afrol News, 12 January - The Director-General of the UN cultural agency (UNESCO), making an official three-day visit to Ghana, has launched this year's worldwide observance of the struggle against slavery in a West African country that lost many people to the forced Transatlantic migration of enslaved Africans. Ghanaian President John Kufuor joined in at the ceremony.
2004 is the 'International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition', an event that has been marked in Ghana. The Anti-Slavery year was kicked off at one of the dozens of slavery-related monuments on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the fortification called Cape Coast Castle.
UNESCO leader Koichiro Matsuura labelled the slave trade and slavery "one of the darkest chapters in the history of the world" at the commemorative ceremony, where he was joined by President Kufuor of Ghana.
The traditional commemorative ceremony was presided by the area's Gua Traditional Council, Osabarima Nana Kwesi Atta II. The culture ministers of Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo were also on the programme, along with nearly two dozen African traditional leaders.
UNESCO said the year, "devoted to an unprecedented tragedy that was recognised as a 'crime against humanity' at the 2001 Durban World Conference against Racism ... should help humanity accomplish its duty of remembrance and fight all forms of slavery and racism in the world."
According to a proclamation by the UN General Assembly, the commemorative year also marks the 200th anniversary of the successful uprising of enslaved Africans in Haiti, establishing the world's first black-ruled republic in 1804.
The African military success in Haiti was one of the factors that led to the abolition of the slave trade, though domestic commerce in African descendants as property continued in the Americas for several decades to come.
Also South African President Thabo Mbeki had joined the anniversary celebrations in Haiti at the turn of the year. There, he celebrated the Haitian Revolution "because it dealt a deadly blow to the slave traders who had scoured the coasts of West and East Africa for slaves and ruined the lives of millions of Africans," as President Mbeki said in Port-Au-Prince on 1 January.
Meanwhile, UNESCO coordinates the work to improve world knowledge of slavery and the slave trade. A map produced for the UNESCO project on "The Slave Route," launched in 1994, looks at the capture of millions of Africans by Arabs and Europeans and their transportation in all directions, as well as the movement of enslaved people, black and white, around the Mediterranean.
UNESCO says its membership has paid particular attention to the Transatlantic trade because of the many millions of people abducted - some experts say up to 20 million - and the worldwide cultural changes that resulted.
Aside from looking at the past, it adds, spotlighting slavery aims to raise an alarm about all forms of contemporary racism, discrimination and intolerance, bring about a greater awareness of the need to respect human beings, promote a culture of peace and prevent new forms of slavery.
Indeed, the problem of slavery has not disappeared. The UN's Economic and Social Council maintains a Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. In a statement last month, it said: "Slavery and slavery-like practices continue to be among the greatest human rights challenges facing the international community. Our vision to create a world free from the scandal of slavery and slavery-like practices remains unrealised."
- Millions of children, women and men continue to languish in conditions of servitude, it added. "Regrettably, too many remain unaware that the problem of serfdom still exists," the UN committee concluded.
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