Media Center

Press Release


  March 28, 2007

Commemorating 200 years since the trade in African slaves was abolished by Britain, the Organization of American States (OAS) passed a resolution today urging member states to continue implementing measures to eradicate the effects and consequences of the slave trade and slavery. The OAS Permanent Council resolution also encourages member states to continue negotiations towards a hemispheric treaty against racism and all forms of discrimination and intolerance.

During a special meeting to mark the abolition milestone, the Permanent Council adopted by acclamation the resolution—“Commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade”—which also calls on member states to “prevent, punish and eliminate all contemporary forms slavery.” The ambassadors, observers and others present observed a moment of silence during the meeting, which was chaired by Uruguay’s Permanent Representative, Ambassador María del Luján Flores.

OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza stressed that it was “entirely fitting and indispensable” for the Permanent Council to join the international community, “especially our brothers and sisters in the African diaspora,” to reflect on the anniversary. “We must also pledge to address the practices and policies that may be perpetuating the continued suffering of the descendants of those Africans who survived the horrors of the middle passage and the brutality of the plantation system,” he said. Insulza added that one can only imagine what the African continent would be like today, had so many of its most productive citizens not been sold into slavery—“the most massive violation of human rights in the history of mankind.”

Noting “the sheer brutality with which mothers, fathers, children and entire families were ripped from their homes and communities and transported in the most inhumane conditions to the New World,” Insulza said it is painful to acknowledge that the trans-Atlantic slave trade contributed to the commercial dynamism and economic development of Britain and other countries, “which in turn fueled many of the social and economic advances that we enjoy today.”

“This paradox will continue to haunt us, and so it should. It should continue to serve as a poignant reminder that the means by which we achieve ‘progress’ are just as important as the ends,” Insulza remarked. He drew attention to the implications for the development of Latin America, where Afro-descendants remain poorly represented and integrated into the social, economic and political fabric of many countries. “This is demonstrated by their virtual invisibility in official government literature and statistics and their relegation to the poorest regions and communities in Latin America.”

Speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) delegations, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ambassador Ellsworth John read an address that his Prime Minister and the Chairman of CARICOM, Ralph E. Gonsalves, delivered on March 25. The statement underscores the “overwhelming significance” that the historic moment holds for the Caribbean region, which will engage in year-long commemorative activities as mandated by the CARICOM Heads of Government at their inter-sessional meeting held in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in February.

Prime Minister Gonsalves eulogized the martyrs and leaders of the slave revolts: “We honor the memory of Toussaint L’Overture and Henri Christophe in Haiti, Nanny of the Maroons, Tacky and Paul Bogle in Jamaica; Codjo, Mentor and Present in Suriname. We honor Bussa in Barbados, Cuffy, Accra and Damon in Guyana, neg marrons Jaco and Bala from Dominica, Joseph Chatoyer in St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the host of others throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere who struggled for their freedom and thereby guaranteed the freedom of generations to come, of which we are currently the beneficiaries.”

He pointed to opportunities presented by the bicentenary of the end of the slave trade in the British West Indies to teach the history, lessons and effects of this tragedy, and to ensure that it never occurs again, in old or new forms. “It is an opportunity to bring about reconciliation and healing for ourselves and for all the parties in Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Africa, South America and the Indian Ocean, among others, who share this experience,” he said. Meanwhile, Ambassador John added, “It is an undeniable fact that this was a crime against humanity,” and noted the residual effects of slavery “still affecting our people today.” He also acknowledged the role of Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador, Deborah-Mae Lovell, in coordinating the drafting of the resolution and expressed the CARICOM member states’ appreciation to all OAS delegations for supporting this initiative.

Mexico’s Ambassador Alejandro García Moreno, coordinator of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI) delegations, underscored the legacy of slavery and the slave trade in persistent racism, and reiterated the firm commitment to conclude the Inter-American Convention against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance. He said the ALADI countries are resolved anew to combating xenophobia and its related scourges of intolerance and racism.

Belize Ambassador Lisa Shoman, who spoke on behalf of the Central American Group (GRUCA), reflected on the work of abolitionists and argued that “juridical freedom has not meant, for a lot of our people, the promise which it first seemed to give.” Shoman spoke of new forms of slavery, including human trafficking and forced child labor, and said such “wickedness, oppression and cruelty” must stop or it will “bring down upon us the heaviest judgments of the Almighty.”

Ambassador Graeme Clark of Canada referred to his country’s historical role as a refuge for escaped slaves, and referred to the emphasis by Canada’s Governor General, Michaele Jean, a descendant of Haitian slaves, as a reminder of persistent racism and intolerance. He said the commemoration of the anniversary by the OAS sends a message that the Americas as a region is committed to the ongoing fight to eliminate these scourges.

For his part, U.S. Interim Representative J. Robert Manzanares observed that the Americas is home to the world’s largest population of Afro-descendants outside of Africa and highlighted the significant contributions and achievements of people of African descent in social, economic, educational and political spheres. In a reference to human trafficking, he also used the occasion to renew the call for “a contemporary abolitionist movement to end this sordid trade in human beings.”

In the resolution adopted today, the delegations ask the Committee on Inter-American Summits Management and Civil Society Participation in OAS Activities to promote awareness of the significance of this milestone, particularly among civil society groups that focus on issues affecting people of African descent. Under the resolution, the OAS also proposes to highlight significant contributions by eminent citizens of the Americas to abolishing the slave trade and slavery.

Reference: E-089/07