United Nations: India paid tributes to the human rights defenders who fought to abolish slavery and indentured labour at the unveiling at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday of a monument to the victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery. India, which contributed $260,000, was the main donor to the Permanent Memorial Trust Fund for monument.

The Ark of Return is a UN memorial dedicated to the victims of slave trade. Reuters

The Ark of Return is a UN memorial dedicated to the victims of slave trade. Reuters

Delivering the opening remarks at the unveiling of the monument, India’s Permanent Representative Asoke Kumar Mukerji recalled the work of the human rights defenders who waged a sustained campaign to end slave trade. “The vigilance of these activists ensured that other laws passed to circumvent the banning of slavery, such as the use of indentured labour, with Mahatma Gandhi called ‘a remmnant of slaver,’ were similarly repealed,” he said.

Mukerji noted the symbolism of locating the monument in New York not far from the Statue of Liberty, the icon of freedom and democracy. “The Ark of Return unveiled here today is in many ways a counterpoint to the Statue of Liberty” he said. “Each memorial illuminates the meaning of the other.”

Called The Ark of Return, the multifaceted white marble monument, has a motif of triangles with a sculpture of an African person at its center and a waterfall representing the tears of the 15 million men, women and children who were sent across the Atlantic as slaves.

The monument was formally inaugurated by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President Sam Kutesa.

“I hope descendants of the Transatlantic Slave Trade will feel empowered as they remember those who overcame this brutal system and passed their rich cultural heritage from Africa on to their children,” Ban said.

The monument was itself designed by one such person, Rodney Leon,a descendant of slaves taken from Africa to Haiti. “It makes me feel extremely proud that I can play a role and a part in the commemoration of such an important and historic day,” he was quoted in a UN report. The American architect won the design competition from among the 310 contestants from 83 countries.

“The majority of the victims of this brutal, primitive trade in human beings remain unnamed and unknown,” Kutesa said. It is “an opportunity to celebrate the legacy of those unknown and unnamed enslaved Africans and honour their proud contribution to our societies, our institutions and our world.”

Slavery has not entirely disappeared and persists with 21 million people now trapped in forced labour, he said “We have an obligation to stop modern slavery in whatever form it may be disguised.”

Absent from the dais at the unveiling were representatives of the US, Britain and other European nations that participated in the slave trade.


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The Ark of Return: UN unveils memorial for slave trade victims, India main donor to monument