UN Commemoration of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Sends ‘Message of Human Dignity’

slave2NEW YORK — The United Nations took one more step on Friday toward constructing a permanent commemoration to the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade in what the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said would be “a message of hope, of tolerance, of human dignity.”

At a high-level ceremony on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly, the representatives of six nations – The Netherlands, New Zealand, Qatar, Senegal, Jamaica and Spain – marked the financing of The Ark of Return, the new memorial that is expected to be unveiled on the grounds of the U.N.’s headquarters in New York in the beginning of 2015.

Speaking at the event, UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova, highlighted the memorial’s role as “a powerful symbol” and said UNESCO was “deeply honored” to have been associated with the coordination of the process by which the memorial was selected.

The Ark of Return is the design of Rodney Leon, also the architect and designer of the African Burial Ground National Monument in Manhattan. It was selected as the winner of an international UNESCO-led competition in August 2013.

Maher Nasser, acting undersecretary-general of the U.N. Department of Public Information – the body that manages the U.N.’s Remember Slavery commemorative program – was equally humbled by the role the memorial would play in ensuring that the legacy of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade not be forgotten.

“The memorial will be an important addition to U.N. headquarters complex when it is built,” he told those gathered, “and it will send a powerful message on the need to remain vigilant about the dangers of racism and racial discrimination today.”

In his remarks, Ambassador Tete Antonio, the representative of the African Union to the U.N., similarly described the inauguration of the memorial as “a momentous time in the history of the United Nations.”

“The overwhelming support of member states is evident today in the generous contributions that continue to flow into the trust fund for the construction of The Ark of Return,” Antonio noted.


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