21 October 2013
General Assembly
GA/11443

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Plenary

35th Meeting (AM)


Adopting Consensus Text, General Assembly Endorses Construction of Permanent

 

Memorial at Headquarters to Honour Slave Trade Victims


The General Assembly today adopted a resolution endorsing the construction at Headquarters of a permanent memorial to honour the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, and encouraging Member States and other interested parties to contribute to the Trust Fund set up to pay for it.


Also by that text, adopted without a vote, the Assembly noted with satisfaction the successful conclusion of the international design competition for the Permanent Memorial, and the selection of the design “Ark of Return” as the winning model.


The Assembly took note of the Secretary-General’s report on the educational outreach programme on slavery and the slave trade, aimed at increasing public awareness, educating future generations and communicating the dangers of racism and prejudice, and asked the Secretary-General to report at its sixty-ninth session on continued action to implement the programme.


The Assembly also asked the Secretary-General to organize a series of activities annually to commemorate the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and requested that the Department of Public Information continue appropriate steps to enhance global public awareness of the commemorative activities and facilitate efforts to erect the Permanent Memorial.


Assembly President John Ashe ( Antigua and Barbuda) said that 310 artists from 83 countries participated in the design competition for the Permanent Memorial.  The winning design that the judges considered to be most expressive of the desired message was appropriately entitled "The Ark of Return", and its creative artist, Rodney Leon, was a native of Haiti, a country with an illustrious history in the struggle to end slavery.  He hoped that the soon-to-be-erected memorial would serve as a tribute to the collective aspirations of the United Nations: peace, human rights, social justice, and the dignity of the human person.


Noting that the year 2013 marked the 206th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, he said that the Assembly’s engagement with the question of slavery and the slave trade continued with the current resolution, as Member States recommitted to raising public awareness about the legacy of this dark period in human history.


“Through their various efforts, Member States, United Nations agencies and civil society partners have celebrated the indomitable spirit of the victims of a tragedy that continues to be inflicted upon numerous persons today, albeit in more subtle forms, including social and economic inequality, hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice,” he said.  In addition to helping ensure that the past was remembered and never repeated, these activities also highlighted the many, often overlooked, contributions of enslaved Africans to their economies and communities.


The representative of Jamaica, introducing the draft resolution, said that in it the global community condemned the contemptible and barbaric history of slavery, and renewed its pledge to ensure nothing like it happened again.  The new Permanent Memorial would not only call attention to slavery’s history and impact, but also influence societal norms that rejected racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and prejudice, and promoted healing, tolerance and respect for diversity.


The representative of Ethiopia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, agreed, saying that the new structure would not only serve as a hallmark for countries to pay their respects, but also as a reminder of the heroic struggle of those who rose up against slavery, as well as a motivator for present and future generations to overcome similar challenges.  He lamented, however, that the Trust Fund had received only $1.4 million of the estimated $4.5 million needed to build the memorial. That showed the continued disregard for the legacy of slavery, he said, encouraging Member States and other parties to donate more.


Some speakers, notably Cuba’s representative, emphasized the contributions of African slaves and their descendants.  Cuba was indebted to its African ancestors for their wisdom, creativity, adaptability to adverse environments, the richness of their stories and religious beliefs, and more importantly, the spirit of rebellion against injustice and unwavering courage in the struggle for independence and freedom.  Freed slaves and their descendants had been major players in the different stages of the wars that led to the Cuban people exercising their self determination.


He also pointed out that developed countries had been the main beneficiaries of colonization, slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.  The time had come for those countries to settle their debt to humanity, he said, supporting the request for reparations put forward by the Caribbean Community.


Also speaking today were the representatives of India, United States, Israel, Haiti and Brazil.


The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 25 October, to hold a joint debate on “New Partnership for Africa’s Development:  progress in implementation and international support” and “2001-2010:  Decade to Roll Back Malaria in Developing Countries, Particularly in Africa”.


Background


As the General Assembly today discussed follow-up to the Commemoration of two-hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, it had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the permanent memorial to and remembrance of the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade: status of the United Nations Trust Fund for Partnerships — Permanent Memorial (document A/68/135), his report on the programme of educational outreach on the transatlantic slave trade and slavery (document A/68/291) , as well as a draft resolution titled permanent memorial to and remembrance of the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade (document A/68/L.7).


Statements


Assembly President JOHN ASHE ( Antigua and Barbuda) said that 310 artists from 83 countries participated in the design competition for the Permanent Memorial.  The winning design that the judges considered to be most expressive of the desired message was appropriately entitled "The Ark of Return", and its creative artist, Mr. Rodney Leon, was a native of Haiti, a country with an illustrious history in the struggle to end slavery.  “Just as other monuments erected on the grounds of our United Nations serve to remind the international community to honour the values of peace and non-violence, it is my true hope and wish that the soon-to-be-erected ‘Ark of Return’ will serve a corresponding purpose as a tribute to the collective aspirations of this body: peace, human rights, social justice, and the dignity of the human person,” he said.


Noting the year 2013 marked the 206th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, he said that the Assembly’s engagement with the question of slavery and the slave trade continued with the current resolution, as Member States recommitted to raising public awareness about the legacy of this dark period in human history.  “Through their various efforts, Member States, United Nations agencies and civil society partners have celebrated the indomitable spirit of the victims of a tragedy that continues to be inflicted upon numerous persons today, albeit in more subtle forms, including social and economic inequality, hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice,” he said.  In addition to helping ensure that the past was remembered and never repeated, these activities also offered an opportunity to highlight the many, often overlooked, contributions that enslaved Africans made to their economies and communities.


ASHWANI KUMAR ( India) stressed the need to take initiatives to ensure that future generations did not forget the grief and tragedy borne by the countless, nameless victims of the transatlantic slave trade.  The international community must commit to never let such crimes occur again.  India welcomed the various outreach activities and programmes organized by the Department of Public Information to commemorate the International Day of Remembrance at the United Nations and the initiative by States to reaffirm their commitment to implement paragraphs 101 and 102 of the Durban Declaration aimed at countering the legacy of slavery and honouring the memory of its victims.  India, with a contribution of $260,000, was the top contributor to the United Nations Trust Fund for Partnerships – Permanent Memorial.  The Trust Fund, however, had so far received only close to $1.4 million against the anticipated expenditure of $4.5 million for the construction of the memorial.  India, therefore, strongly urged all countries, particularly those who benefitted from the transatlantic trade, to come forward and give generously to show their earnest acceptance that wrongs were committed and there was a sense of repentance.


E. COURTENAY RATTRAY ( Jamaica) introduced draft resolution A/68/L.7 titled “Permanent Memorial to and Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade”.  He said the institutionalised system of slavery and its enabler, the transatlantic slave trade, represented an appalling and consequential period in the course of human history.  It was a time when nations became great and wealthy, while others emerged subjugated and exploited.  Some scholars posited the view that slavery was one of the single most influential occurrences in history that had shaped every aspect of the world today.  In the draft resolution, the global community condemned the contemptible and barbaric history, and renewed its pledge to ensure nothing like it happened again.  A key component of that pledge was the erection of the permanent memorial at Headquarters to honour the victims of slavery and the trade.  After the receipt of 310 entries and an evaluation by an international panel of international judges, “Ark of Return” by Rodney Leon was unveiled on 23 September at Headquarters.  The United Nations would now embark on the final phase of the project, which was to construct and erect the memorial.


The aim of the resolution was not only to endorse this endeavour, he said, but also to call for broad public outreach on its construction through the Department of Public Information and Member States, which was outlined in the Secretary General’s report A/68/291.  This act would not only call attention to the global history and impact of slavery, but also influence societal norms that rejected racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and prejudice, and promoted healing, tolerance and respect for diversity.


TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the transatlantic slave trade was the gravest crime committed against humanity with few rivals in its infamy and cruelty.  The inhumane and barbaric manner in which it was committed, its magnitude and the time span it was allowed to continue would remain a scar in the conscious of humanity.  Even after the abolition of the slave trade, its institutionalized legacy continued as a source of exploitation, humiliation, discrimination, bias, hatred, prejudice and racism against the people of African origin.  As the African Group remembered this unparalleled crime, it cherished the struggles of those Africans and their descendants who aspired and dreamed to live in freedom and equality.


He therefore noted with satisfaction the selection of the design “Ark of Return” as the Permanent Memorial.  However, that the Trust Fund received $1.4 million against the anticipated expenditure, which was three folds the existing balance, was indicative of continued disregard for the legacy of this crime.  This memorial would not only serve as a hallmark for countries to pay their respects, but also as a reminder of the heroic struggle of those who rose up against slavery, as well as a motivation for present and future generations to overcome similar challenges.  He encouraged Member States and other parties to make further voluntary contributions to the trust fund.  All States had an obligation, without exception.


TED STRICKLAND ( United States) said that as a multicultural society, his country remained committed to fighting racism, safeguarding the dignity of people regardless of race or background and countering the hateful legacy of slavery.  The United States believed strongly in spreading awareness of the struggle of the victims of slavery and educating future generations of that tragic past as a means to combating racism and prejudice.  The Government continued to press forward with the elimination of discrimination in its own country, and it had joined the international community in working towards creating a world of freedom and equality for all. It had also supported the “Breaking the Silence, the Transatlantic Slave Trade Education Project” of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He believed the winning design of the Permanent Memorial would inspire people to remember and honour the victims of the transatlantic slave trade, to reflect on the lessons learned and to contemplate the steps needed to combat the lingering consequences of slavery and eradicate discrimination. “We must never forget the terrible human tragedy of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, and the moral courage of those who worked to end it,” he said.


AMIRAM MAGID ( Israel) said the dark centuries of the slave trade represented one of the most sustained assaults on the life, integrity and dignity of human beings.  Yet even after the abolition of slavery, living conditions for African communities remained horrific.  The Jewish people shared the story of a people who were persecuted, and because they had suffered the indignity of persecution, they understand the value of human dignity.  Still, every year, hundred of thousands of people – mostly women and children – were trafficked across borders worldwide.  Israel was proud of its financial contribution to the Permanent Memorial in Honour of Victims of Slavery and the International Slave Trade.  The memorial must serve as a call to action, as well as a call to every nation, to every leader and to every citizen to do everything possible to ensure no human being was every enslaved.  “Through education, remembrance and vigilance, we can ensure that the tragedies of the past serve as clear lessons for the future,” he said.


FRITZNER GASPARD ( Haiti) welcomed the initiative of Member States to build the Permanent Memorial at Headquarters, saying it would represent recognition of the bitter struggles that their ancestors led to fight against the colonial system and slavery.  He recalled a number of historical events that marked Haiti’s contribution to the release of mankind from enslavement, including Haitian soldiers helping American fighters in their struggle for liberation in the “Siege of Savannah”, as well as the Haitian slave revolt in Saint-Domingue, which had culminated in the elimination of slavery there, and the founding of the Republic of Haiti.  The chosen theme for the 2014 commemoration—“Victory over Slavery: Haiti and Beyond”—demonstrated recognition of the role of Haiti in ending slavery.


RODOLFO REYES RODRÍGUEZ ( Cuba) said his country was proud of its African roots.  Cuba was indebted to the African ancestors for their wisdom, creativity, adaptability to adverse environments, the richness of their stories and religious beliefs, and more importantly, the spirit of rebellion against injustice and unwavering courage in the struggle for independence and freedom.  The freed slaves and their descendants had been major players in the different stages of the wars that led to the Cuban people exercising their self determination.  Developed countries had been the main beneficiaries of colonization, slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.  Cuba believed that the time had come for those countries to settle their debt to humanity.  In that regard, his country supported the request for reparations put forward by the Caribbean Community.


The Assembly then adopted the draft resolution without a vote.


ERIKA ALMEIDA WATANABE PATRIOTA ( Brazil), in explanation of position after the adoption, commended Jamaica for its efforts in drafting the resolution, as well as its leadership in the Permanent Memorial Committee.  Describing the establishment of the Memorial as a first step to raise public awareness and promote actions against prejudice, discrimination and intolerance, she called for the early proclamation of the International Decade for People of African Descent.


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