New York

25 March 2013

Secretary-General's remarks to Commemorative Meeting of the General Assembly on the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

I am pleased to welcome you to this solemn meeting of the General Assembly.

This gathering is the culmination of a series of powerful remembrances at the United Nations. I thank all those who have made these events possible. I am especially grateful to the National Ballet of Cameroon for joining us today.

We are here to recall the struggle of the victims of the transatlantic slave trade. We remember their degradation and deaths. And we teach future generations to remember as well.

This month, the United Nations is honoured to host the original copy of the United States Emancipation Proclamation. You will find it is just outside this hall.  I myself have seen that very historical Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln. We are displaying it along with moving panels on the horrors that slaves endured – and the bravery of those who resisted.

The names of resistors and abolitionists are passed down through history. On this Day, we also listen to the voices of the nameless victims.

Their message is transmitted in the music and poetry of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora.

We hear the voice of the victims in the stories and scholarship of writers.

We hear them in the work of young people who study the past to create a better future.

The United Nations has many reasons to celebrate this Day. Our Charter – at its core – opposes racism and upholds equality. Our activities throughout the world support these goals. And we operate in many countries that still bear the scars of the transatlantic slave trade.

This Headquarters is located just a short distance from the African Burial Ground in downtown Manhattan. The remains of 419 people lie there. Countless other slaves were buried on this very island that we call home. Today we remember the tears that were shed on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

This week we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great poet Aimé Césaire.

He once wrote: “Beware of crossing your arms in the sterile attitude of a spectator, because life is not a spectacle.”

I agree we must be more than spectators. While we recall slavery’s horrors, we must also address the lingering consequences. While we remember the victims, we pledge to fight for equality, justice and peace. This is the most meaningful way to honour their memory.

Thank you.