Legacy of slavery can be used for good, says Secretary-General

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24 February - Slavery is an abhorrent practice that still needs to be eradicated in many parts of the world, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed, noting that one way to pursue this goal is by remembering the past and using its lessons to ensure that such crimes never occur again.

“By examining the atrocities perpetrated during the four centuries of the transatlantic slave trade, and by honouring its victims, we are helping to ensure that these crimes can never be repeated,” Mr. Ban said last night in remarks to a gala benefit held in New York to honour the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

Despite the fact that article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms,” slavery and slavery-like practices continue in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe.

“Slavery is even re-emerging in new forms, including the sale of children, debt bondage and human trafficking,” said the Secretary-General. “Its roots lie in ignorance, intolerance and greed. We must confront these in every way we can. We must create a climate in which such unthinking abuse and cruelty are inconceivable.

“One way we can do this is through remembering the past,” he stated.

Mr. Ban noted that the enormous suffering that took place during slavery has changed the world permanently.

“We see the legacy of transatlantic slavery in all the countries it affected,” he said. “But if we are wise, we will use that legacy for good.

“We will see the horror of the slave trade as a reminder of what happened when intolerance and racism were allowed to triumph. We will look on the crimes that were committed and resolve never to allow such things to happen again, anywhere.”

The UN chief welcomed the construction of a permanent memorial at the UN headquarters complex in New York to honour the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, stating that “anything that helps to shine a light on this dark area of human history must be embraced and supported.”

The memorial, he said, will be a permanent acknowledgement of the crimes and abuses of the slave trade, and serve as a reminder of the bravery of those slaves, abolitionists and unsung heroes who managed to end the practice.

“It will raise awareness of the continued dangers of racism and intolerance,” he added. “And it will be a significant symbol of what the United Nations represents: the dignity and worth of all human beings.”