International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade Special Commemorative Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Statement on Behalf of
The Group of Latin American and Caribbean States (GRULAC)
delivered by H.E. Ms. Dessima M. Williams
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
25 March 2013
"...we cannot lose sight of the fact that in a number of regions, including the sub-region of the Caribbean and elsewhere, emancipation ushered in the era of colonialism which, in many respects, merely perpetuated a refined form of what had formerly prevailed. Thus, the anti-colonial struggle was born, in earnest, as a logical outgrowth of the emancipation struggle, and serves as a constant reminder that full emancipation did not end with the abolition of chattel slavery."
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentleman,
I have the honour to speak on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Member States (GRULAC) on this 2013 observance of the International Day of Remembrance of Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade under the theme: "Forever Free - Celebrating Emancipation."
On this day each year this august body pays its respects to those who were forcibly taken from their homes and families against their will, and transported across the Atlantic Ocean under the most inhumane conditions known to humankind. The Atlantic Ocean became the final resting place of thousands of souls who perished along the way.
Those who survived this infamous horror known as the Middle Passage were landed in ports throughout Latin America and the Caribbean into an existence of forced labour and systemic cruelty which lasted for generations. Entire economies in much of what is now known as the "developed world" were literally built on the backs of this involuntary African labour, in large measure. May such an acknowledged crime against humanity never be repeated, in any form or manifestation, in any part of our globe.
Emerging from this unparalleled tragedy in the history of our planet was the liberation of the many African men, women and children who had endured the torment, torture and attempted de-humanization, and who fought against considerable odds to gain their freedom. Those persons - and their descendants - are those who the great Jamaican thinker Bob Marley referred to as "the survivors."
Yet, the struggle for full and absolute emancipation remains a continuing endeavor, and reparation is necessary to fully heal humanity from the brutality of the period when chattel slavery was forced and perpetuated upon a particular segment of humankind.
Part of this emancipation, this freedom, was achieved first in Haiti in 1804. This set in motion the movement for freedom from bondage in other parts of the Caribbean and our wider Latin American region, as well as in North America, Europe, and beyond. At this juncture, we cannot lose sight of the fact that in a number of regions, including the sub-region of the Caribbean and elsewhere, emancipation ushered in the era of colonialism which, in many respects, merely perpetuated a refined form of what had formerly prevailed. Thus, the anti-colonial struggle was born, in earnest, as a logical outgrowth of the emancipation struggle, and serves as a constant reminder that full emancipation did not end with the abolition of chattel slavery.
Latin America and the Caribbean takes note of August 2012 Report of the Secretary-General of August 2012 outlining the implementation of the outreach programme and steps to enhance global awareness on the activities associated with this commemoration. In this connection, we express our appreciation to the Department of Public Information for the organisation of the historical briefing held last year. We also recall the successful exhibit here at U.N. Headquarters in conjunction with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Yale University Press, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and other institutions.
We further commend the organizers for the 2012 showing of the documentary film on post emancipation slavery, the broadcast of radio programmes on the slave trade, and the student video conference which made connections among young people whose societies were linked to the transatlantic slave trade, and some that were not. We wish to also acknowledge with admiration the important work of UNESCO within its successful "Slave Route Project: resistance, freedom, heritage," and most recently, with the production of the educational film: "A Story Not to Be Forgotten." We thank you.
We are especially appreciative of the events organised last week around this year's commemoration including the panel discussion with eminent scholars, the global student video conference, the film screening of the movie "Lincoln," the presentation and book signing, the cultural and culinary evening, and the dynamic concert last Friday night.
At the national level, a number of initiatives have been undertaken by GRULAC member states in furtherance of dissemination of information on the slave trade and its gruesome historical legacy. In this connection, the work of El Salvador in the integration of the issue of slavery into the social studies curriculum of the education system is to be highly commended.
The work of Jamaica is to be especially highlighted, in promoting awareness of the rich historical and cultural expressions, and through the various artistic, literary, scholarly and other programmes carried out by an array of governmental and civil society bodies.
The Group endorses the leadership role played by Jamaica and other GRULAC Member States, including my own country Grenada, and of CARICOM in close collaboration with the Member States of the African Group in relation to the development of the Permanent Memorial to and remembrance of the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. In this connection, the Members States of Latin American and Caribbean encourage other Member States, international institutions, and other relevant parties within the international community to continue and further enhance their voluntary contributions to the Trust Fund established to facilitate the completion of this universal permanent memorial project.
In conclusion, GRULAC Member States join with the wider international community in commemorating this important day which observes the struggle and subsequent achievements of the people who were emancipated from the scourge of physical slavery. It is, indeed, a day of celebration. But it is also a day for us to take stock, and to deepen our resolve to tackle the contemporary challenges of inequality, poverty, colonialism and more - all of which have their antecedents in the mindset which held "one race superior, and another inferior". This concept must be thoroughly "discredited and abandoned" even in its most contemporary forms.
Freedom won must be constantly protected.
Please count on Latin America and the Caribbean in this noble pursuit.