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Breaking the Silence: Beating the Drum, International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, 25 March 2009

Background Information

The transatlantic slave trade is a major element of global history, yet little is known about the 400-year long trade and its lasting consequences felt throughout the world, or of the contribution of slaves to the building of the societies of their enslavement.  The exact number of people taken from Africa from 16th to the 19th Century and shipped across the notorious “Middle Passage” of the Atlantic - mainly to colonies in North America, South America, and the West Indies - is still hotly debated but estimates go up to 28 million.  What is not in dispute is the extent of the cruelty endured in chains by the many African men, women and children, and the fact that many died before they could reach their destination.  Those who made it were sold for huge profit into a life of slavery, enduring the worst indignities at the hands of slave masters.

Examining the lives of enslaved Africans in the Americas and the Caribbean displays the capacity of human beings to develop even under dehumanizing conditions, as well as some of the diverse ways in which human beings confront and transcend oppression. 

On 17 December 2007, the General Assembly adopted resolutions A/RES/62/122, which calls inter alia for 25 March to be designated as International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  The resolution requests that the Secretary-General, in collaboration with UNESCO, establish educational outreach programme to mobilize educational institutions, civil society and other organizations to inculcate in future generations, the “causes, consequences and lessons of the transatlantic slave trade, and to communicate the dangers of racism and prejudice”.

In 2008, the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) initiated an effort to reach out to schools and other educational institutions, civil society, media and the general public. DPI, in collaboration with the ambassadors of the Caribbean Community and the African Group held a solemn ceremony on 25 March 2008 in the United Nations General Assembly Hall. An exhibition in the Visitor’s Lobby, “The Middle Passage: White Ships, Black Cargo”, attracted many.  The DPI/NGO Section and UNESCO Office in New York also held a briefing titled: “Lest We Forget: Breaking the Silence on the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” which was preceded by the premiere of the documentary “The Slave Route: A Global Vision”.  A group of students sailing on a replica of the Freedom Schooner Amistad retracing the Transatlantic Slave Route joined an international videoconference, when their ship docked in St. Lucia on 26 March.


Pursuant to General Assembly resolution A/RES/62/122, the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade aims to:


In 2009, in a series of events celebrating the victory of humankind over adversity, the Department of Public Information proposes to amplify the number and visibility of commemorative activities.  It plans to hold a series of events around the world, where officials and the public will join in “breaking the silence, beating the drum” at the same given hour.

On 25 March in New York, UN Secretary-General Ban will kick-start the commemoration by drumming some rhythms of his own at a midday special ceremony with Ambassadors from 192 countries.  That evening, a cultural evening and concert will be held in the General Assembly Hall and feature musical talents and artists from all continents.  Academics, celebrities, artists, writers and poets will contribute and participate in events in other countries. 

Tasked with the organization of these events, the Outreach Division of DPI will collaborate with the two other Divisions as well as with UNESCO and a large number of stakeholders. Educational institutions, civil society and youth organizations, agencies of the UN system and United Nations Information Centres (UNICs) will participate in the global commemoration.