While slavery has been abolished by international treaties, it is still practised in new forms that today affect millions of men, women and children in the world, the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural and Organization (UNESCO) said today in a message to mark the International Day for the Remembrance of Slavery and Its Abolition.
"The Day gives us the opportunity to reflect together on the historical causes, processes and consequences of the unprecedented tragedy that was slavery and the slave trade, a tragedy that was concealed for many years and is yet to be fully recognized," Koïchiro Matsuura said at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
"It not only disrupted the lives of millions of human beings uprooted from their land and deported in the most inhuman conditions, but it brought about cultural exchanges which deeply and lastingly influenced morals and beliefs, social relations and knowledge on several continents," he added.
UNESCO and the UN General Assembly designated the Day to commemorate the 1791 slave revolt in San Domingo, which was the first known victory of slaves over slaveholders, as well as Haiti's independence in January 1804.
In an interview with UN Radio, UNESCO Assistant Director-General Noureini Tidgani-Serpos called for a widespread education campaign against the scourge. "All schools in all Member States have to use the opportunity of this day to explain ? slavery and the human trade," he said. "They have to talk about tolerance, cultural diversity. That's the key aim of the remembrance."
Paying tribute to the contribution of enslaved Africans in the development of the new world, he said this legacy must not be forgotten. "We don't want silence to kill them for the second time," the professor said.
UNESCO's schedule included Mr. Matsuura's closing of an exhibition of wall-hangings from Benin, lent by the town of Schoelcher on the Caribbean island of Martinique. France had sent resistance leader King Behanzin of what was then the Kingdom of Abomey in today's Benin into exile in Martinique after capturing him in battle in 1894.
Martinican poet Solal Valentin was reading from his work, and the Haitian-inspired, multi-ethnic band Adjabel was to perform. The classic film Sankofa, with actors from North America and the Caribbean directed by Ethiopian film-maker Haile Gerima, was being screened and France's Caribbean and Guyanese association, Comité Marche du 23 mai 1998, was hosting a discussion of the Haitian Revolution.