Secretary-General’s Message on the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery
The abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 19th 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 labor; 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 remain vigilant and to strengthen its efforts to eradicate the contemporary manifestations of slavery. Modern slavery is a crime. People who perpetrate, condone or facilitate it must be brought to justice. Victims and survivors have a right to remedies and reparations.
International concern about the plight of people living in slavery-like conditions has given rise to many important legal instruments, the most recent of which is the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which entered into force in 2003 as a supplement the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
Jurisdictions around the world have paved the way for further progress in ensuring legal redress. The International Court of Justice has contributed to the acceptance of slavery as a crime against humanity, and the right to be free from enslavement is considered so fundamental that all nations have standing to bring offending states before the Court. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has brought an indictment for slavery as a crime against humanity for acts of rape and slavery. And the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) recently ruled that slavery is a crime against humanity.
On this International Day, I urge all States to ratify and implement the relevant legal instruments, and to cooperate fully with the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery. I also appeal to all UN Member States to contribute generously to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, which has helped thousands of victims to recover their lives and dignity.