Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition
23 August 2019
This 23 August, we honour the memory of the men and women who, in Saint-Domingue in 1791, revolted and paved the way for the end of slavery and dehumanization. We honour their memory and that of all the other victims of slavery, for whom they stand.
The fight against trafficking and slavery is universal and ongoing. It is the reason for which UNESCO led the efforts to launch the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. This special day acknowledges the pivotal struggle of those who, subjected to the denial of their very humanity, triumphed over the slave system and affirmed the universal nature of the principles of human dignity, freedom, and equality.
The horror of slavery makes us think about and question humanity. Slavery is the product of a racist worldview which perverts all aspects of human activity. Established as a system of thought, illustrated in all manner of philosophical and artistic works, this outlook has been the basis for political, economic, and social practices of a global scope and with global consequences. It persists today in speeches and acts of violence which are anything but isolated and which are directly linked to this intellectual and political history.
To draw lessons from this history, we must lay this system bare, deconstruct the rhetorical and pseudoscientific mechanisms used to justify it; we must refuse to accept any concession or apologia which itself constitutes a compromising of principles. Such lucidity is the fundamental requirement for the reconciliation of memory and the fight against all present-day forms of enslavement, which continue to affect millions of people, particularly women and children.
The year 2019 is a particularly important one for this commemorative day. It is a time for taking stock and adopting new perspectives. It is the midpoint of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations to encourage Member States to pursue strategies for fighting racism and discrimination.
This year also marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage. For a quarter century, the Organization has been working to help governments, universities, the media, and civil society to examine this tragic chapter in our history; to combat ignorance and the denial of a past which has nevertheless been extensively documented in written, oral, and material form; and to raise awareness of this heritage in all its complexity. The spotlight will be shone on this anniversary in Benin, where the project was launched in 1994, and where the International Scientific Committee for the Slave Route Project will be invited to look back on the work done and offer new insight into our current global circumstances.
Finally, 2019 is the year that Ghana is celebrating the Year of Return and the country’s historical ties with the African diaspora, an acknowledgement which marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first African slaves in the English colony of Jamestown.
All these commemorations encourage us to continue striving to put a definitive end to human exploitation and to ensure that the memory of the victims and freedom fighters remains a source of inspiration for future generations.