UN Chronicle Vol. XLIV No.3 2007
  • E-ISSN: 15643913


In April I had the privilege of participating in a scholarly panel at the United Nations, one in a series of events sponsored by the CARICOM Secretariat to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade by the legislatures of the United States and Great Britain. As several of us on the panel noted, the victory of 1807 proved less decisive than abolitionists at the time imagined or hoped. Though the new restrictions reduced the trans-atlantic trade, they did not stop it; over the next sixty years, another 2–3 million Africans were borne into New World slavery. And it would take a further sixty years, until the 1926 League of Nations Slavery Convention, before slavery itself was formally prohibited in international law. Yet even conceding these limitations, 1807 represents a watershed in human history, a germinal moment in the continuing struggle to create and enforce international norms of humanitarian conduct. It is a moment well worth commemorating, and no setting could be more appropriate than the United Nations, an institution whose foundational commitment to the “inherent dignity and … equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” is a direct legacy of the abolitionist struggle.

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