Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the General Assembly meeting marking the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, today:
Today we honour the memory of the millions of people of African descent who suffered immeasurably under the evil of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. We remember with humility the resilience of those who endured. And we acknowledge the immense contributions slaves and their descendants have made to the economies and culture of the countries to which they were forcibly transported.
We must never forget the daily terror experienced by the enslaved peoples, the unthinkable acts of cruelty they endured, the daily reminder that they could lay claim to nothing, not even their own children.
But the slave traders and owners failed to rob the enslaved peoples of dignity and agency. We remember the acts of resistance and the demands for justice of enslaved peoples. We recall the courage of leaders like Queen Ana Nzinga of the Kingdom of Ndongo, now Angola, and Toussaint Louverture, of Saint-Domingue, now Haiti, and the peoples they led.
As we honour those whose names we know, we acknowledge the daily courage of the millions whom we will never know except as names on inventory lists drawn up by slave owners, traders and insurance agencies. We support initiatives to reclaim, recover and reconstitute the history of those who were enslaved. We also acknowledge that racism is both a cause and a legacy of slavery. And we recognize that the impact of the slave trade remains visible in racial injustices and inequalities today.
Ending slavery’s legacy of racism is a global imperative for justice. The transatlantic slave trade is a global history that continues to resonate. It created and sustained a system of exploitation that existed for over 400 years. It devastated the economies of those it enslaved. And it strengthened the colonial project, enriching its multitude of beneficiaries at the expense of the lives of the enslaved.
The racism at the core of the system built on slavery condemned Africans to enduring second-class status. To provide justification for the slave trade, Africans were consistently portrayed as less than human. Racist tropes circulated widely, incorporated into sermons, pamphlets and cultural expressions, and given legitimacy by pseudo-science and legislation.
So, while the transatlantic slave trade ended over two centuries ago, the ideas that propelled it remain alive today. In Europe, the United States and elsewhere, white supremacists are organizing and recruiting across borders. According to the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacist propaganda reached an all-time high in 2020.
We must counter all lies of racial supremacy. The irrefutable fact is that we are all equally part of one race — humankind. When we forget this basic fact, we imperil ourselves. Repeated acts of racism, by people and institutions, expose the impact of slavery’s legacy.
Last year, they helped to galvanize a worldwide movement for justice and an end to racism. We must build on this momentum. Our Organization is built on the demand for global justice and an end to racism and inequality. This must include action to redress the wrongs of history.
We need to acknowledge and correct the long-lasting effects of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. By tackling inequities and inequalities, by building inclusive communities and economies, and by educating about history, we truly honour the memory of the victims of slavery. On this day of remembrance, let us commit anew to a world where justice prevails, and where all can live with dignity, in peace and freedom.