New York

22 March 2013

Secretary-General's remarks at concert in the General Assembly Hall on the occasion of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Good evening.

The United Nations has a short history. But we have a long memory.

This week, we remember the more than 15 million men, women and children victims of the transatlantic slave trade.

Tonight’s concert is part of an extraordinary series of activities at the United Nations.

This week, we are proud to host an original copy of the United States Emancipation Proclamation at an exhibit in our Visitors Lobby.

We have had poetry readings, book signings and other cultural events leading up to this very special musical performance.

Perhaps most inspiring, we have brought together students from around the world. These young people will help our remembrance resonate far beyond this hall. 

Here is part of a poem one of the students shared:

She wrote:

All these years
Blood and torn flesh
How heavy are our hopes
Desperation, tears
That is what the mother feels in this horrible industry.

Another student paid tribute to the courageous individuals who led the march to freedom.  This young man encouraged his peers to excel at school, earn degrees and become loving parents one day. Because, he said, “that is the true meaning of emancipation.”

I am inspired by the words and wisdom of these young people. They give us hope for the future.

Mr. President,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The rhythms of Africa travelled on ships with their human cargo. They were handed down from parents to children.

Not only did they survive the slave masters’ attempts to destroy identity, heritage and a sense of home – they defined the music of a culture and ultimately a nation.

Without Africa’s sons and daughters there would be no jazz, no rock ‘n roll, no hip hop.

New artists keep these traditions alive. They prove that culture is stronger than the violence that their ancestors endured.


The world has just lost a great voice from Africa. The writer Chinua Achebe died at the age of 82 – but he left an enduring legacy.

He once said “Nothing even approaching the transatlantic slave trade has ever happened in the history of the world… It is a very long and tortuous story, but someday it will be told.”

Chinua Achebe was one of many artists telling the story of slavery. Let us pledge to do our part. Let us keep our memories of the transatlantic slave trade fresh – so that we may build lasting foundations of equality, justice and peace for the future.

Thank you.