02 July 2014

Former Danish West Indies commemorates abolition of slavery

The 166st anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the former Danish West Indies – the present day US Virgin Islands - is celebrated on 3rd July 2014. At the commemorative programme held at Fort Frederik in Frederiksted, St. Croix during the 161st anniversary in 2009, an address was delivered by International Governance Advisor Dr. Carlyle G. Corbin entitled "Political Evolution: The Next Phase of Emancipation." The issues raised in the 2009 presentation remain very much unresolved in 2014 as the dependency looks ahead to the year 2017 which would mark 100 years of U.S. unincorporated territorial status  Below are excerpts of the 2009 address along with a link to the full text.

(Read the full address here)

"... it is my firm belief that today, Emancipation Day, is our single most important holiday because it represents the successful struggle of the ancestors in abolishing the abominable system of slavery under the Kingdom of Denmark, beginning a long and arduous journey towards the pursuit – but not yet the attainment - of the civil, political and human rights of the people.

It is interesting that Emancipation Day in other parts of the Caribbean is often the most important holiday on the calendar. Our close neighbor, the British Virgin Islands, commemorates its emancipation on the first Monday in August (August Monday). In fact, the Emancipation Festival in the BVI, as in other British territories, is centered around Emancipation Day, with many activities dealing with cultural history and the struggle of African people who succeeded in defeating slavery under the British...


Denmark’s acknowledgment of the past has been encouraging. In a 2007 report submitted to the United Nations, Denmark acknowledged its role in “the barbarism of transatlantic slave trade (which) constitute(d) one of the darkest chapters of our history, in terms of its magnitude, its organized nature and particularly its negation of the human dignity of the victims. 

The Danish perspective, however, regards slavery as a legal institution at the time it was practiced, and as such, absolves them of any liability to this point. In any case, the Danes, too, should share in this July 3rd commemoration as well since our emancipation, and the cessation of that “crime against humanity,” was part of Danish political history and evolution, as well – even as emancipation was not one of benevolent enlightenment, but rather the result of the organized revolt by the enslaved Africans.

The fact is that we are a people who have a right to self-determination under international law - but we have never exercised that right. The Charter of the United Nations and the human rights conventions such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights confirm this right as inalienable. This is not based on United Nations resolutions whose effect is not legally binding – although they are certainly morally binding. These are international treaties which are, in fact, legally binding on the countries that enter into them.

Under this inalienable right of self-determination, we have the right to choose from a set of legitimate political status options which provide for absolute political equality. As a society, however, we seem to have internalized the dependent territorial status, and by doing so, we have given it a legitimacy which it does not necessarily warrant."

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