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AfCAR’s Statement on the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

 “Ending Slavery’s Legacy of Racism: A Global Imperative for Justice.

Sixty eight countries from CARICOM and African member-states of the United Nations made history in the United Nations yesterday, March 25, when they joined together, to make a statement in the General Assembly debate “to commemorate the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which was held under the theme, “Ending Slavery’s Legacy of Racism: A Global Imperative for Justice.

The Group, which will now be known in the UN system as AfCAR was established to “to ensure a structured and coordinated approach and cooperation on issues of common interest on the agenda of the United Nations at Headquarters in New York and thus facilitate the desire of African and CARICOM Heads of State and Government and the aspirations of the peoples of the two interconnected regions.”

The Caucuses of the two regional groupings decided that the Group would be called the African Group-CARICOM Caucus (AfCAR) Collaboration Initiative at the United Nations Headquarters in New York”  and that its work would be “broadly anchored on reinforcing the historical bonds between African and CARICOM states, based on common aspirations and the three principles of solidarity, partnership and multilateralism for the common benefit of the two regions.”

AfCAR is led by two Co-Chairs, the ambassadors of Botswana, His Excellency Collen Vixen Kelapile and Grenada, Her Excellency, Keisha McGuire, and steering committees from each of the two regions. These regional steering committees comprise, from the African Group, the ambassadors of Algeria, Botswana, Cameroon, Eritrea, Kenya, Morocco, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone, and from the CARICOM Caucus, the ambassadors of Barbados, Her Excellency Liz Thompson, as well as the ambassadors of Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

Ambassador Thompson initiated the idea and negotiations for the state visit of President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya to Barbados in August 2019. Kenya will now host a CARICOM office in Nairobi and strengthened business and cultural links between Africa and the Caribbean are being explored.

Ambassador Thompson expressed “tremendous gratification. It follows what was concretised by President Kenyatta’s visit and subsequent discussions. “I was one of the co-authors of the statement that AfCAR delivered and it was deeply moving to see this joint initiative on which we had worked and which was interrupted by COVID-19, get off the ground. AfCAR has the potential to be a powerful mechanism for the enhancement of cooperation within the UN system, between and on behalf on CARICOM and Africa. It was even more meaningful for me to see this happen prior to my appointment as Ambassador to the UN coming to an end on March 31. His Excellency Alex McDonald was recently appointed as Barbados’ first High Commissioner to Kenya and I am confident will take the relationship forward.”

The debate was marked by powerful anti-racism statements from the Secretary General, His Excellency Antonio Guterres, regional groupings and member-states. Her Excellency Carolyn Birkett, Ambassador of Guyana is the current Chair of the CARICOM Caucus and delivered the statement on behalf of AfCAR. Ambassador Birkett noted that “the horror of slavery separated 12 million Africans from the motherland and created a diaspora in the Caribbean”. “Separated from our families, now we are standing here reunited with one voice…. Irrespective of the country in which they reside, the children of Africa deserve to live, and to do so with dignity, and the social and economic structures that prevent this, must be dismantled.”

Ambassador Birkett added, “this is an opportunity for us to move beyond discussion, to taking tangible steps to ensure the post-COVID world is one in which racism is finally eliminated. In that regard, the issue of reparations is pivotal to restorative justice and to creating opportunity and equity for those whose limbs and lives were used without mercy or remuneration to build societies and strong economies …. Slavery was inflicted on us. We continue to carry its heavy and residual burden, but the multilateral system can ensure that the stain of slavery is finally lifted from the lives of people of African descent. In this fight, please be assured of the unstinting commitment of the Member States of the African Group and the Caribbean Community.”

CARICOM’s voice was also heard in the remarks given by Bolivia on behalf of GRULAC, the Group of Latin America and the Caribbean. “Slavery ended many lives and stole the future of successive generations. The descendants of those who were enslaved continue to face enduring social and economic inequality, intolerance, prejudice, racism, discrimination and even being made invisible in public policies at national levels. …. Therefore, we welcome this year’s theme reflects the global movement to end injustices rooted in the slave trade and teaching history so as to acknowledge slavery’s impact on today’s world and spur action to address its long-lasting effects …. In that sense, we must take collective action to reduce inequalities, eliminate racial discrimination …. We cannot be indifferent to injustice. It is incumbent upon each of us to uphold the human rights of everyone, everywhere …. Throughout the Decade for People of African Descent, GRULAC urge Member States to adopt, implement and strengthen policies and programmes which combat hate speech, xenophobia, racism and racial discrimination.”

Secretary General, His Excellency Antonio Guterres acknowledged “the immense contributions slaves and their descendants have made to the economies and culture of the countries to which they were forcibly transported …. We also acknowledge that racism is both a cause and a legacy of slavery. And we recognize that the impact of the slave trade remains visible in racial injustices and inequalities today. Ending slavery’s legacy of racism is a global imperative for justice …. The racism at the core of the system built on slavery condemned Africans to enduring second-class status. To provide justification for the slave trade, Africans were consistently portrayed as less than human … So, while the transatlantic slave trade ended over two centuries ago, the ideas that propelled it remain alive today.” The Secretary General declared, “We must counter all lies of racial supremacy. The irrefutable fact is that we are all equally part of one race – humankind.”

At the conclusion of her speech, Ambassador Birkett asked all who believe that “Black Lives Matter” to rise in support and observe 5 seconds silence. Every delegation stood and so did Secretary General Guterres and President of the General Assembly, His Excellency Volkan Bozkir of Turkey. Adding to the drama, solemnity and history of the moment was the fact that by agreement, all the Caribbean and the majority of the African ambassadors wore black.

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