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International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade


Transatlantic slave trade

The transatlantic slave trade was the largest forced migration in history, and undeniably one of the most inhumane. The extensive exodus of Africans spread to many areas of the world over a 400-year period and was unprecedented in the annals of recorded human history.

As a direct result of the transatlantic slave trade, the greatest movement of Africans was to the Americas — with 96 per cent of the captives from the African coasts arriving on cramped slave ships at ports in South America and the Caribbean Islands.

From 1501 to 1830, four Africans crossed the Atlantic for every one European, making the demographics of the Americas in that era more of an extension of the African diaspora than a European one.  The legacy of this migration is still evident today, with large populations of people of African descent living throughout the Americas.

Forever Free: Celebrating Emancipation

Emancipation ProclamationThe Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham
Lincoln on 1 January 1863, which declared that; all persons
held as slaves within any States, or designated part of the
State, the people whereof shall be in rebellion against the
United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.

This year’s theme, “Forever Free: Celebrating Emancipation”, pays tribute to all those who worked tirelessly to overturn the acceptance of the slave trade and institution of slavery as legitimate and moral. By the early nineteenth century it was becoming clear to the international community that the trade of enslaved people was no longer tolerable. The initial momentum to overturn the formerly accepted view began with the early Anglo-American abolitionist movement. Individuals and organizations corresponded, advocated and published books, pamphlets and newspapers as part of an effort to raise awareness of the cause. This was the beginning of one of the largest humanitarian movements ever seen. A key role in this early movement was played by a number of black abolitionists, including the British group the Sons of Africa, whose members included Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa) and Ottobah Cugoano.

The abolitionist movement gathered pace, with groups such as the Quakers working to effect change from the ground up. Several states in the United States beginning with Vermont in 1777 passed anti-slave trade and anti-slavery laws long before federal legislation. A global effort was also building with many nations becoming signatories to international treaties on the issue. By 1807 Great Britain and America legally abolished the transatlantic slave trade. These actions however did not mean the end of slavery. Decades later, the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 ended slavery in Canada, the British West Indies and the Cape of Good Hope, while the Indian Slavery Act was signed in 1843. Slavery was abolished in 1848 in France, in 1853 in Argentina, in 1863 in the Dutch colonies and the United States, and in 1888 in Brazil.

Commemorating the memory of the victims

In commemoration of the memory of the victims, the General Assembly, in its resolution 62/122 of 17 December 2007, declared 25 March the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to be observed annually.

The resolution also called for the establishment of an outreach programme to mobilize educational institutions, civil society and other organizations to inculcate in future generations the “causes, consequences and lessons of the transatlantic slave trade, and to communicate the dangers of racism and prejudice.”

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