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UN commemorates victims of the transatlantic slave trade

UN commemorates victims of the transatlantic slave trade

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18.APR.08

St. Vincent and the Grenadines was part of a small CARICOM subcommittee that successfully organised a week of events at the United Nations to commemorate victims of the transatlantic slave trade.{{more}}

The other members of the subcommittee were Barbados, Grenada, Haiti, Dominica, and Ambassador Noel Sinclair, the CARICOM Permanent Observer.

The UN General Assembly, in December 2007, adopted a CARICOM-sponsored resolution designating March 25th as an annual day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The resolution also mandated the erection of a permanent memorial at the UN to acknowledge the tragedy and consider the legacy of slavery.

The CARICOM subcommittee liaised with the African Group of Ambassadors and the UN Department of Public Information to host a series of commemorative events, which included art exhibits, panel discussions, a film premiere and an international student videoconference.

The centerpiece of the events was a “Solemn Commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” which was held on March 25 at the United Nations. The keynote speaker at the event was Harry Belafonte, Renowned Actor/Activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. The Hon. Donald M. PAYNE, Representative of the 10th Congressional District of New Jersey, also addressed the large audience.

Mr. Belafonte said that much had been accomplished and much had been promised in the commemoration of the abolition of slavery. What should be central, however, was “how to inform our young” and to teach them, so that the horrors of the past never happened again.

The symbols that had once identified slavery were long since gone, but “slavery is still with us”, he said. It had been codified and driven underground, but it still existed under new names. Some two billion people all over the world languished in poverty. The fact that people were not actually shackled, as they had been in the slave trade days, did not diminish the fact that the slave mentality and mechanisms were still very much part of our lives. In that context, words like “globalization” and “free trade” described, in fact, a free-for-all for the very rich to exploit the very poor. It was necessary to talk very seriously and deeply about that phenomenon.

Congressman Payne introduced a bill in the United States Congress to establish a commission to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, which had been signed into law by President Bush on February 5th. He said that he hoped the bill would help to promote better understanding of the horrors and aftermath of slavery and would add to the important dialogue about race. The commission would plan, develop and execute relevant programmes and activities, which will highlight that important chapter in history. “On this occasion, we not only remember the victims of the inhumane practice of being enslaved — we also rededicate ourselves to addressing modern-day slavery and other injustices around the world”, said Congressman Payne.

The events were well attended and received wide press coverage. According to the Caucus of Permanent Representatives of CARICOM, the events “contributed to the realization of our stated objective of stimulating fresh and purposeful attention to the victims of slavery, to celebrate their triumph over it, and to strengthen our common resolve in the struggle against all forms of assault against the dignity of human beings.”

The Caucus of Permanent Representatives of CARICOM at the United Nations thanked St. Vincent and the Grenadines for its “valuable contributions to the work of the subcommittee” and conveyed its “deep appreciation for the collaboration” of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the successful planning and staging of the commemorative events.

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