Thank you very much, Mr. President. Today, we remember the horrors of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. We remember the millions of Africans torn from their families; the countless people who suffered and died from disease, starvation, and the most inhumane treatment imaginable as they were put on ships and sold into bondage.
In his autobiographical narrative of an American slave, Frederick Douglass recalled the six months of his life when he was “made to drink the bitterest dregs of slavery.” Douglass said, “I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me.”
Douglass’ words remind us why the slave trade will remain an indelible stain on our past.
It should always disturb us to our cores that mankind was capable of inflicting such brutality on others – that people would for so long deny the universal human attributes that all of us share. That is why this event is so important, why we honor the victims here every year.
The Permanent Memorial in Honor of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which the United States helped fund, will help present and future generations recall this crucial lesson on the consequences of racism and bigotry.
Just as we recall the suffering of the past, we also rightly celebrate the heroism and selflessness of the many figures who fought for abolition, freedom, and equality. Their altruism and relentless demands for respect of universal human rights changed the course of history.
People like Douglass, who became one of the most forceful advocates for abolition after escaping from slavery. Or people like Harriet Tubman, or Sojourner Truth. Their efforts should inspire us to act in defense of the dignity and worth of all people – a central principle of the United Nations Charter.
So this event serves another important purpose.
We must commit to justice in the present by doing more to confront modern slavery – the horrific practices of human trafficking, including sex trafficking and forced labor.
The United States is determined to do more to help this fight, including through our “Program to End Modern Slavery” – a new $25 million dollar initiative to fund transformational projects designed to reduce the prevalence of modern slavery in targeted populations and to leverage additional contributions from partners in the private sector and other governments.
We urge others here to join this effort.
The United States hopes that once today’s event ends, all of us will leave with a renewed commitment: that no one, in any corner of the world, should live in fear of the horrors of trafficking and slavery.
Thank you, Mr. President.