25 March 2010
Press Conference

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

Press Conference on International Day of Remembrance of Victims of Slavery


Correspondents were briefed today at a Headquarters press conference on a series of week-long events at the United Nations -- including an exhibit launch, a documentary screening and a student video conference -- in commemoration of the third annual International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.


Briefing the press, Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, recalled that, in 2007, the General Assembly had designated 25 March as an annual International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.


“In doing so, the United Nations decided to use the Day as an opportunity to educate and inform future generations about the causes, consequences and lessons of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade,” he said.  The decision was aimed at addressing the knowledge gap about the transatlantic slave trade and its legacy, as well as honouring the millions who died during their journeys as a result of the system, he said.


As part of the decision, Member States had agreed to erect a permanent memorial at the United Nations to the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, in acknowledgement of the tragedy and legacy of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. The Assembly had also requested the Secretary-General to establish an educational outreach programme on the theme and on the dangers of racism and prejudice today, Mr. Akasaka said.


He said that the events, which were organized by the Department of Public Information in collaboration with the permanent missions of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the African Union, included a celebration of the enduring and ever-evolving Afro-Caribbean culture; a screening of the documentary film Slave Roots: Resistance, Abolition and Creative Progress; and the launch of a three-part exhibit in the visitor’s lobby of United Nations Headquarters entitled “400 Years of Struggle: For Freedom and Culture”.  Earlier in the day, there had been a non-governmental organization panel discussion on the impact of cultural expression as a means of resistance to the transatlantic slave trade.  On 26 March, there would be a student video conference organized jointly by the Department of Public Information and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 


Also speaking to the press were Raymond Wolfe, Permanent Representative of Jamaica; Camillo Gonsalves, Permanent Representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Téte António, Permanent Observer of the African Union; and Donald George of Amistad America, one of the partners involved in the memorial project.


Opening the briefing, Moderator Eric Falt, Director of the Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information, said that, by most estimates, that tragic episode in the world’s collective history had led to the forced transportation of 25 million to 30 million innocent people -- mostly from West Africa -- to the Americas.


“The significance of the observance of the Day of Remembrance for all of us is that it provides the world an opportunity to honour the memory of the victims, and also for a renewal of our commitment to combat the harmful consequences and legacies of slavery,” he said.


Mr. Wolfe, who is leading the efforts to erect a permanent memorial, said that a committee of interested States had been established to oversee the project, with Member States from CARICOM and the African Union playing a primary role.  It was estimated that the project would require $4.5 million and two years to be completed, and an international design competition was expected to be launched shortly.


In addition, Mr. Wolfe said that a trust fund had been established under the United Nations Office of Partnerships, to which Member States could make direct funding contributions for the project.  Approximately $400,000 had been received thus far, and another $250,000 had been pledged.  Corporate sponsorships were being looked into, as well as direct contributions from individuals and private groups.


Mr. Gonsalves stressed that the annual remembrance and permanent memorial served to honour the victims and survivors, as well as to teach those who might not be aware of the atrocities that were committed during the transatlantic slave trade and thereafter, and to learn not to make the same mistakes as a people.  This year’s theme of expressing freedom through culture was particularly apt, because Caribbean people were very much shaped by the experiences of slavery.  Their culture enabled them to document and chronicle those struggles, as well as s cope and express who they had become as a result.


For his part, Mr. António expressed the African Union’s full support for the memorial project.  He also stressed that remembering slavery included fighting the present consequences of slavery, as slavery was still going on in different forms today.


Mr. George said that the day of commemoration served not only to remember the struggles of slavery, but also the freedom and success of the ancestors who fought with their own hands to gain their freedom.  His organization, Amistad America, would be pleased to assist in setting up the educational components of the memorial once it had been erected.


In response to question about where the permanent memorial would be erected, Mr. Wolfe said it would be placed where it was visible and accessible to all -- Member States, delegates and visitors alike.  For that reason, the promenade at the visitors’ entrance that overlooked the grounds of the United Nations Headquarters building was being considered.


Asked about the cost of the memorial project, Mr. Wolfe said the $4.5 million figure included the construction of the memorial itself, a reward to the artist and administrative costs to generate funds.


Responding to a question on Haiti, Mr. Wolfe expressed CARICOM’s solidarity with Haiti and said that the gathering today was especially dedicated to that country.  He recalled that Haiti had been the first free republic in the hemisphere to literally liberate itself from slavery.


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For information media • not an official record