06.01.2004 -

Launch of International Year Commemorating the Struggle Against Slavery and its Abolition

On January 10, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura will officially launch the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against Slavery and its Abolition in Cape Coast (Ghana), one of the slave trade's most active centres and today a World Heritage site.

UNESCO's activities during 2004 will include research studies focusing on the preservation of documents and the digitization of archive collections, as well as on the establishment of databases. On the occasion of the 15th International Congress on Archives (Vienna, Austria, August 23-29), an international conference on the archives of the slave trade will take place as part of the "Archives of the Slave Trade" project.


The project, initiated by UNESCO, is concerned with the access to and preservation of original archive materials relating to the slave trade. Funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), it is being implemented within the framework of UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme, in collaboration with the International Scientific Committee for UNESCO's Slave Route Project and with the International Council on Archives (ICA).


The International Year for the Commemoration of the Struggle Against Slavery and its Abolition, devoted to an unprecedented tragedy that was recognized as a "crime against humanity" at the Durban World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (2001), should help humanity accomplish its duty of remembrance and fight all forms of slavery and racism in the world.


The International Year for the Commemoration of the Struggle Against Slavery and its Abolition that was proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations, also marks the bicentenary of the first independent black state, Haiti, a symbol of the slaves' struggle for liberty, equality, dignity and human rights.


"By institutionalizing memory, resisting the onset of oblivion, recalling the memory of a tragedy that for long years remained hidden or unrecognized, and by assigning it its proper place in the human conscience, we respond to our duty to remember," said the Director-General of UNESCO in his message1 for the International Year for the Commemoration of the Struggle Against Slavery and its Abolition.


In the framework of the Year, for which UNESCO is the lead agency, the Organization is preparing a series of activities in cooperation with Member States, National Commissions, governmental and non-governmental organizations, UNESCO Clubs, the international scientific community, Nobel Prize laureates, and UNESCO's Artists for Peace and Goodwill Ambassadors. Their goal will be to deepen our knowledge of slavery and the slave trade worldwide by highlighting the interactions they generated and the philosophical, political and legal implications of the process that led to the abolition of slavery.


In his message, the Director-General of UNESCO insists that the slave trade, "this major episode in the history of humanity, whose consequences are permanently imprinted in the world's geography and economy, should take its full place in the school textbooks and curricula of every country in the world."


In 1994, UNESCO launched "The Slave Route" to promote and popularize knowledge about the slave trade - which claimed countless lives from the 16th to 19th century and, in the words of poet Aimé Césaire (Martinique), "objectified human beings" - its consequences and the interactions it gave rise to among the peoples of Europe, Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean.


Slavery was first abolished in Saint Domingue (1793) and last in Cuba (1886) and Brazil (1888), and is banned by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by the 1956 UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery. Nevertheless, it still exists in various forms, including bonded labour for debt, forced labour of adults and children, sexual exploitation of children, trafficking and displacement of human beings and forced marriage.


The NGO Anti-Slavery says at least 20 million people are held in bonded labour around the world, while the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) puts the estimated number of people trafficked for bonded or forced labour at 700,000 a year. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has published estimates putting the number of child labourers at 245 million in 2002. The ILO further says that 1.2 million children fall victim to traffickers every year. It has denounced the trade in children in central and western Africa reporting that, "10,000 to 15,000 Malian children work on plantations in Côte d'Ivoire - many of them victims of trafficking. Nigeria reports that in 1996, some 4,000 children were trafficked from Cross River State to various parts within and outside the country. Benin registered over 3,000 trafficked children between 1995 and 1999." (Labour, the ILO magazine, no. 39, June 2001).


According to the Director-General of UNESCO, one of the goals of the International Year For the Commemoration of the Struggle Against Slavery and its Abolition is "knowing and recognizing the major imprint of African cultures on the formation of the world's cultures and civilizations". The millions of African slaves uprooted from their homes, deported to the Americas and sold, brought with them not only their spiritual and cultural values, but also traditional know-how, as shown in a series of works published by UNESCO, among them the General History of Africa.


(Source: UNESCO Press Release 2004-1)

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