The U.N. General Assembly, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, has approved a resolution calling for the erection of a permanent memorial in New York to commemorate the slave trade and its legacy.

The resolution stresses the importance of raising awareness of the history and “lasting consequences” of the slave trade, and calls on all member nations to develop school curricula and other educational programs to teach “the lessons, history and consequences of slavery and the slave trade.”

Representatives at the debate on the resolution also raised the issue of an apology, called for reparations for slavery and the slave trade, and stated explicitly that the foundation of much of the world’s wealth and poverty lies in the history of slavery.

The Kenyan ambassador, Zachary Muburti-Muita, representing the sponsors of the resolution, declared that the memorial at United Nations headquarters would serve as “a permanent reminder of man’s inhumanity to fellow men and as an injection that never again should such a horrendous institution be allowed to manifest itself in our society.”

The resolution points to the success of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, first observed on March 25 of this year, and of the U.N.’s educational outreach program on the slave trade and slavery.

Remarks by speakers

Speakers in favor of the resolution addressed the horrors of the slave trade, as well as the racism and inequality which are the legacy of the slave trade today. There were calls for reparations for slavery and efforts to eradicate modern slavery, including trafficking of persons for sex and other purposes.

Miquel Brockmann, president of the General Assembly, explicitly raised the issues of apologies and reparations for the slave trade and for colonialism:

We must ask for forgiveness and consciously acknowledge the damage done by one part of humanity. States must think of different ways to compensate for the cultural, economic and social wrongs committed against African countries.

We must recognise that the rich countries built the foundations of their economies from the sweat and lives of millions of African slaves.

The remarks of Ileana B. Nuñez Mordoche, Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations, were particularly striking:

Those who amassed huge fortunes at the expense of the slave’s sweat and blood and plunged our nations into the disastrous consequences of mono-production and mono-crop economies cannot just wash their hands of their gloomy past on account of a self-induced historical amnesia amidst neo-liberal globalization, where the rich, who are the same as yesterday, are even richer and our nations are doomed to exclusion and impoverishment.

The U.S. representative emphasized his country’s commitment to commemorating the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade. He did not mention, however, that the U.S. has provided no funding for that commemoration, and that all such efforts have been private ones.

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