‘Let Us Redouble Our Efforts to Confront Legacy of Slavery in Our Own Communities, Societies’, Says Secretary-General, at Event Marking International Observance

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks, delivered by Chef de Cabinet Courtenay Rattray on behalf of the Secretary-General, 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: 

I am honoured to be with you to commemorate the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Please allow me to read a message from the Secretary-General, marking this important annual commemoration:

“For 400 years, enslaved Africans fought for their freedom, while colonial Powers and others committed horrific crimes against them.

On the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, we remember and honour the millions of Africans who were trafficked and enslaved.

Their lives were ruled by terror, as they endured rape, floggings, lynchings and other atrocities and humiliations.

Many of those who organized and ran the transatlantic slave trade amassed huge fortunes.  Meanwhile, the enslaved were deprived of education, health care, opportunity and prosperity.

This laid the foundations for a violent discrimination system based on white supremacy that still echoes today.

Descendants of enslaved Africans and people of African descent are still fighting for equal rights and freedoms around the world.

Today and every day, we reject the legacy of this horrific crime against humanity.

We call for reparatory justice frameworks to help overcome generations of exclusion and discrimination.

We appeal for the space and necessary conditions for healing, repair and justice.

And above all, we resolve to work for a world free from racism, discrimination, bigotry and hate.

Together, as we remember the victims of the transatlantic slave trade, let’s unite for human rights, dignity and opportunity for all.”

On this important day of remembrance, we also recall the courage of generations of enslaved Africans and their descendants who stood against oppression and subjugation.

From the time of the first abductions, to the door of no return in Africa, to the cities and farms where they were forced to work, enslaved Africans resisted their captors, revolted against their masters and worked to escape their bonds.

The resolute resistance of Queen Nanny of the Maroons in my own country, Jamaica, forced the British Empire to the peace table.

In Brazil, the leadership and struggle of Zumbi dos Palmares is celebrated annually as a Day of Black Consciousness.

The skillful diplomacy and military prowess of Queen Nzinga Mbandi of Ndongo and Matamba in present-day Angola thwarted Portugal’s colonial ambitions.

In Saint Domingue, in present-day Haiti, Toussaint Louverture’s heroism transformed a slave rebellion into a revolutionary movement.

Here in the United States, Harriet Tubman made a death-defying run for freedom and helped others to win their liberation on the Underground Railroad.

And, on a slave ship on the way to the American state of Georgia, a group of Ibo people from what is now Nigeria rose in rebellion and drowned their captors, before tragically committing mass suicide, refusing to give up their dignity and freedom.

This evening, I will attend the opening of a new UN exhibition which tells the story of this tragic event.

The heroic struggles of these and many other leaders inspired generations of activists.  But they are not over.  Descendants of enslaved Africans and people of African descent around the world are still fighting for their rights and for their freedoms.

The original lie of white supremacy, which animated and justified the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, the Jim Crow laws and the apartheid system, continues to poison communities and societies.

Today, as we recall centuries of injustice, it is our duty to reject and dismantle racist oppression, end the spread of hatred and lies online, and confront slavery’s lasting legacy of marginalization and impoverishment.

We must reverse the consequences of generations of exclusion and discrimination that led to gross inequities in health care, education, and social and economic opportunities — inequities as you know that continue to this day.

In the many countries affected by the transatlantic slave trade, everyone, and all parts of society, have a part to play in this work of healing and repair.  From acknowledging and seeking forgiveness for the egregious crimes of the past, to creating mechanisms for redress and rejecting hatred and discrimination in all its forms — all can help to heal the intergenerational trauma and repair fractured and segregated societies.

Today, as we remember the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, let us redouble our efforts to confront the legacy of slavery in our own communities and societies.

Together, let us resolve to learn the lessons of history and build a more just, a more equal, and a more prosperous world for all.

For information media. Not an official record.