By Loïc Dorthe / GICJ 

During the 16th to the 19th century, between 15 and 18 million Africans were enslaved and shipped to the Americas as part of the Triangular Trade [1]. “International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition” is held annually on the 23rd of August. It is dedicated to honouring the abolition of the slave trade and remembering the legacy of its victims. Adopted by Resolution 29 C/40 at the 29th session of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), this international day commemorates the suffering of enslaved children, women, and men. Lastly it aims to ensure that such practices will never again be tolerated [2].

The slave trade between Africa and the Americas peaked in the second half of the 18th century, during the intersection of colonial policy and improved transport technology. Kidnaped from their homes, slaves were crammed in hundreds in the ships’ holds for the Atlantic Ocean crossing. During the journey, they suffered from various illnesses due to the hideous conditions; approximately 12-13% did not survive the crossing [3]. Once in the Americas, they were sold and forced to work in the various plantations of sugar, rice, indigo, coffee, and tobacco. Deprived of their freedom, rights and dignity, they were sold as objects to slave owners who overexploit them as well as subject them to abuses such as torture and rape with the blessing of the law.

Deprived of their freedom and faced with such injustices, resistance against the triangular trade emerged at every stage of its process, from the captures in Africa to the labour field of the Americas. However, on the eve of 23rdAugust 1791, enslaved people of Santo Domingo revolted against their oppression and succeeded in freeing themselves, which triggered the beginning of a decade-long large-scale combat against the slavery system. Hence, to commemorate their success, this day was chosen as the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition [4]. 

More than a century after the successful slave revolts in Santo Domingo, the “Slavery Convention” which was adopted by the League of Nations, and enter into force on 9th March 1927, is the first multilateral agreement to confirm and advance the suppression of slavery and the slave trade. The Convention establishes the definition of slavery and recognises the commitment of Member States to eradicate the slave trade, slavery, and analogous forms of forced labour [5]. This first Convention against slavery was amended by the United Nations in 1956 with the adoption of the “Supplementary Convention of the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery”. Considering the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this Convention not only reaffirms the commitment to eradicated slavery, but also includes broader forms of forced labour such as debt bondage, serfdom, servile marriage, child marriage and child servitude [6]. Yet, modern slavery still persists, and the world continues to be plagued by the aftereffects of this heinous atrocity. Racial discrimination can be recognised as a product this subjugation and a leeway into contemporary slavery.

The 2022 theme is twofold. On the one hand, it is about remembering all freedom fighters who rebelled against enslavement. On the other hand, it is about promoting unity against racism, as people of African descent and other minority communities continue to face systemic discrimination [7]. The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), adopted at the 2001 World Conference against Racism (WCAR), sets out guidelines and urges states to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance. More than two decades later, however, racial discrimination is still not eradicated, and progress is still slow. UN Secretary-General António Guterres states, “Outside of Africa, people of African descent are often among the last in line for health care, education, justice and opportunities of all kinds” [8]. Racism must be condoned particularly in state institutions. The murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis (USA) in 2020 should be a reminder that the long-term effect of slavery prevails.

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) urges all stakeholders, international organisations, governments, and private actors to promote the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. We commemorate the struggle of enslaved women and men who fought for their freedom and recognise the atrocities of this practice. GICJ strongly and fully condemns all forms of slavery and human trafficking and is concerned of the unfortunate modern-day slavery, which is a serious crime against humanity. We call for raising awareness on the continued prevalence of contemporary slavery and racial discrimination in the 21st century. We emphasise on educating the future generations by including the slave trade in academic curriculums. GICJ recognises the importance of the DDPA and urges States to implement the Convention to eliminate racial discrimination. Lastly, we call on everyone to report and denounce all forms of racial discrimination, to shape a racially inclusive society.

International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, Slave, Slave Trade, Abolition, Racism, Discrimination, Systemic Discrimination, Durban Declaration and Program of Action, DDPA, Geneva, geneva4justice, Geneva International Centre for Justice









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Day of Remembrance Articles by GICJ:

International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition

International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism World Humanitarian Day International Youth Day

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