooperation and the opening of markets needed to ensure Africa’s development. That shared view created solidarity between the industrialized Member States and the developing countries, a crucial component in reinforcing the NEPAD framework.
He went on to note that African countries should allocate more resources towards NEPAD priorities and encourage private-sector participation in development and building a stronger infrastructure. The launching of an African “green revolution” and an increasingly more effective African Peer Review Mechanism would continue to create an environment that enabled good governance, accountability and stability, he added.
He also commended the African Union Peace and Security Council and other structures at the regional level for their growing role of mediating disputes within and between African countries, in particular regarding the spread of small arms and light weapons. However, the problems facing Africa were enormously complex and required multifaceted approaches. He specifically noted the “stark fact” that 91 per cent of deaths from malaria occurred in Africa, and stressed that it was imperative that donors sustained funding to cut that mortality rate in half by 2010.
Saying that Africa’s development needed to benefit Africans first, he noted that China’s representative, who had spoken at the start of the debate last week, said it best: “We must listen to African voices, respect African views, accommodate African concerns and support Africa’s efforts to implement its own programmes.”
Statements on the Transatlantic Slave Trade
Opening the debate on the commemoration of the end of the transatlantic slave trade, Assembly President D’ESCOTO said that, while that slave trade had occurred a long time ago, it was important to recognize the issue and bring it to the attention of the Assembly and the world. The abolition of the slave trade from Africa across the Atlantic for hundreds of years was not the end of the slavery. He said it was a tragedy that slavery continued to impact today’s world.
The International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade had been observed for the first time on 25 March 2008. He said many Africans had been generous enough to forgive, but none of us should ever forget. Slavery had devastated a continent and poisoned the roots of new and old societies. Everyone continued to suffer, some more than others.
Slavery continued to exist today, invisibly, he continued. The domination of people was terrible. It was one of the worst forms of exclusion. The transatlantic slave trade had been a scourge in the world and millions of people had been exploited in brutish conditions, he said, adding that a society had been built that failed to recognize those people. Slavery was a crime against humanity and a major source of racial discrimination and intolerance in today’s world.
“We need to identify new forms of slavery and eradicate them from the face of the Earth,” he said. Different forms of compensation were just one issue, but monetary compensation was not enough; plans and strategies were also needed. “We must never forget this atrocity,” he said.
GEORGE TALBOT (Guyana), speaking on behalf of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) along with the African Group and other Member States of the United Nations co-sponsoring the text, said those delegations were pleased to introduced a draft resolution on a Permanent Memorial to and Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (document A/63/L.5). While essentially procedural in nature, the resolution sought to address developments that had taken place since the adoption of the last resolution. Two years ago, the Assembly had acknowledged that slavery and the transatlantic slave trade represented one of humankind’s lowest points. It had also recalled the forced removal of more than 18 million people over a period of 500 years from Africa to the Americas, including the Caribbean, the United States and Brazil, and Europe.
25 March had been designated the annual International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, beginning in 2008. On that date, more than 200 years ago, the British Parliament had passed legislation for the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in the British Empire, and subsequently the end of slavery all over the world. The annual Day of Remembrance would serve as a valuable complement to the existing United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, held on 23 August.
He said that a permanent memorial would acknowledge one of the most horrific tragedies of modern history, which was often forgotten. Its placement at United Nations Headquarters was a significant symbol of what the Organization represented; the promotion and preservation of the dignity and worth of all human beings -- principles that were central to the United Nations Charter.
He said the memorial should be erected in a place of prominence that would be accessible to delegates and all visitors, such as the plaza at the visitor’s entrance. Through the draft resolution, the Assembly would endorse the creation of a committee of interested States to oversee the permanent memorial project, drawn from all geographical regions of the United Nations.
A voluntary fund, the Permanent Memorial Fund, created in line with Assembly resolution 62/122, had been set up under the custody of the Permanent Mission of Jamaica. In the issue of transparency and accountability, it had been proposed that the wider committee oversee the Fund. Regarding budget implications, he hoped the memorial would become a reality through the generous contributions received voluntarily from Member States as well as any fund-raising activities organized by the committee.
He reiterated the request in Assembly resolution 61/19 for Member States that had not already done so to develop relevant educational programmes, including, among others, school curricula designed to educate and inculcate future generations an understanding of the lessons, history and consequence of slavery and the slave trade. The adoption of the resolution by consensus would recognize the continuing impact of slavery and the horrific transatlantic slave trade on the African diaspora and its descendents. It had added significance as the United Nations prepared to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this year.
ZACHARY D. MUBURI MUITA (Kenya), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that, despite the British Government’s decision to legally abolish the slave trade in 1807, slavery had been tolerated, condoned and continued for some time thereafter. With the Assembly’s discussion, humanity was turning a page of the painful past. Indeed, useful lessons were discernable, and: “The unsung heroes were the slaves themselves and the abolitionists,” he said.
He said collective efforts were the surest way to address the present challenges and the resolution before the Assembly proposed the construction of a permanent memorial at the United Nations as a permanent reminder of man’s inhumanity to man, and as a stark reminder that never should such a horrendous institution be allowed to manifest in society.
A permanent memorial dedicated to the victims of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery could never be an atonement for the wretched suffering that humanity bore, but it would be a reminder of the heroic actions of the slaves, abolitionists and numerous unheralded men and women of conscious, whom in the face of grave danger and adversity, had stood up to be counted. He said the memorial would be an educational resource and a statue of lifelong learning. It would also be a reminder of current challenges, such as racism, xenophobia and discrimination. The Assembly must firmly stand up to and reject any and all notions of supremacy or supremacist ideology.
By adopting the resolution, he said, the Assembly would stress the importance of gaining a better understanding of slave trade and slavery in general, and ensuring that information relating to the slave trade was available and disseminated as appropriate to all segments of society, particularly in institutions of learning.
The construction of the permanent memorial would require resources, and by the text the Assembly would invite the international community to join in the endeavour and donate generously. He reiterated the African Group’s support for the draft resolution and the construction of a permanent memorial that would honour the victims of the slave trade, the brave abolitionists and the collective international efforts that had led to the abolition of the slave trade and slavery. He urged all Member States to support the adoption of the resolution.
Noting that it had taken the international community almost 200 years to acknowledge slavery and the slave trade as crimes against humanity, RAYMOND WOLFE (Jamaica) recalled the 500-year legacy of the Caribbean as a witness to the vessels transporting hundreds of thousands of Africans that had been enslaved and, upon their arrival in the Americas, been forced into labour. Although it might seem like that had happened a long time ago, he reminded the Assembly, as a descendent of that trade, that the effects were still being felt. It was therefore a “solemn obligation” to remember and honour his ancestors and make certain that their suffering would never be forgotten.
He also said that another “pernicious legacy” of the slave trade had been the emergence of apartheid and the racism that had remained entrenched in southern Africa until recent times. It was the indomitable spirit of the African people that had set them free from apartheid’s dehumanizing rule. He firmly believed that the permanent memorial endorsed by the General Assembly last year honoured all in the struggle to heal the scars shared between the people of the Caribbean region and the African countries. With the adoption of the current resolution, the memorial committee’s responsibility should be broadened to oversee the Fund and to seek within the Secretariat methods of transparency and accountability.
He concluded with heartfelt thanks to the many Member States that had supported the Permanent Memorial Fund, among them Argentina, Haiti, Indonesia, Mozambique, Portugal, Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and called for all countries to join those Member States in contributing to that mechanism.
ILEANA B. NÚÑEZ MORDOCHE ( Cuba) called the transatlantic African slave trade one of the biggest tragedies and violations of human rights in the history of humankind. Noting that, for every slave transported and sold, three had died, he said more than 60,000 trips had perhaps been necessary to bring those people to the markets dependent on the slave trade for labour. Moreover, with the trade had come a deeply rooted ideology of classifying one race of people inferior to another, and accordingly treating that race “like animals”.
As many countries in the region, Cuba shared in that legacy, with approximately 1.3 million Africans over 400 years having been forcibly transported to the island for enslaved labour. The effects still reverberated in its people long after the abolishment of slavery, she said. The work of the United Nations, in particular at the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, in Durban, South Africa, addressed those atrocities, and Cuba, despite the four-decade embargo against it, reaffirmed its commitment to continue to cooperate and collaborate with the African, Caribbean and other third world nations to “reverse the consequences of slave trade and other sad moments of colonialism and neo-colonialism”.
Reparation to the survivors and descendents of the transatlantic slave trade, as well as other acts of colonialism, was necessary to fully acknowledge it as crimes against humankind. She concluded with a reminder of modern-day slavery that still persisted in the forms of trafficking of persons, forced prostitution, forced labour, slave labour and the use of children in international drug trafficking, and she called for the Member States to be aware that the eradication of such actions should be a goal for all.
HAMID CHABAR ( Morocco) welcomed the Assembly’s decision to act on the current resolution, at the request of CARICOM, and commended the decision by which the international community would speak “with one voice against amnesia of one of the most sinister episodes of humanity”. Recalling that the transatlantic slave trade was estimated to have deprived the freedom of approximately 25 million to 30 million victims, he noted the tenacious work of inspirational abolitionists such as Toussaint L’Overture and Frederick Douglas.
The memorial would offer to United Nations Member States, staff and visitors a “unique occasion” for reflection of the historical roots, the modus operandi and consequences of “this inexcusable tragedy”, he said. It was fundamental to raise awareness about the upheavals of “this trade of souls” in the uprooting, inhumane deportation and resettlement of Africans in the Caribbean and in the Americas, following the exploitation and extermination of native Indian populations. He went on to say that the “large-scale forced migration” bore cultural implications that marked belief systems and social relations on several continents, as well as spread the “cultural footprint” of victims of slavery in the fields of knowledge and art.
He called on the international community to examine the intellectual legitimization of slavery and its ideological basis, and to deconstruct racism and fight ideologies based on “hatred of the other” and intolerance. He noted Morocco’s active participation in initiatives such as the Alliance of Civilizations and its support of tolerance and dialogue at all levels, which were the result of the country’s long history that drew on African, Arab, European and Andalusian identities. Lastly, he urged Member States to contribute to the financing of the memorial, reflect on the lessons of the past and “deal swiftly” with modern slavery.
LESLIE K. CHRISTIAN ( Ghana) expressed his gratification to be part of the joint debate on one of humanity’s worst violations of human rights –- the enslavement and dehumanization of people of African descent over hundreds of years. He also thanked CARICOM for leading the initiative to erect a permanent memorial to the hundreds of thousands of Africans who had perished in the Middle Passage and in the resistance to slavery. Ghana reaffirmed its pledge to the establishment of the permanent memorial.
Having such a memorial at the United Nations would reaffirm and attest to what the Organization stood for: the promotion, protection and preservation of the dignity and worth of all people, and it also continued the work of the Action Plan adopted at the 2001 Durban Anti-Racism Conference to eradicate all racism, xenophobia and discrimination. He concluded by calling on the Assembly to ensure the necessary resources to ensure the memorial was erected.
T. VANCE MCMAHAN ( United States) called today’s debate “a fitting reminder of a despicable practice that devalued human life and human dignity”. He recalled the Thirteen Amendment to the United States Constitution, which had officially abolished slavery in 1865, “after a civil war that sought to reconcile the words and concepts that gave birth to our republic with the brutal reality of a largely agrarian society fuelled by the blood and sweat of human bondage”.
Although noting that the transatlantic slave trade had ended centuries ago, he drew attention to a contemporary form of slavery under a different name -- human trafficking -- which used many of the same tools, including kidnappings, fraud, threats and beatings, to force men, women and children into labour and sexual exploitation. The scourge also took the form of conscription of child soldiers. As a crime with no borders, 800,000 persons were trafficked globally each year, and millions within their own countries. He added that human trafficking occurred in virtually every country in the world, including the United States. He went on to stress the United States’ commitment to recognizing the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, commemorating its victims and reversing its harms, noting that his country had taken a broad range of actions to halt ongoing practices of “modern-day slavery”.
ILYA I. ROGACHEV ( Russian Federation) said the considerable attention of the United Nations to the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade was justified. The United Nations had been born out of the horrors of the Second World War. Although that war and the slave trade were separated by centuries, the reason behind both were similar -– the “perverted concept” that one race or ethnic group believed it was better than another.
That was why it was important to remember the reasons, consequences and legacy of the slave trade to ensure that succeeding generations not forget that tragic event in human history, he continued. While the United Nations must first and foremost focus on pressing and current problems, it was, nevertheless, clear that the global scale and human toll wrought by the transatlantic slave trade had a direct impact on the present.
PAULETTE BETHEL (Bahamas), aligning herself with Guyana’s statement on behalf of CARICOM, said the Assembly’s adoption two years ago of the resolution establishing the basis for commemorating the abolition of the slave trade had indeed been historic. The legacy of the slave trade highlighted the capacity among all States to take principled action and to speak out against injustice. Indeed, the indelible etchings of Africa on every aspect of Caribbean life were the “bedrock of our sustenance as a people”, and would always be the source of their creativity. She was in the Assembly today with the same pride that had ensured the survival of her forebears.
Recalling the Assembly’s passage last year of a resolution designating 25 March as the annual International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery, she said the Bahamas was “greatly heartened” by progress in the ongoing campaign to establish a permanent memorial at the United Nations to those victims. As a co-sponsor of the draft resolution, the Bahamas appreciated Jamaica’s pivotal role in moving the process forward, and reiterated appreciation to all those who had contributed to that undertaking. In closing, she said the Bahamas had made a pledge to the fund for the erection of the memorial, which would be forthcoming “in short order”.
VISHVJIT P SINGH (India), thanking Caribbean States for bring the important item before the Assembly, said he firmly supported Guyana’s statement on behalf of the Caribbean States and made reference to his country’s “own tragedy of colonialism” and the export of indentured labour. The racism that was an inevitable dimension of slavery had become part of the rationale for colonialism. Further, there had been a “boomerang” effect to that racism: Nazism was simply racism applied within Europe.
Saying India shared the pain and suffering of the affected countries, he welcomed the Assembly’s resolution two years ago on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade and also the world body’s decision to commemorate that event by convening a special meeting of the Assembly on 26 March 2007. In that regard, India was honoured to co-sponsor this year’s resolution, and urged Member States to contribute to the memorial. He added that such a permanent memorial would symbolize that colossal tragedy and serve as a reminder for reflection and action.
Ahead of the Assembly’s action on the draft resolution, ANTONIO PEDRO MONTEIRO LIMA ( Cape Verde) noted the great importance of the text, and thanked the many delegates who had spoken in support of it. However, he did not understand why only Kenya, as the current Chair of the African Group, had been listed among the co-sponsors as representative of all the African nations that supported the resolution. African States that supported the text should have been listed, and he called for all Member States of Africa to sign up as co-sponsors.
The Assembly then adopted the text without a vote.
* *** *For information media • not an official record