International Symposium on "Healing the Wounds of Slavery: Towards Mutual Recovery"

The transatlantic slave trade and slavery created a complex system of oppression and exploitation by which many millions of people have been considered "movable property", in order to justify their dehumanization. These horrific events of human history have undeniably left their mark throughout the centuries on individual and collective memories, being at the root of social segregations and racial inequalities that continue to haunt our societies to this day.

To highlight the psychosocial consequences of one of the greatest crimes against humanity from a historical and contemporary perspective, the UNESCO Slave Route Project organized an International Symposium at the University of Georgetown, on 18 and 19 October 2018, in collaboration with the Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs.

We now have enough research on this tragic history to be able to recognize that the intrinsic memory of slavery is traumatic, in itself. Historians have unveiled the psychological consequences of the slavery system on the descendants of the protagonists of this tragedy.  Recent studies of epigenetics have also demonstrated the possibility of the inter-generational transmission of trauma through DNA. However, a lack of recognition of these psychological effects on the designing of the curricula and training of health professionals limit access to appropriate treatment.      

Therefore, it is essential to discuss the trauma of slavery and institutional racism that continue to prevail in our societies, in order to fight against all forms of inequalities and discrimination, as well as to facilitate reconciliation. "Healing the Wounds of the Slave Trade and Slavery: Towards Mutual Recovery", promoted a fruitful exchange among neuroscientists, psychiatrists, health practitioners, historians, theologians and sociologists from different regions of the world.  It was an occasion to present the latest research findings in this field, in addition to taking steps towards eliminating this painful history.

This unique event adopted a holistic approach to addressing the psychological impacts of this tragedy, on both descendants of slavery victims, and descendants of former slave owners. The aim was to share and explore together, ways and means towards a common healing and mutual recovery.

During the plenary sessions, the interdisciplinary panel of participants provided objective and diverse insights on the following issues:

  • What lessons can we learn from other dehumanizing tragedies in world history?
  • What are the latest approaches and research findings on the psychosocial consequences of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery?
  • What are the different experiences and processes of healing the wounds of historical traumas?
  • What are the main obstacles and resistances to healing?
  • What would be the necessity of designing a pilot program on healing the wounds of transatlantic slave trade and slavery?
  • What would be the appropriate strategies to communicate and inform the public for a better understanding of the challenges to overcoming these legacies?

Since its inception, the “Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage", has been conducting extensive research, advocacy and awareness-raising issues about the history of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery, which are recognized as crimes against humanity. By making this theme a key priority, UNESCO calls on the international community to act against the collective oblivion that feeds ignorance, prejudice and hatred. This Symposium is also part of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) and the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as it sheds light on the shared heritage of the history of the slave trade and slavery.