Media Center



March 29, 2017 - Washington D.C.

Remember Slavery: “Recognizing the Legacy and Contributions of People of African Descent in the Americas”

Thank you, Chairman
Distinguished Representatives, Alternate Representatives and Permanent Observers;
Invited Guests;
Colleagues from the General Secretariat;
Ladies and gentlemen

It is my honour to close today’s first ever Special Meeting of the Permanent Council to Commemorate the International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade held under the theme, “Remember Slavery: Recognizing the Legacy and Contributions of People of African Descent in the Americas.” This is an auspicious moment for our Organization; one part of a journey that started at the General Assembly in June 2016 with the adoption of the Plan of Action for the Decade for Persons of African Descent. On this occasion, after dedicated leadership and the tireless work of the Permanent Representative of Colombia, Ambassador Andres Gonzalez, Chairman of the Working Group to Prepare the Plan of Action, and the firm dedication of all delegations, our Organization made a commitment to recognize, promote, protect, and observe the rights of persons of African descent in the Americas through supporting programs and policies to this end.

Some may argue that given its financial challenges, our Organization should seek to reduce mandates rather than increase them. However, when it is estimated that over 150 million people in the Americas identify themselves as Afro-descendants, but a large proportion of this population continue to face social injustices, economic insolvency, political exclusion, and marginalization, I dare say that we, as citizens of this hemisphere, do have a role to play in breaking the cycle and engendering change.

Indeed, our Organization has done work to shed light on the issues affecting persons of African descent by passing numerous Resolutions throughout the years on recognizing and promoting the rights of persons of African Descent in the Americas, through the efforts of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons of African Descent and Against Racial Discrimination; and of course, through the work of the Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity. Perhaps our most notable contribution to this topic was the adoption in 2013, of the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Related Intolerance and the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, the culmination of a seven-year long process.

Today’s Special Meeting of the Permanent Council is testimony of our appreciation of this topic. It responds directly to Goal 1 of the Plan of Action, which states that this Organization must “commemorate every year on March 25, the International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade by focusing on eminent persons of African descent who made significant contributions to the abolition of the slave trade, slavery and in favor of civil rights in the Americas.”

Our guest speakers and the interventions by Member States have highlighted just some of the freedom fighters and luminaries – from Toussaint L’Ouveture, Harriet Tubman, , to Martin Luther King Jr., Marcus Garvey, Pedro Camejo, and Vicente Guerrero – whose role in shaping our hemisphere cannot be overstated. Moreover, despite the undeniable hardships persons of African descent have faced in our hemisphere and around the world, without a doubt they—we- have made significant contributions to the social, economic, political, and cultural spheres of our societies. While we will continue to remember slavery and its lasting impact, we must also celebrate and recognize the accomplishments of our brothers and sisters, the icons and transformational leaders, whose accomplishments will forever be etched in the annals of our hemisphere’s history.

The OAS Secretariat, led by the Office of the Assistant Secretary General, has sought to fill this gaping hole within our Organization by organizing events that honor Black history and the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent. Today’s meeting is part of a series of activities which have been held this year. On February 23rd we held the second consecutive event to commemorate Black history month under the theme, Afro-Inspired Culture in the Americas. This was complimented by a week-long art exhibit depicting afro life and culture. At the beginning of this month, ASG Nestor Mendez led a private guided tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in which he was joined by representatives from Permanent Missions and Observer Missions, as well as senior staff of the General Secretariat.

Additionally, , in responding to a request by Member States to highlight on the OAS website noteworthy accomplishments and significant contributions of outstanding Afro-descendants in the Americas, the Office of the Assistant Secretary General in collaboration with the OAS Press and Communications Department invited Member States to submit profiles of personalities of historical renown who have excelled in their national or hemispheric contribution to Arts & Culture, Sports, Politics, Human Rights, Science, or who through their courage or their labour have made a significant contribution to the elevation of their nation, their compatriots, or their region. We received several profiles which can now be viewed on the OAS website and we encourage Member States to take advantage of this space which is being provided.

The feedback and support from Member States, Observer States and civil society organizations for all these initiatives throughout the months of February and March have been inspiring and encouraging.

On behalf of Assistant Secretary General Mendez, I wish to thank all of the Permanent Missions that co-sponsored and all delegations and Permanent Observer Mission for their participation and attendance at these events.
Thanks also to the Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity led by Secretary Ideli Salvatti and members of her staff who have collaborated with us.

Today’s Special Meeting of the Permanent Council has definitely been enriched by the contributions of our guest speakers and I wish to thank you all for your contributions here today. You converted this Permanent Council meeting to a veritable Learning Center with your enlightening discourse. Let me also offer special thanks to the Permanent Mission of Trinidad and Tobago for their suggestion to produce these commemorative kente ribbons which we are wearing, and for their role in making them.

In closing, I wish to reaffirm this Organization’s resolute commitment to continue to promote and recognize the contributions of persons of African descent in the hemisphere and work towards uplifting the lives of those who find themselves thrust in the bowels of racial discrimination and social apathy. While we cannot always correct the wrongs of the past, we must work together to create a better future for all.

In the words of recently departed Nobel Laureate, Sir Derek Walcott of St. Lucia: “Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole.”

Let us help to pick up the broken pieces and shape a truly inclusive and free Americas.

Thank you.