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UN Pays Tribute to Victims of Slavery

The United Nations held its first international day of remembrance Tuesday for victims of slavery and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed out, slavery has not ended in modern times, but rather continues in the forms of forced labor, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

The practice of slavery dates back throughout human history and victimized many peoples. But in the 15th century, European explorers began capturing and transporting large numbers of people from West Africa to colonies in the Western hemisphere.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the Trans-Atlantic slave trade one of the greatest atrocities in history.

"This unparalleled global tragedy claimed untold millions of lives over four centuries, and left a terrible legacy that continues to dehumanize and oppress people around the world to this day," he said.

African Union Ambassador Augustine Mahiga said more than 25 million Africans were transported across the Atlantic as part of the slave trade, and more than 2 million others died during the difficult journey.

"It left Africa vulnerable to deeper intrusion by foreign powers and foreign domination," he noted. "Today, we should remember those millions who resisted captivity and those who perished while being transported in overcrowded ships. Those who died from harsh conditions or brutality, and simply from broken hearts."

The slave trade lasted more than 350 years and played a central role in building the modern world. In most of the Western world, slavery was abolished two centuries ago. But as Secretary-General Ban pointed out, it continues today as forced labor, sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

Tuesday's commemoration, while solemn, also paid tribute to the rich cultural heritage of the peoples of Africa and the Caribbean who the slave trade victimized.