New York

25 March 2015

Secretary-General's Remarks at the Unveiling of the Permanent Memorial to the Victims of the Transatlantic Slave Trade [As delivered]

It is a great honour to be with you to unveil The Ark of Return, a fitting and permanent memorial to the victims of slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

I would like to thank the donors who made The Ark of Return possible: Member States, foundations and, in particular, the Caribbean Community and the African Group for the initiative led by His Excellency Courtenay Rattray, the Permanent Representative of Jamaica.

This memorial -- so beautifully designed by Mr. Rodney Leon -- will stand here at United Nations Headquarters to honour the memory of some 15 million men, women and children who were forced to cross the Atlantic Ocean in slave ships.

It also honours the huge numbers of people purchased by the slave traders, who never even survived the passage to the Americas. It will recognise the significant contributions that slaves and their descendants have made to the societies in which they live.

This poignant and powerful memorial helps us to acknowledge the collective tragedy that befell millions of people.  It encourages us to consider the historical legacy of slavery and, above all, it ensures that we never forget.

Students who become involved in our ‘Remember Slavery Programme’ will learn about the transatlantic slave trade.  They will appreciate how intolerance and racism can easily breed acts of hatred and violence.

This monument offers us all a place to pause and reflect on the causes and consequences of racism so we may eradicate prejudice and intolerance wherever and whenever it occurs.

I hope The Ark of Return will also serve as a call to action against the many contemporary manifestations of slavery, from human trafficking and sexual enslavement to debt bondage.

Today, let us also honour women of African descent.  One third of those sold as slaves from Africa were female.  In addition to enduring the harsh conditions of forced labour as slaves, they experienced extreme forms of discrimination and exploitation as a result of their gender.

I hope descendants of the Transatlantic Slave Trade will feel empowered as they remember those who overcame this brutal system and passed their rich cultural heritage from Africa on to their children.

Let us also honour the memory of the many women and men who joined the struggle against the transatlantic slave trade and laid the groundwork for the movements for women’s rights and other civil rights.

They knew, as we know today, that the transatlantic slave trade was a monstrous crime.  It is a stain on human history.

This memorial stands as a strong and permanent reminder – not only of this gross injustice but of the goals that the United Nations set for itself 70 years ago: to protect the human rights and dignity of all peoples.

That legacy continues.  By proclaiming 2015 to 2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent, the General Assembly took an important step in promoting the rights of all people of African descent.

On this International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and in front of this fitting memorial, I thank all of you for sharing this historic moment with us.