Reverse Consequences of Slavery, End Present-Day Bias against African Descendants, Secretary-General Urges General Assembly at Event for International Observance
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the General Assembly event marking the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, in New York today:
It is my privilege to join you as we pay tribute to the victims and survivors of the transatlantic slave trade.
There is much that we know about the trade in enslaved Africans, and today is a day we remember: the crime against humanity; the unprecedented mass human trafficking; the degrading economic transactions and unspeakable human rights violations.
But, there is also much that we do not know, and today must be a day of learning. Behind the facts and figures are millions of human stories. Stories of untold suffering and pain. Stories of families and communities ripped apart. But, also stories of awe-inspiring courage and defiance against the cruelty of oppressors.
We need to tell these stories of righteous resistance — from Zumbi dos Palmares in Brazil, to Queen Nanny of the Maroons in Jamaica, to Queen Ana Nzinga of the Kingdom of Ndgongo in present-day Angola, to Toussaint Louverture of Saint‑Domingue in present-day Haiti and to many more.
We also need to hear stories of prohibitions of slave trade in the imamate of Futa Toro in present-day Senegal during the reign of Abdul Kader — well before abolition movements gained momentum in Europe and the Americas.
We will never know every act of resistance — great or small — that slowly but surely triumphed over injustice, repression and enslavement. But these accounts are crucial to our understanding of a past whose most pernicious cause and most persistent legacy stains to our present: racism.
The transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans was instrumental in shaping modern conceptions of race. To rationalize the inhumanity of the slave trade, Africans were portrayed as less than human. Racist tropes circulated widely — legitimized by pseudo-science and enshrined in law.
Over 200 years since the end of the transatlantic slave trade, the vicious lie of racial supremacy remains alive today. Indeed, it finds new resonance and amplification in online echo chambers of hate.
Ending slavery’s legacy of racism is a global imperative for justice. This imperative implicates us all — we are all responsible to stand up and speak out in solidarity against racism wherever, whenever we encounter it.
The transatlantic slave trade marked a brutal rupture in African history and has thwarted the continent’s development for centuries. At the same time, the prosperity achieved across so much of the Western world was only possible through the exploitation of African slave labour and know-how. It devastated the economies of those it enslaved and enriched the colonizers.
We must reverse the consequences of generations of exploitation, exclusion and discrimination — including their obvious social and economic dimensions through reparatory justice frameworks. Acknowledging past wrongs, tearing down statues of slavers and seeking forgiveness cannot undo the crimes. However, they can sometimes help free the present — and future — from the shackles of the past.
But, past wrongs must not distract us from present evils. Outside of Africa, people of African descent are often among the last in line for health care, education, justice and opportunities of all kinds. The African diaspora has enriched societies everywhere. And yet, it still confronts marginalization, exclusion and unconscious bias; its life still darkened by the long shadow of slavery.
On this International Day of Remembrance, let us honour the victims of slavery, memorialized by the Ark of Return that stands in the plaza just outside this hall as a constant reminder of the courage of slaves. It calls on us to: stand united against racism; tackle inequities and inequalities; learn and educate about the past; and build societies based on dignity, respect, justice and opportunity for all.