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International Day of Remembrance of the Victims
of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade
25 March

Message of the United Nations Secretary-General for 2012

The transatlantic slave trade was a tragedy because of slavery’s fundamental barbarism and immense scope, and because of its organized, systematic nature.  One set of human beings — the traders, owners and others who participated in and profited from this evil enterprise " elevated themselves above another, assaulting their victims’ very essence.

"I can remember", said one former slave in recorded testimony now posted on the UN website, when "they carried my father away and carried two sisters and one brother, and left me.  This International Day was established for this woman — and for the many millions of people whose lives and families were destroyed, and whose dignity was so brutally negated.

As a reminder for future generations of the inhumane suffering endured by the victims over a 400-year period, and as a tribute to the spirited resistance to the system, a permanent memorial is to be erected at UN Headquarters. I am proud that the United Nations will host a memorial symbolizing universal recognition of a tragedy that befell Africans and people of African descent and disgraced humankind as a whole.

In addition to remembering the crimes of the slave trade, we also use this Day to teach about the causes and consequences of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.  And we pledge to be ever vigilant about the many contemporary forms of slavery, including debt bondage, trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, the worst forms of child labour, forced marriage and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.

New laws, institutions and mindsets have given us better tools for the struggle against these ills.  Yet we must also recognize that bias has increased in many parts of the world.  We see discriminatory practices gaining political, moral and even legal recognition, including through the platforms of some political parties and organizations and the dissemination through modern communication technologies of ideas based on the notion of racial superiority.

The United Nations remains firmly committed to countering such hateful acts and trends.  This is a matter of principle, in keeping with our Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Political Declaration adopted at last year’s High-level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.  But it is also a means to an end: intolerance and discrimination are among the roots of conflicts and are major obstacles to development.

The theme of this year’s observance, "Honouring the heroes, resisters and survivors", recognizes those who stood up against slavery when the trade was at its height, and those who stand up now to protect against its manifestations today.  On this International Day, let us all reaffirm our commitment to combating racism and building societies based on justice, equality and solidarity.

Ban Ki-moon

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