Secretary-General's remarks to Gala Benefit to Honour the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade
New York, 23 February 2010Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to be here and to lend my support to this cause.
Slavery is an abhorrent practice that we are still working to eradicate in many parts of the world.
Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” The United Nations has reaffirmed this principle many times since, including in the Durban Declaration adopted at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism.
But slavery and slavery-like practices continue in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe. Slavery is even re-emerging in new forms, including the sale of children, debt bondage and human trafficking.
Its roots lie in ignorance, intolerance and greed. We must confront these in every way we can. We must create a climate in which such unthinking abuse and cruelty are inconceivable.
One way we can do this is through remembering the past.
By examining the atrocities perpetrated during the four centuries of the transatlantic slave trade, and by honouring its victims, we are helping to ensure that these crimes can never be repeated.
Millions of Africans were violently removed from their homelands. They and their descendants were treated in the most callous, ruthless way imaginable.
Their bodies and their health were exploited and abused. Their mental, emotional and social lives were distorted and poisoned.
The enormous suffering that took place has changed the world permanently. We see the legacy of transatlantic slavery in all the countries it affected.
But if we are wise, we will use that legacy for good.
We will see the horror of the slave trade as a reminder of what happened when intolerance and racism were allowed to triumph.
We will look on the crimes that were committed and resolve never to allow such things to happen again, anywhere.
We will take heart from the courage of those who rose up to overturn the oppressive system.
And we will never forget the enormous contribution that enslaved Africans have made to world civilization.
It is in this spirit that I welcome the construction of a permanent memorial to honour the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, here at the UN complex in New York.
Anything that helps to shine a light on this dark area of human history must be embraced and supported.
The memorial will be a permanent acknowledgement of the crimes and abuses of the slave trade. It will be a reminder of the bravery of those slaves, abolitionists and unsung heroes who managed to end the practice.
It will raise awareness of the continued dangers of racism and intolerance.
And it will be a significant symbol of what the United Nations represents: the dignity and worth of all human beings.
Statements on 23 February 2010