23.08.2012 - ODG

Message from the Director-General on the occasion of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition

The history of the slave trade and its abolition has shaped the world in which we live. We are all heirs to this past, which has transformed the world’s map, its laws, cultures and social relations, even giving rise to new food habits – especially through the sugar trade. Most of all, this history has had lasting effects on relations among peoples. UNESCO attaches the utmost importance to the celebration of International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. Transmitting this history is central to the struggle against racism, for the observance of human rights and for the building of peace.

The long series of uprisings by slaves in their quest for freedom are sources for reflection and action for protecting human rights and combating modern forms of servitude. On the night of 22 to 23 August 1791, an uprising began in Saint Domingue (present-day Haiti) that would lead to the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. Through their struggles and their desire for dignity and freedom, slaves have contributed to the universality of human rights. People must be taught the names of the heroes of the history of slavery -- they are all of humanity’s heroes.

Slaves transcended oppression and bequeathed to the world a boundlessly rich cultural heritage. Africa, Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, the Indian Ocean and Asia now share forms of dance, music, living arts and artistic expression that are a direct legacy of that history. Through its cultural and educational programmes, UNESCO seeks to safeguard and promote this heritage as a force for rapprochement and dialogue among peoples.

Under its mandate, UNESCO supports scientific research, teacher training, the preservation of memorial sites and archives and the promotion of cultural interaction, so that everyone may grasp the stakes of this history. The Slave Route Project illustrates this point most appositely and contributes to action designed to counter demeaning prejudices inherited from a system of oppression that still tarnish the image of Africans and people of African descent.

The Day is being marked in 2012 as part of the preparations for the Decade for People of African Descent (2013-2022), to be proclaimed by the United Nations this year. The initiative must be a means to harness all energies sustainably to boost political commitments in favour of people of African descent. On this Day, I call on governments, civil society organizations and public and private partners to redouble their efforts to achieve reconciliation and solidarity with the peoples whom this history concerns, as well as their development, and to share their initiatives by posting them on http://www.facebook.com/unesco   and www.unesco.org/culture/slaveroute. This highlights UNESCO’s determination to improve knowledge.  

Irina Bokova


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