Ambassador Raymond Wolfe,
Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations
On Agenda Item 108: “Follow-up to the Commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.”
20 October 2008
My delegation wishes to associate itself with the statements made by the representatives of Guyana on behalf of the 14 States Members of the Caribbean Community and of Kenya on behalf of the 54 members of the African Group of countries.
It is an honour and privilege for me to speak on agenda item 108, “Follow-up to the commemoration of the two-hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade”. It is a well known fact that my own region’s history is deeply rooted in the legacy of slavery, having been colonized first by the Spanish in the 1500s. Thereafter, most Caribbean countries remained under British colonial rule for more than 300 years. During the colonial period, our region’s ports witnessed the arrival of numerous vessels transporting hundreds of thousands of Africans across the Atlantic to fortify the labour-intensive market created by the then-ruling British plantocracy.
It took the international community almost 200 years to acknowledge slavery and the slave trade as crimes against humanity. We have been asked why we bother to rehash an event that happened so long ago. But for us, the people of the Caribbean and of Africa, 200 years is really not very long ago. As descendants of those who lived and died during those 500 years, it remains our solemn obligation to ensure that their memories are honoured and that their suffering is never forgotten.
It should also be recalled that among the most pernicious legacies of slavery and the slave trade is the existence of apartheid and racism, which remained entrenched in southern Africa until towards the end of the twentieth century. Those scourges were uprooted only thanks to the indomitable spirit and struggle of the peoples of the entire African continent to break free from the dehumanization and hardship which they faced.
Consequently, it is with a sense of duty and deep humility that we seek to honour the memories of our ancestors who were brought to the Caribbean region as a result of the transatlantic slave trade. We firmly believe that the permanent memorial that was mentioned by the Chair of the Caribbean Community and endorsed by the General Assembly last year should be viewed as a tangible source of hope and a means of remembrance of the struggles to break free of the hardships faced under colonial rule.
I take this opportunity to express appreciation to the members of the committee that was established to oversee the permanent memorial project and for electing Jamaica as Chair and temporary custodian of the voluntary fund. We thank the committee for the confidence it has bestowed on us and we will strive to fulfil the objective of executing the project in the most effective and efficient manner. I make this point to
highlight the fact that, with the adoption of the draft resolution before us today, we seek to broaden the latter responsibility so that the committee will oversee the fund while it seeks to explore with the Secretariat methods of ensuring enhanced transparency and accountability for its operation in a manner that would be acceptable to all Member States.
With members’ indulgence, I also wish to express sincere appreciation for the kind generosity of the Governments of those countries that have already made donations to the Permanent Memorial Fund. We are thankful for the show of solidarity in acknowledging the legacy of this dark period of history. In that regard, I wish to publicly thank the following countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Haiti, Luxembourg, Mozambique, Namibia, Portugal, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname,
Syria, Turkey and, of course, my own country, Jamaica. We envisage that other countries will follow in their footsteps in making contributions to the Permanent Fund.
In closing, I would also like to make special mention of those countries from which we have so far received pledges: Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and, of course, the United Kingdom.
Finally, I took forward to collaborating with the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General, the Department of Public Information and other Member States in the preparatory activities to mark the annual commemorative event on 25 March in honour of the anniversary of the abolition of slavery and the slave trade.
I thank you.