58th Plenary Meeting - General Assembly 75th Session

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25-Mar-2021 01:57:09
Delegates stress need for reckoning with slavery’s role in perpetuating bias, inequality, as General Assembly marks International Day to Remember Victims.

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Delegates urged a reckoning today with how the past injustices of the transatlantic slave trade perpetuate present racial discrimination and inequality around the world, as the General Assembly held a meeting to commemorate the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The Assembly also adopted three draft resolutions and a draft decision concerning, respectively, Global Media and Information Literacy Week, the Disarmament Commission, cooperation between the United Nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and cooperation between the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In opening remarks, Assembly President Volkan Bozkir (Turkey) emphasized that the transatlantic slave trade established the inequality that exists around the world. Such trauma of violence replacing autonomy is hereditary, and many must now navigate a world built by, but not for, their ancestors, he said. “Global injustice did not just end neatly after 400 years,” he added, pointing out that more than 40 million people are estimated to live in modern slavery and calling for continued efforts to end all forms of discrimination and slavery.

Secretary-General António Guterres described racism as both a cause and a legacy of slavery, visible today in persistent racial injustice and inequality, saying that whereas the transatlantic slave trade ended more than two centuries ago, the ideas that propelled it still live as white supremacists in Europe, the United States and elsewhere organize and recruit across borders. “The irrefutable fact is that we are all equally part of one race,” he declared, warning that the world forgets that fact at its own peril.

Keynote speaker Lisa Coleman, Senior Vice-President for Global Inclusion, Diversity and Strategic Innovation and Chief Diversity Officer of New York University, explained that the construct of race was legitimized by science to justify unfree labour systems benefitting white powerholders. Although race is neither a biologically nor genetically valid way to understand humankind, the effects of racism are no less real in the lives of those impacted, she noted, stressing that understanding history and systemic inequality is foundational to global transformation.

Guyana’s representative, speaking for the Group of African States and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), also linked slavery’s legacy to entrenched racism today, pointing out that the COVID-19 pandemic revealed deep disparities in care and outcomes for persons of African descent and other minorities impacted by the coronavirus. The issue of reparations is “pivotal to restorative justice” and to creating equity for those whose “limbs and lives were used” to build societies and economies.

Cuba’s representative agreed, underlining the moral duty of developed countries to pay reparations because they and their consumer societies have benefitted from slavery. He further called for full compensation for those affected by that ongoing crime, observing that the inhuman exploitation imposed on the peoples of three continents forever marked the destiny of more than 4.5 billion people living in the “Third World” today.

The Russian Federation’s representative, said European colonial Powers and American landowners inflicted irrevocable damage on Africa, forever separating many of the continent’s people from their native soil and profiting from their misery. He went on to express his country’s pride in having fought for the independence of African States in the twentieth century and having worked towards dismantling the injustice of global colonial systems. The world must “call a spade a spade”: the transatlantic slave trade is one of the greatest crimes against humanity for which atonement has not been made.

China’s delegate stressed the link between the slave trade and discrimination, prejudice and hatred faced by people of African descent today, while expressing hope that the United States will address its issues with racism and police brutality while protecting the rights of its racial minorities. They continue to suffer in that country, he said, noting the 3,795 attacks against people of Asian descent since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the most recent shootings in Atlanta claiming the lives of another six.

The representative of the United States said his country is still working to disentangle itself from “slavery’s wicked web”, noting that black Americans are too often funnelled into overcrowded schools, receive poorer treatment in hospitals and are denied jobs, housing and capital. Slavery’s legacy also persists in policing and the criminal justice system, as evidenced by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others. “Black lives matter,” he emphasized, outlining Government efforts to promote racial justice and equity, while calling upon the international community to remember the victims of slavery, end racism and root out oppression wherever it remains.

Other delegates speaking today were the representatives of Kazakhstan (for the Group of Asia-Pacific States), Bolivia (for the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States), New Zealand (for the Group of Western European and Other States), Ukraine, Australia, Tajikistan and Slovakia.

Also delivering a statement was the representative of the European Union delegation.

The General Assembly will reconvene at a time and date to be announced.

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