25 March 2011
Press Conference

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

Press Conference on International Day of Remembrance of Victims

 

of Slavery and the Slave Trade

 


The transatlantic slave trade was a tragedy of immense proportions that had inflicted untold suffering on millions of people for more than four centuries, a crime against humanity that deserved solemn — and prominent — recognition at United Nations Headquarters, “lest we forget”, said Raymond Wolfe, Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United Nations, at a press conference today in New York.


It was vital to acknowledge that infamous past in order to better inform the future, stressed Mr. Wolfe, underlining that modern forms of slavery — such as human trafficking — persisted today among other social ills like racism, bigotry and prejudice.  “We have to start somewhere,” he said, urging the construction of a permanent memorial, as called for in General Assembly resolution 62/122 (2007).


Mr. Wolfe, who is also Chair of the Permanent Memorial Committee, said 48 States had contributed more than $900,000 to the estimated $4.5 million project and efforts would continue throughout the year to raise the remainder.  The Committee — which included former colonial Powers, such as the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Portugal — had launched its website at www.unslaverymemorial.org in February, which was equipped with a system to handle online contributions.


Joining Mr. Wolfe at the briefing, which was organized as part of the fourth annual International Day of Remembrance of Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, were Ama Tutu Muna, Minister of Culture of Cameroon, and Melba Moore, an actress and singer in the United States.


Ms. Muna said her delegation of Cameroonian artists had arrived in New York for a week of events to commemorate slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.  On 22 March, Cameroonian dancers, musicians and poets joined others from Africa and the Caribbean in a cultural and gastronomic celebration of national heritage.  A 23 March video conference had featured other artists from Cameroon, and today, she presented to the Secretary-General a ceremonial drum depicting the history of slavery at a special General Assembly event to observe the International Day.


Rounding out the discussion, Ms. Moore said she had come today to pay homage to the millions of people who had taken part in the greatest forced migration in history:  the victims of the transatlantic slave trade.  Ms. Moore, whose 1990 recording of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” had achieved such success that it was entered into the United States Congressional Record as the official African American National Hymn, said that as an educator, “it is your privilege to be an inspiration or an icon to those who come after you.”


Encouraged by Dorothy Height, then head of the National Council of Negro Women, to keep alive James Weldon Johnson’s famous poem, Ms. Moore said she had assembled rhythm and blues artists Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder, among others, to tell the story of a “nation within a nation”.  She would perform that song tonight in the Assembly Hall as a reminder that bridges must be built to heal the past.


Taking questions, Mr. Wolfe said the Committee was working with the Executive Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to educate young people about the tragedy of slavery.  An international competition to design the memorial was being organized, and a panel of judges from each region would select a winner.  There was a possibility of cost overrun, which was why the Committee would continue to fundraise.


Asked if any funds would be used to raise awareness about the problem of child soldiers, Ms. Moore said the first goal must be to memorialize history.  From there, entertainers could help bring young people together to understand possibilities for their future.


Agreeing, Mr. Wolfe said it was important to start by acknowledging past tragedy and “putting up the funds”.  Thus far, India had made the largest donation of $260,000, while Australia had come in second with a $100,000 pledge.


Asked about the size of the United States’ donation, Mr. Wolfe conceded that the Committee had yet to receive a contribution from the United States.  He had held meetings with Permanent Representative Susan Rice, who said the United States Mission to the United Nations did not receive funds to be used for public donations; such decisions must be approved by Congress.  However, the United States’ delegate who spoke in this morning’s General Assembly event said her office had taken up the matter with the State Department.


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For information media • not an official record