Following are UN Secretary‑General António Guterres’ remarks at the General Assembly commemorative meeting for the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, in New York today:
Slavery and the transatlantic slave trade were among history’s most appalling manifestations of human brutality.
On this International Day of Remembrance, we pay homage to the millions of African men, women and children who were denied their humanity and forced to endure abominable cruelty across centuries.
The enslaved peoples from Africa were irrevocably harmed, and in many instances killed, by an institution that should never have existed. Yet, they were far more than victims.
Enslaved people struggled against a system that they knew was wrong. They resisted. On many occasions, they sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom and dignity. And so, we remember not just the domination of people against their will, but also the invincible spirit that led the oppressed to revolt.
We are inspired by remarkable endurance, resilience and countless contributions to bettering our world.
We need to tell the stories of those who stood up against their oppressors, and recognize their righteous resistance — from Zumbi dos Palmares in Brazil, to Queen Nanny of the Maroons in Jamaica, to Queen Nzinga of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms in present-day Angola, to Harriet Tubman in the United States, and so many more.
The theme of this year’s observance is: “Remember Slavery: Power of the Arts for Justice”.
Since the time of the transatlantic slave trade, the arts have been used to confront slavery, to empower enslaved communities, and to honour those who made freedom possible. Literature, music, poetry and other artforms have been vital tools in commemorating past struggles, highlighting ongoing injustices and celebrating the achievements of people of African descent.
Today, the artists, the writers, the poets who are committed to the struggle for racial equality and empowerment should know we are with them.
As we mark the International Day of Remembrance, let us resolve to carry their messages far and wide. To fight racism. To combat xenophobia. To tackle discrimination. To end social and political marginalization. To uphold human dignity for one and all.
Together, let us stand up against old and new forms of slavery, by raising awareness of the dangers of racism in our time, and by ensuring justice and equal opportunities for all people of African descent today.