New York

26 February 2014

Secretary-General's remarks at Screening of “12 Years a Slave”

[As delivered]

I know I am meant to say a few words after this great movie but I have become speechless after having seen this very powerful movie, moving movie.

What a wonderful work of art. What a powerful story. 

Now I know why “12 Years a Slave” is one of the most favourites for a certain awards show that will take place on Sunday night.

Mr. McQueen, it is an honour to host you here at the United Nations.  I would like to thank you and Fox Searchlight Pictures for making tonight’s special screening possible.

There were moments when the film was very hard to watch.  But there can be no turning away – not from the horrors of slavery as it was practiced then, and not from the forms of slavery that exist today around the world.

I knew that many years ago […] there were many slaves whose lives were very tragically miserable. But I did not have an idea that their life [was] that brutal, inhuman. I could not believe it. I feel very sorry just enjoying all these benefits which we have now in this moment. How could we not have done much [more] much earlier to free all these people [from slavery]?

Tonight’s screening kicks off our own observance of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which falls on March 25th.

We will soon have a permanent memorial here at UN Headquarters.  Rodney Leon’s “Ark of Return” will be a lasting symbol of the role of slavery and colonialism in shaping the global mission of the United Nations.

Beyond remembrance of the past, there is an urgent need for action today.

The trafficking of mainly young women is still taking place around the world.  Millions of people of both sexes are being exploited -- forced into debt bondage, sexual slavery and other vile practices.  All too often, the predators operate with impunity.

My hope is that “12 Years a Slave” will inspire many years of action to end all forms of slavery for good.

Solomon Northup left an important legacy.  In telling his story, Steve McQueen has enriched the world and advanced the universal values for which the United Nations stands.

The United Nations is strongly committed to human rights, human dignity. This is one of the three pillars of the United Nations Charter. I am very much committed to the work with you. I hope this movie will inspire many millions of people around the world.

We thank you most deeply.

And I wish you good luck on Sunday night.

Thank you very much.