SLAVERY AND RACISM
Durban (South Africa),
September 4 (No.2001-91) - The transatlantic slave trade saw the greatest
deportation in history. From the mid 15th century to the closing decades of the
19th century tens of millions of Africans were brutally wrenched from their
villages and transported to the plantations and mines of the Americas and West
Indies. The impact of this unprecedented movement is still burdening the
descendants of these stolen people, and the continent that was their home.
organizing a panel debate on The Slave Route: Slavery and Racism
at the World Conference against Racism and Xenophobia in Durban (South Africa).
The debate will examine the causes and consequences of the African slave trade
along with its ideological and legal foundations. It will also explore the links
between racism and slavery.
Slavery is a universal
phenomenon. The ancient Greeks first institutionalised it, and countries and
civilisations everywhere and throughout history have practised it. Nonetheless,
the transatlantic trade is unique in history.
Over four centuries it
developed into a major industry that, in the 18th century, fuelled the world
economy. No-one really knows how many men, women and children left Africa in the
holds of slave ships, but historians agree that it changed the continent’s
demography. In the “boom” decade from 1783, with record prices being fetched
for “black gold”, French ports alone despatched more than 1,100 slave ships
to the coasts of Africa.
According to French historian
Jean-Michel Deveau, “between 10 and 15 million Africans were deported in the
18th and 19th centuries. Before that we don’t know.” And for every slave who
made it to the New World, several others died on the way. “The death rate on
the ships was 15 to 18%”, says Deveau, “but many were killed during attacks
on their villages or while they were being marched to the coast. In some places,
women about to be captured killed their own children.”
The racial nature of this
triangular trade between Africa, Europe and the Americas also sets it apart. The
trade was supported by a racist ideology that saw white people as being the most
perfectly developed and blacks as being at the bottom of the ladder. This was
reinforced by the French Code Noir (Black Code). Published as an edict by
Louis XIV in March 1685, its 60-odd articles regulated the way black slaves
lived and died in French possessions in the West Indies and Indian Ocean.
In 1724, the same legislation
was extended to cover the American territory of Louisiana. The code clearly
defines slaves a “moveable property”, “people unfit to possess or contract
in their own right”. Although racism against blacks was not born with the
transatlantic trade, it was legitimized by it and remains one of its most tragic
The world is now witnessing a
rise in new forms of slavery and trafficking in human beings. Forced labour in
many forms affects millions of men, women and children everywhere.
According to the International
Labour Organisation (ILO), international “trafficking in women and children
mainly for prostitution and domestic service but also sweatshop work has also
increased dramatically throughout the world in the last ten years.” This
phenomenon often reflects and reinforces racial stereotypes.
The U.S. government estimates
that between 700,000 and two million women and children are sucked into the
trade every year world-wide. The worst affected countries today are in Southeast
Asia and West and Central Africa, according to figures from the International
Organisation for Migration and UNICEF.
The situation in Central and
South America also requires urgent attention. Casa Allianza, a human rights
non-governmental organization that defends children in danger in the region,
reports that girls from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are sold to Mexican
brothels for $100 or $200 each. In Nicaragua, on average, one child disappears
every three days, while in Brazil, an estimated 40,000 children are sold every
year to work on farms and as domestic servants. Some 50,000 women and children
are trafficked through the United States each year according to a U.S.
government report published in 2000.
Evidence suggests that the
problem has taken on truly global proportions involving most countries of the
world which serve either as exporters, transit zones, or importers of slave
labour, or again as a combination of all three.
The panel will
feature the following participants: the poet Wally Serote, Chairperson of the
South African Parliament’s Committee on Arts, Culture and Language, Science
and Technology, member of the Scientific Committee of UNESCO’s Slave Route
Project; Rex Nettleford, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies
(Jamaica), member of the Scientific Committee of the Slave Route Project; José
Toribio (Guadeloupe), author of a report on slavery as a crime against humanity
which was submitted to the United Nations last year; Joseph Ki-Zerbo (Burkina
Faso), historian and contributor to the General History of Africa, published by
World Conference against Racism and Xenophobia, UNESCO will organize two other
roundtables: The New Aspects of Racism in the Era of Globalization and the
Gene Revolution2 will examine new forms of racism and discrimination fuelled
by globalization and growing economic inequalities, with a particular emphasis
on new forms of cultural racism and on the threat of a new form of eugenics and
discrimination stemming from the progress in genetics. Racism and the Role of
the Media,3 co-organized with the Office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Human Rights, will turn to the role of the media in fighting
racism. UNESCO is also organizing an exhibition in Durban featuring material
illustrating its long-standing struggle against racism and discrimination.
information: UNESCO Press Service: (+33 1) 45 68 17 44
During the World Conference in Durban: Roni Amelan 082 858 8832
2 September 3, 10 a.m. to
noon, International Conference Centre, Room 3
3 September 5,
1.30 p.m. to 4 p.m,. Room 3