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International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

24 March 2014
International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Remarks by Mr. Michael Møller
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Acting Director-General, United Nations Office at Geneva
International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade
Monday, 24 March 2014 at 13:10
Palais des Nations, Room XXV


Ambassador Ehouzou
Mr. President of the Human Rights Council
Madam High Commissioner
Distinguished Guests:

Thank you for the invitation to be with you to mark the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The initiative by the African Group, the African Union and the civil society partners to mark this important day is very highly valued.

Over four centuries, millions of people were forcibly removed from Africa. The transatlantic slave trade is unique within the universal history of slavery due to its duration, those victimized and the intellectual legitimization of this cruel practice.

The International Day is an important occasion, for the entire international community to pay tribute to the victims, honour their memory, recognize the contributions of slaves and their descendants, and address the legacy that continues to impact our world in the form of racism, discrimination and prejudice – not only in the countries involved in or affected by the slave trade but everywhere.

In December of last year, the General Assembly proclaimed 2015 to 2024 the International Decade for People of African Descent, focused on recognition, justice and development. When officially launched next year, the International Decade will provide another avenue for confronting the racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance that remain part of the negative legacy of slavery and the slave trade. It is my hope that all Member States will take this opportunity to implement practical initiatives to overcome this legacy.

This year, the International Day takes place under the theme, “Victory over Slavery: Haiti and Beyond”, marking the 210th anniversary of the proclamation of independence following the fight of those enslaved. It is a reminder of the bravery of those who risked everything for a life in freedom and those who helped them towards their goal. Through their commitment and courage, they ensured the victory of the fundamental value of respect for the dignity and worth of every human being.

The focus on the milestone of independence in Haiti also provides the opportunity to reaffirm the United Nations’ continued commitment to supporting the people of Haiti and to salute their fortitude.

The example of the fight for freedom in Haiti continues to inspire and encourage us. And this inspiration is necessary because today is also a painful reminder that slavery mutates to re-emerge in different forms.

Slavery and slavery-like practices remain an unresolved problem in many parts of our world, through forced labour, sexual slavery, debt bondage, use of child soldiers, sale of children or trafficking in human beings. According to the ILO, over 20 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide. Almost all countries are touched by human trafficking today, either as a source of trafficked people, a transit point or as a destination. This continuation of slavery-like practices is an affront to the memory of the victims of slavery. These abhorrent practices are driven by the same combination of inhumanity and greed that was at the origins of the slave trade in the first place.

The work of the Human Rights Council and of the Special Rapporteur is particularly important in combatting slavery in its contemporary forms. The increasing attention paid by Governments and other stakeholders to this challenge, with improvements in legislation, implementation, prevention and awareness-raising is encouraging. But it is not sufficient to eradicate these practices. More importantly than the instruments we use, we need to enhance the political will to confront this scourge effectively.

I should like to conclude with a word of appreciation to our civil society partners present. Their advocacy and conviction are critical both in the work to remember the victims and in the collective efforts for the complete eradication of slavery and modern slavery-like practices.

When today we honour those who stood up against slavery, we also acknowledge those who continue to fight in today’s world. It is a privilege to have some of them with us today and to pay tribute to their work.

Thank you very much.