Outrage as government tells us to ‘forget about slavery’
Home Secretary David Blunkett believes the British government must not take responsibility for slavery
Two months into the United Nations' official year against slavery, Blink questioned the Home Office over why they do not have any events planned for Britain.
The Home Office not only confirmed they had failed to organise a single event for 2004, but they also issued us with an amazing statement saying we should forget the slave trade rather than commemorate it.
And they claimed today’s government cannot be held responsible for the millions of lives lost during slavery.
The statement sparked outrage from furious campaigners who contrasted it with the government’s active support for Holocaust memorial day, held on 27 January this year.snubbed
The government’s rejection of the United Nations'
International Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against Slavery and its Abolition comes just three years after Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly committed himself to supporting a Slavery Memorial Day.
But a Home Office committee to make Blair’s commitment a reality collapsed months later as government officials blocked progress, prompting committee members, including London mayoral adviser Lee Jasper, to resign in 2001.
Now, with the government seemingly intent on snubbing the UN anti-slavery year entirely, the Home Office statement told us slavery belonged "in the past."
It went on: "Governments today cannot take responsibility for what happened over 170 years ago. This reflects the Government's position at the September 2001 World Conference Against Racism."
The statement unwittingly appeared to draw attention to strong criticism directed at the government by angry campaigners over the British position, at the conference, that slavery was not a crime against humanity because it was legal at the time.disgraceful
Esther Stanford, a leading figure in the British reparations movement, said Britain and Europe adopt an anti-apology stance to avoid a demand for reparations from African nations.
The Home Office statement to Blink refused to endorse the UN anti-slavery year, merely saying the British government "noted" it. A department spokeswoman said: "There are no specific plans [for any events] to take this forward but the issue remains under consideration."
Marika Sherwood, Secretary of the Black and Asian studies Association, said: "This statement is shocking and disgraceful.
"I'm appalled. I think there are many moral questions about the profitability of the slave trade and the growth of commerce in the colonies created by the slave trade which need to be addressed."
Reparations activist Linda Bellos said: "I'm not surprised but I am of course, yet again, disappointed. It's similar to the response the Tories gave in the early 1990’s."
Martine Miel from Rendezvous for Victory said she had pleaded with the Home Office to get involved in the UN year, which is overseen by UNESCO, but the government ‘dragged their heels’. She added: "They don’t want to deal with the issue of slavery because then they will be held accountable."outrage
Lee Jasper condemned the government for reneging on the promise by Tony Blair to set up a memorial to slavery. He said: "It’s outrageous that the government should be abandoning the commitment given by the Prime Minister himself.
"We are fast approaching 2007, which is the bicentennial year of the abolition of slavery, and therefore it is the right time to instigating a slavery memorial day."
Beth Herzfeld from Anti-Slavery International said: "It is disappointing that the UK government has not made progress on establishing a Slavery Memorial Day in the four years since the Prime Minister announced his support for it."
Campaigners are concerned that awareness amongst the British public about the UN anti-slavery year is extremely low, and in terms of media coverage is likely to become the most under-reported United Nations-designated year in recent memory.
2004 is in marked contrast to 2001, the UN Year Against Racism, Xenophobia and Intolerance, which saw a high-profile UN world anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa.
The Home Office statement to Blink attempted to shift the focus of slavery away from past slavery to present day issues. It read: "[We] believe that the best way we can commemorate that struggle is to continue the fight for its abolition in those areas of the world where slavery still takes place."
But during the 2001 conference, London Mayor Ken Livingstone criticised the government for taking that position. He said: "It seems strange that those countries now involved in slavery are being roundly condemned but that those countries that grew rich through the trade in human beings just a few generations ago will not apologise."
Taken from Blink News: http://www.blink.org.uk/pdescription.asp?key=2969&grp=46&cat=149