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

25 March, 2015

human rights, slavery, violence against women, women,

Today marks the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, a United Nations sponsored awareness day that offers the opportunity to honour those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slave trade. The International Day also aims at raising awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice today.

On 17 December 2007, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 25 March as the International Day of Remembrance of Victims of Slavery and Transatlantic Slave Trade. In addition, the establishment of a permanent memorial in the grounds of the UN New York Office was planned to honour the victims of slavery. This year, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the thirteenth amendment to the United States Constitution which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, the Permanent Memorial, designed by Haitian-American architect Rodney Leon, will be unveiled and open to the public as a reminder of the heroic actions of the slaves, abolitionists and unsung heroes who acted in the face of grave danger and adversity. It will serve as an educational tool to raise awareness and encourage communication of the current dangers of racism, prejudice, intolerance, and the lingering consequences of history that continue to impact people today.

The transatlantic slave trade was the largest, and arguably most inhumane, forced migration in human history. For over 400 years, over 15 million men, women and children fell victim to the tragic slavery system and were forcefully removed from their home countries and freedom. This year’s theme is focused on ‘women and slavery’, and “pays tribute to the many enslaved women who endured unbearable hardships, including sexual exploitation, as well as those who fought for freedom from slavery and advocated for its abolition”. Approximately one third of those who were deported from Africa through the Transatlantic Slave Trade were women who, in addition to the harsh conditions of forced labour, endured extreme forms of discrimination and exploitation as a result of their gender.

In the hope of gaining freedom for themselves and their children, some women became the concubines of their masters or married a free man; others became spiritual leaders or participated in the revolts and legal battles. Enslaved women were muted by the slavery system that intended to make all slaves anonymous, voiceless and cultureless. Their fight for freedom from slavery influenced the fight for women’s rights that started in the 19th century and continues today.

Today, a more covert form of institutionalised slavery continues to affect millions of individuals around the world. The inhumane activity involves coercion, exploitation, and involuntary detention, as victims are transported, harboured, and sold for the purposes of labour, sexuality and organs. Conditions in the current era of globalization, such as increasing flows of labour and commodities across international, and transnational organized criminal networks, are causing human trafficking to flourish on a global scale.

Wilton Park has held numerous events addressing protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, highlighting the need to increase awareness and improve understanding of racial and gender-based discrimination. Past events have focused on tackling human trafficking and organised crime, preventing sexual violence in conflict, and facing the challenges of global migration, part of a series of Wilton Park meetings on migration. Our work on gender equality and improving the situation for women includes events on increasing employment opportunities, as well as celebrating women-led businesses and women’s participation in peacebuilding.

We continue to pursue the international effort to promote human rights and fight racial and gender-based discrimination, and are currently exploring the possibility of convening a roundtable event to identify next steps in the international efforts against violence against women and girls.

Related events

Combatting human trafficking: business and human rights

Tackling organised crime: assessing the impact of the economic crisis

Global Migration: facing the challenges (part of a series of Wilton Park conferences on migration).

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