New York/Paris, 23 August 2022 (TDI): The International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition is an annual international commemoration held each year on 23 August.
UNESCO designated the day to commemorate the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade after Haiti first observed it on 23 August 1998.
This year, UNESCO is observing it as a day to remember, reflect, and take action. It calls it a day to Remember Slavery.
In a separate tweet, the UN agency stated that racism is the wound left by slavery on societies and endorsed memory & history as the forces for dialogue, tolerance, and mutual understanding.
The Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, said, “It is time to abolish human exploitation once and for all, and to recognize the equal and unconditional dignity of each and every individual. Today, let us remember the victims and freedom fighters of the past so that they may inspire future generations to build just societies.”
UN’s Decade for People of African Descent
Commemorating the day with the hashtag #RememberSlavery, the United Nations brought attention to the International Decade of People of African Descent, the theme for the decade as proclaimed by the UN General Assembly.
According to the UN, the international community has acknowledged the importance of advancing and defending the human rights of individuals of African descent by proclaiming this decade. There is a huge number of people of African descent residing in different regions outside Africa.
Message from the Secretary-General of the UN
UN’s Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the existence of racism even after two centuries of the abolition of the slave trade and encouraged people to speak against it “wherever & whenever” they encounter it.
Message from Haitian Embassy in Qatar
Haitian revolution set the foundation for the abolition of the slave trade, and it was the first country to observe the day. Remembering the Haitian revolution and the struggle for the abolition of the slave trade, the Embassy of Haiti in Doha (Qatar), shared a special message that paid tribute to the valiant people afflicted by this system (of the slave trade) who never let it define their destiny or identity.
History of Slave Trade and its Abolition
Halfway through the 17th century, transatlantic trade patterns were created. It featured commercial ships traveling from Europe to the west coast of Africa with manufactured commodities, where the items would be swapped for persons taken prisoner by African traders.
The colonialists of Western Europe gained the most from the transatlantic slave trade. Men, women, and children who had been abducted, mostly from Africa, were transported as part of the slave trade to work as slaves in dire circumstances in colonial colonies in Haiti, the Caribbean, and other parts of the world.
By the end of the 18th century, there were more than four hundred thousand slaves living in the British Colonies. People who were in slavery were made to work on plantations in the Americas and the Caribbean.
These plantations produced goods for use in Europe, such as sugar and tobacco.
People began to fight against slavery around the end of the eighteenth century. However, these Abolitionists (those who fought to end the slave trade) faced ferocious opposition from the West Indian lobby since it had a huge economic impact on the nation.
The significant role of the Haitian Revolution
A revolt erupted on the Island of Saint Domingue (now known as Haiti) on 22-23 August 1791, resulting in events that played a crucial role in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.
This uprising, commonly referred to as the ‘Haitian Revolution,’ was the greatest and most successful slave insurrection in the Western Hemisphere.
Slaves started the insurrection in 1791, and by 1803 they had ended not only slavery but also French sovereignty over the colony. On the other hand, the Haitian Revolution was far more complicated, consisting of numerous revolutions occurring simultaneously.
The French Revolution of 1789 influenced these revolutions that embodied a new vision of human rights, universal citizenship, and involvement in governance.
Against the background of the Haitian Revolution, the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition is commemorated on 23 August each year.
Designation of the day by UNESCO
UNESCO’s General Conference designated that day by passing Resolution 29 C/40 at its 29th session.
This International Day aims to imprint the horror of the slave trade in everyone’s memories. It remembers the enslaved people, including the millions of men, women, and children who died due to the transatlantic slave trade.
The UN resolution that established this day encouraged initiatives to educate younger generations about the causes, repercussions, and implications of the transatlantic slave trade and emphasize the perils of racism and prejudice.
To commemorate the day, activities are held by the UNESCO Member States every year, which youth, educators, artists, and intellectuals from around the world are invited to attend.
Also read: OAS commemorates victims of slave trade
The Slave Route Project
In 1994, UNESCO formally launched the “Routes of Enslaved Peoples: Resistance, Liberty and Heritage” project, commonly known as the Slave Route Project, in Benin.
It originates in the organization’s mission, which holds that a major historical event’s denial or censorship stands in the way of people’s ability to understand one another, reconcile, and work together.
One of the objectives of the intercultural UNESCO project is to create the opportunity to concentrate on the historical origins, the tactics, and the repercussions of slavery.
Additionally, it creates the framework for discussing and studying the relationships between Africa, Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean that led to the transatlantic trade and trafficking of humans.
The effort has significantly contributed to shattering the historical taboo surrounding slavery and bringing this tragedy, which helped create the modern world, to the attention of the world at large.
The project’s main goals now include helping to de-racialize and decolonize the conceptions of the world by highlighting the contributions of individuals of African ancestry to the advancement of humanity as a whole, challenging the disparities left behind from this tragedy, and deconstructing discourses centered on the notion of race that justified these systems of exploitation.