UNESCO launches global competition for a Memorial to honour Victims of Slavery

Photo: MPI/Getty Images

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Permanent Memorial Committee charged with erecting a permanent monument at the United Nations to honour the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade have launched an international competition for the design of the structure.

The planned memorial is the brainchild of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), representatives of Jamaica, and the Africa Group, a consulting, research, and advisory firm focused on economic growth and investment across the continent of Africa. Jamaica’s Ambassador to the UN, Raymond Wolfe is head of the Permanent Memorial Committee. Howard Dobson, former chief of New York’s Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture, is chairman of the Permanent Memorial Advisory Board. US entrepreneur and hip-hop pioneer, Russell Simmons and singer Melba Moore are ambassadors for the project.

The monument will be located at United Nations Headquarters in New York along the East River bank in a place of prominence that is easily accessible to delegates, United Nations staff and visitors. It will recognize the tragedy of slavery and draw attention to the lingering consequences of the centuries-long trade and the enslavement of Africans sold to the colonies of the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe.

In a statement, the Permanent Memorial Committee said, “The legacy of bigotry racism, hatred and xenophobia are still evident today, closely linked to persistent economic and social inequalities in many parts of the world.”  Their plans to build the memorial are in keeping with paragraph 101 of the Durban Declaration Durban Declaration of the World Conference against   Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance which urges the international community and its members to honour the memory of the victims of slavery.

The memorial will also emphasize the importance of educating and informing current and future generations about the causes, consequences and lessons of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

The theme for the competition is ‘Acknowledging the Tragedy; Considering the Legacy; Lest We Forget.’  In addition to reflecting the theme, the memorial design must show outstanding artistic merit and “embody the legacy of millions of African captives whose untold stories, memories and contribution to humanity forever changed the world.” The memorial is also expected to complement the landscape of the UN headquarters.

Artists, designers, sculptors and other visual arts professionals are invited to submit proposals to UNESCO. The deadline for submission of is 19 December 2011.

The competition will consist of two phases: a shortlist of 16 finalists will be selected during phase one. In phase two a jury of experts will determine the winning entry which will be announced in spring 2012 and awarded a prize of $50.000.

UN officials estimate the memorial will cost about US$4.5 million.

Ambassador Raymond Wolfe

At a press conference held September 30 at UN Headquarters, Jamaica’s UN Ambassador and chair of the Permanent Memorial Committee, Raymond Wolfe said: “As we launch the competition I am pleased to report that all stakeholders including the members of the committee, Member States of the Caribbean Community and the Africa Group which participated in the negotiations are supremely confident that UNESCO will manage a transparent, inclusive and politically impartial selection process.”

Wolfe urged the ministries of foreign affairs and culture in Member States to disseminate information about the design competition so that a “rich and diverse pool of applications can be submitted to UNESCO for consideration.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed the launch of the memorial.  He said: “The memorial will acknowledge the crimes and atrocities perpetrated over the course of four centuries, when millions of Africans were violently removed from their homelands, ruthlessly abused and robbed of their dignity. The legacy lives on today in the families and countries that were affected.  The memorial will also remind the world of the bravery of those slaves, abolitionists and unsung heroes who managed to rise up against an oppressive system and end the practice.”

He added. “‘It will also serve as a call to action against contemporary manifestations of slavery.  The abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in the nineteenth century did not eradicate the practice globally.  Instead, it took on other forms, which persist to this day:  serfdom, debt bondage and forced and bonded labour; trafficking in women and children, domestic slavery and forced prostitution, including of children; sexual slavery, forced marriage and the sale of wives; child labour and child servitude, among others. This reality obliges the international community to bring perpetrators to justice and to continue pursuing with vigour its efforts to uphold human rights and human dignity.”

The competition rules and guidelines are available at the following websites: http://www.unslaverymemorial.org and http://www.unesco.org/culture/slaveroute and the global network of 197 National Commissions for UNESCO at: http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=44812&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

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