United Nations, New York, 25 March 2013 – Today is the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and Transatlantic Slave Trade. It is an annual observance that serves as an opportunity to honour and remember those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slavery system, and to raise awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice today.

For over 400 years, more than 15 million men, women and children were the victims of the tragic transatlantic slave trade, one of the darkest chapters in human history. It was the largest forced migration in history, and undeniably one of the most inhumane.

As a direct result of the transatlantic slave trade, the greatest movement of Africans was to the Americas — with 96 per cent of the captives from the African coasts arriving on cramped slave ships at ports in South America and the Caribbean Islands.

From 1501 to 1830, four Africans crossed the Atlantic for every one European, making the demographics of the Americas in that era more of an extension of the African diaspora than a European one. The legacy of this migration is still evident today, with large populations of people of African descent living throughout the Americas.

Forever free: Celebrating Emancipation

The theme for this year’s observance, “Forever Free: Celebrating Emancipation”, pays tribute to all those who worked tirelessly to overturn the acceptance of the slave trade and institution of slavery as legitimate and moral. By the early nineteenth century it was becoming clear to the international community that the trade of enslaved people was no longer tolerable.

“On the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, we tell the world to never forget this global crime against humanity.

We must never forget the torture, rape and killing of innocent men, women and children, the families that were separated, the lives that were uprooted, and the horrific conditions on slave ships, plantations and at slave markets. These degradations cannot be buried by time; they must be examined, understood and addressed.

As we reflect on the contemporary consequences of this tragedy, let us remember the bravery of those who risked everything for freedom and those who helped them on that perilous path. Their courage should inspire us as we struggle against contemporary forms of slavery, racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance.

This year, along with sombre reflection, we have special reason to celebrate. We mark 150 years since Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing millions of African-Americans from enslavement.

This year also marks other milestones. In 1833, slavery ended in Canada, the British West Indies and the Cape of Good Hope. Some 170 years ago, the Indian Slavery Act of 1843 was signed. Slavery was abolished 165 years ago in France; 160 years ago in Argentina; 150 years ago in the former Dutch colonies; and 125 years ago in Brazil.

On this Day, let us pledge to honour and restore the dignity of affected people and to intensify efforts to eliminate the remnants of slavery that persist in our world”, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated in his message for the day.

More information from: http://www.un.org/en/events/slaveryremembranceday/index.shtml