Commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

The adoption of the Resolution by the 61 st General Assembly of the United Nations, which was co-sponsored by CARICOM Member States and which designated 25 March as the International Day to mark the Abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, set in motion a series of international events to mark this historic moment. The Nineteenth Meeting of the Community Council of Ministers held in Georgetown, 19 January 2007 and the Eighteenth Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government, held in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 12-14 February 2007, mandated the commemoration of the 200 th Anniversary of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade with year-long national and regional activities within the Community, and in particular the observance of a synchronized Minute of Silence on March 25, 2007.

The majority of the Member States and Associate Members developed national calendars of commemorative events, which included public lectures, church services, exhibitions, public education, panel discussions, cultural rallies, concerts, and ritual ceremonies of commemoration.

Activities held on or during the week beginning March 25, 2007

The CARICOM Secretariat coordinated the synchronized Minute of Silence on March 25, across the Region, to mark the anniversary of the passage of the Bill by the British Parliament in 1807, that abolished the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Approximately 13 Member States observed the Minute of Silence on March 25, at 12 noon Eastern Caribbean Time, or at planned commemorative events during the day.

The observance was in honour of those who died in the Middle Passage and in resistance to slavery. The Chairman of Conference, Dr. the Hon. Ralph Gonsalves recorded a statement that was aired or played throughout the Region on March 25. Dr. the Hon. Owen Arthur, Prime Minister of Barbados, delivered the Wilberforce Lecture at Holy Trinity Church, Hull, United Kingdom, on March 25, 2007, at which he called for the establishment of the William Wilberforce Educational Fund to support scholarships for Caribbean students to study at universities in the UK; to finance visiting British lectureships at the campuses of the University of the West Indies in areas to be agreed on; to finance student and teacher exchanges between African universities and the University of the West Indies; and to fund the establishment of a joint British-Caribbean Centre for Multi-racial Studies and Policy Development at the University of the West Indies.

A special session of the United Nations General Assembly was convened on March 26, 2007 where Dr. the Hon Denzil Douglas, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis and Professor Rex Nettleford, delivered addresses on behalf of the Community. Prime Minister Douglas called for the establishment of a permanent memorial, in honour of those who perished under slavery, to be prominently placed in the halls of the United Nations.

To this end, a CARICOM Fund was established, to which the Government of Qatar made a donation of US$10,000.00. An exhibition titled “Lest we Forget” was opened on 1 March at the United Nations.

In Washington DC, an Ecumenical Service was held on March 25th , at which the Rev. Jesse Jackson was guest speaker, and a Special Session of the Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States was convened on Wednesday 28 th March at which a resolution on the commemoration of the 200 th Anniversary of Abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was tabled. An essay competition for university students in the diaspora, was to be launched later in the year.

Apology and Reparations

There were numerous calls by stakeholders in the Region and the diaspora, during the commemorative events, for the issue of Reparations to be addressed. Strong statements in relation to this issue were made by Heads of Government and other leaders in the Community as follows:

  • The Rt. Hon Owen Arthur called for the establishment of the William Wilberforce Educational Fund in the Wilberforce Lecture which he delivered at the Holy Trinity Church, Hull, on March 25, 2007.
  • The Rt. Hon Bharrat Jagdeo, President of Guyana called for reparations during his address at the national commemorative event at the Cultural Centre, Georgetown Guyana, on March 26, 2007.
  • The Rt. Hon. Denzil Douglas, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis called for an apology and reparations during his address to the Special Session of the United Nations on March 25, 2007.
  • The Rt. Hon. Ralph Gonsalves called for reparations during his address to the UN General Assembly in September 2006.
  • Secretary General H.E. Edwin Carrington called for an apology and the provision of effective remedies for those against whom these crimes were perpetuated, in his address at the national commemorative event in Georgetown, Guyana on March 26, 2007.

Additionally, article written by Mr. Colin Moore, Guyanese Attorney-at- Law resident in New York, which was published in the Caribbean American Weekly, called for action by the Caribbean Community on the issue of Reparations. Mr. Moore recommended that the Community sponsor a resolution calling upon the United Nations to establish an international commission to investigate the social, political, economic and psychological consequences of slavery on people of African descent and subsequently to request that the nations involved pay Reparations.

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