2020 Remembrance Programme
“Confronting Slavery’s Legacy of Racism Together”
One devastating legacy of the transatlantic slave trade was racism. Historically, it was used to justify the enslavement of Africans. And today, it has led to people of African descent being relegated to the poorest and most marginalized sectors of society. The 2020 theme underscores the reality that lasting effects of the transatlantic slave trade, including racism, continue to divide societies across the globe and hamper our advancement towards a world that respects human rights and enables sustainable development for all. Only through confronting these legacies can we truly promote inclusion and move forward together.
Message of the United Nations Secretary-General | Message of the President of the United Nations General Assembly | Calendar of events
Message of the United Nations Secretary-General
This moving memorial commemorates the women, men and children who suffered and died after being forced onto slave ships to cross the Atlantic -- one of the biggest crimes in the history of humankind.
The theme for this year’s International Day of Remembrance is: “Confronting Slavery’s Legacy of Racism Together.”
Because while we reject racism, we still live in the shadow of the transatlantic slave trade.
Racism continues to play a strong role in our world.
Racism is the reason why, outside Africa, people of African descent are often among the last in line for health care, education, justice and opportunities of all kinds.
We need to raise our voices against all expressions of racism and instances of racist behaviour. We urgently need to dismantle racist structures and reform racist institutions.
Message of the President of the United Nations General Assembly
On the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade we commit to confronting slavery’s legacy of racism, together.
It is regrettable that as a result of the continuing evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commemorative Meeting on the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade has had to be postponed. The COVID-19 pandemic reinforces the fact that we have a duty to open our minds to the lived experiences of others.
Today we remember the 15 million Africans that were forcibly removed from their homelands. These people were subjected to heinous cruelty and robbed of their dignity, freedom, and identities.
The transatlantic slave trade seeded deep inequalities within societies. Economies prospered at a great human cost: entire industries were built upon the suffering of fellow human beings. A minority amassed tremendous wealth and power whilst those who toiled were denied their most basic human rights.
Slavery ended many lives and stole the future of successive generations. The descendants of those who were enslaved continue to face enduring social and economic inequality, intolerance, prejudice, racism, and discrimination.
We must take collective action to reaffirm our commitment to implement the Durban Declaration of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
Today, I call on all Member States to recognise the contributions made by people of African descent and pay tribute to their resilience. Throughout this Decade for People of African Descent, I urge Member States to adopt, implement and strengthen policies and programmes which combat hate speech, xenophobia, racism and racial discrimination. We need to move beyond tolerance, towards an environment of intercultural understanding.
As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, we must take collective action to reduce inequalities, eliminate racial discrimination, and end modern slavery. Today 40 million people are trapped in modern slavery. Children make up one quarter of these victims, while 71% of those enslaved are women. The onus is upon every Member State to eradicate trafficking, forced labour, servitude and slavery. None of us will be truly free whilst these people suffer.
Calendar of Events
21 February 2020
Exhibit on racism shown at UN Headquarters
An exhibit entitled “Us and Them: From Prejudice to Racism” was on display in the United Nations Visitors Lobby in New York from 21 February to 4 May 2020. Organized in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, France, the exhibit examined the science behind “race”; showed how racism flourished during the transatlantic slave trade and continues to divide societies today; and taught that racism is not inevitable and can be fought at multiple levels.
28 February 2020
UN cites power of monuments at screening of film on Senegal’s Gorée memorial
The Remember Slavery Programme joined the World Foundation for the Memorial and Safeguarding of Gorée at a film screening hosted by the Permanent Mission of Senegal. The film, called “Gorée-Almadies: Recognizing Transatlanticity”, introduced Senegal’s planned memorial to honour Africa, the global African diaspora, and the victims of the transatlantic slave trade. Addressing the event were: Maha El-Bahrawi, Deputy Director of the United Nations Department of Global Communications’ Outreach Division; Saliou Niang Dieng, chargé d'affaires of the Permanent Mission of Senegal; Malick Kane, Coordinator of the Gorée Memorial Project; Sheila Walker, Executive Director of Afrodiaspora, Inc; and Peggy King Jorde, former Memorialization Director at the African Burial Ground National Monument.
25 March 2020
UN observes International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade
Due to COVID-19, the traditional commemorative meeting of the General Assembly to mark the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade was postponed. However, the public was invited to reflect on 25 March on the transatlantic slave trade’s shameful history and legacies, including racism. The public was also encouraged to share United Nations social media cards along with their own messages of solidarity.
18 May 2020
Briefing with civil society highlights stigma, xenophobia, hate speech and racial discrimination related to COVID-19
To mark the International Day of Living Together in Peace (16 May), more than 300 people came together in an online webinar today to discuss societal inequalities linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual event – entitled “Fighting Stigma, Xenophobia, Hate Speech and Racial Discrimination related to COVID-19” – was organized by the United Nations Remember Slavery Programme, in partnership with the United Nations Department of Global Communications’ Civil Society Unit and The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme.
28 May 2020
Webinar explores links between transatlantic slave trade, racism and effects of COVID-19 on people of African descent
Organized by the United Nations Remember Slavery Programme and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), this virtual discussion – entitled “Inclusion in the Time of COVID-19: Confronting Slavery’s Legacy of Racism Together” – focused on how COVID-19 has exacerbated health conditions linked to structural racism and caused people of African descent to suffer disproportionately.
8 July 2020
Discussion held on museums, memorials and justice
In a webinar entitled “Museums, Memorials and Memorialization after Atrocity - Communicating a Form of Ongoing Justice?”, experts on the transatlantic slave trade and genocide illustrated how the histories and memory of atrocity crimes are linked, and how education about them prepares citizens to stand up to prejudice and racism. Speakers included Ana Lucia Araujo, Professor of History at Howard University in Washington, DC; member of the UNESCO Slave Route Project’s International Scientific Committee; and author of Slavery in the Age of Memory: Engaging the Past. Other speakers included Stephen Smith, Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation and UNESCO Chair of Genocide Education; Honoré Gatera, Director of the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda; and Tali Nates, Founder and Director of the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Foundation. This webinar was the first episode of a new discussion series called “Beyond the long shadow: engaging with difficult histories” – a joint initiative by the United Nations Remember Slavery Programme; the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme; and the Outreach Programme on the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda and the United Nations.
19 November 2020
Discussion held on the significance of preserving burial grounds of enslaved Africans
On 19 November 2020, the Remember Slavery Programme organized a discussion entitled “Unveiling the Past”. The speakers considered the significance of the preservation of burial grounds of those enslaved by the transatlantic slave trade, the ethical questions raised in disturbing these sacred grounds, and the challenges facing historians writing the history of the transatlantic slave trade and histories of the men, women and children lost to this brutal practice. Speakers included Peggy King Jorde, a cultural projects consultant and Loeb Fellow, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, United States, and Ciraj Rassool, Senior Professor of History at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa.