Remarks by H.E. Mr. Abdulla Shahid, President of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly
29 March 2022
Excellencies, distinguished delegates,
Over the course of four centuries, more than fifteen million men, women and children from across Africa were subjugated, shackled and involuntarily transported to the Americas. Many perished on this journey, succumbing to its appalling conditions. For those that survived, a life without compassion, joy, and freedom awaited. Their remaining days were filled with torture and forced labor.
This was the brutal reality of the transatlantic slave trade, which to this day remains the largest forced movement of a people in history.
Slavery was meant to take away the names, individuality and legacy of its victims. By documenting, sharing and reflecting on their stories, we prevent them from fading into obscurity, and we reaffirm their individual human worth.
That is why today we observe the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, under the theme: “Stories of Courage: Resistance to Slavery and Unity against Racism”.
It is our obligation to continue to raise awareness of the pernicious legacies of slavery, including racism, discrimination and social injustice, while also celebrating the bravery of those who stood against this brutal system
We must never forget, and we must always contemplate the lessons of this tragic chapter in our history.
And as we do so, we must acknowledge certain facts without equivocation. This includes the fact that many people of African descent were stolen from their homes, put in chains, separated from their families, bought, sold, abused, tortured and violated in body and spirit.
This collective trauma, endured for hundreds of years by successive generations, cannot be expected to heal quickly. To this very day, the consequences of the transatlantic slave trade – and the racist attitudes that facilitated it – still endure, and affect the lives of many people of African descent.
Years ago, I visited Goree Island in Senegal, which was the largest slave-trading centre on the West African coast from the 15th to the 19th century.
Packed into the small cells, the enslaved who were chained and shackled, had only the small “door of no return” through which every man, woman and child walked into the slave boat to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to build the new world.
Slavery was not only a dreadful individual ordeal, but a cultural trauma whereby a group of people were subjected to such inhuman pain and torture that it dehumanized their existence, their group identity, values, feelings, and their cultural worldview.
As acknowledged by the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, people of African descent continue to disproportionately suffer the consequences of the slave trade and colonialism. They experience multiple and aggravated forms of discrimination. That discrimination often intersects with, and is amplified by, other forms of prejudice, targeting language, religion, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, disabilities, or birth status, among other things.
And in recent years the COVID-19 pandemic has been a compounding factor, as it has put an immense strain on social systems and laid bare the stark inequities faced by individuals in already marginalized communities.
Standing in solidarity with victims is the bare minimum we can do. We must act to address these inequalities.
Last week I visited the Ark of Return, the United Nation’s permanent memorial to the victims of the transatlantic slave trade. It stands as a reminder that, only by acknowledging history can we understand how it continues to inform and affect the present. Only then can we properly address the injustices that still linger. And only by addressing those injustices can we truly honor those victims who fell prey to one of the most vicious institutions ever devised by humanity.
So, in that spirit, let us honor the memory of the victims by standing against racism and discrimination, by calling for greater commitments to social justice, and by celebrating the equal worth and dignity of all our communities, irrespective of caste, creed or skin color.
With hope and conviction let us resolve to write a new chapter in our history, filled with justice and equality.
I thank you.