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UN Slavery Memorial Design Competition Launched

  • Joe DeCapua

The United Nations Friday announced an international competition to design a memorial honoring the victims of slavery. It’s estimated that over 500 years, more than 18 million people were abducted from Africa and forced into slavery in the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe.

The sculpture will be located at U.N. headquarters in New York. Its official name is The Permanent Memorial at the United Nations in Honor of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

“The issue of slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade stands out still today as a crime against humanity - one of the first manifestations of man’s inhumanity to man,” said Ambassador Raymond Wolfe of Jamaica, chair of the memorial committee.

The memorial, he said, is not an attempt to dwell on the past.

“It is to bring the international community to acknowledge, to take note of what has been one of the worst chapters in human history is finally being acknowledged and honored here at the United Nations and what better place,” he said.

The memorial is expected to cost around $4.5 million dollars. An urgent appeal is being made to both the public and private sector to raise the needed funds.

Wolfe said, “Now we also understand that we are still experiencing a very severe global economic recession and ability of member states to contribute from government coffers is limited. But there are a number of countries which really have gotten us to where we are in terms of very significant contributions.”

UNESCO, the U.N. educational, scientific and cultural organization, is playing a major role in the creation of the memorial – including an education campaign. Philippe Kridelka, UNESCO’s U.N. representative, says,”In order to build peace in the minds of men and women, it’s important not to forget the tragedies of history,” such as the Holocaust and other events.

“That is why,” he said, “UNESCO has put the cell where Nelson Mandela was detained on Robben Island on the list of World Heritage of Sites mankind. That is now why with partner countries working on school programs on apartheid so that apartheid is never forgotten. That is why we’ve been working Ethiopia, Italy and the African Union so that the Obelisk of Axum in Ethiopia, which had been stolen during the colonial period, has been brought back to Ethiopia.

Efforts now begin to let designers around the world know that the Permanent Memorial Committee on Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade is now accepting their ideas.

The current timetable calls for the memorial to be completed by the end of 2013. It is not yet clear where on the U.N. grounds it will be located. The memorial will be erected under the theme: “Acknowledging the Tragedy; Considering the Legacy; Lest We Forget.”

Information about the design competition will be posted at