Participants at the event
More than 15 million men, women, and children died as a result of the global slave trade over a period of more than 300 years, but those victims are now being honoured throughout the world, and the achievements of their descendants celebrated, thanks to a 17 December 2007 resolution by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. Here in Indonesia, the UN's International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade was celebrated for the first time on 11 April, in the building that most represents solidarity between Asian and African nations -- the Gedung Konferensi Asia-Africa, home to the 1955 Conference in Bandung that gave birth to the Non-Aligned Movement.
The UN Information Centre (UNIC) in Jakarta, in partnership with Parahyangan Catholic University, and with the collaboration of the UN agency for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO), organized a film screening and discussion to mark the observation.
Speakers included Muhammad Anshor, Director of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia; Hubert Gijzen, UNESCO Representative to Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Timor Leste; Wahyu Susilo, an activist for the rights of migrant workers; and Sylvia Yazid, a Lecturer in the Department of International Relations of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at Universitas Parahyangan.
Nearly 100 participants in the audience included lecturers and students from universities in Bandung, prominent members of the diplomatic community, and representatives from national media organizations (Kompas, Galamedia, The Jakarta Globe, and Tempo).
The event opened with a screening of the trailer for this year’s Academy Award-winner for Best Picture, “12 Years as Slave” , followed by opening remarks from Michele Zaccheo, Director of UNIC Jakarta. “Unless we can understand the history of the slave trade, and of efforts to abolish it, we cannot truly understand the present,” Zaccheo said, referring both to the diaspora of descendants of slaves across the globe and to the nearly 21 million people who are estimated by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to be living in conditions of forced labour today.
The video documentary by UNESCO, ‘Slave Routes: The Soul of Resistance’ – part of UNESCO’s Slave Routes Project, whose 20th anniversary is being observed this year, was also screened.
Speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, Muhammad Anshor delivered remarks centering on how slavery can still occur anywhere in many forms – out of conditions of poverty and marginalization. “What we can do now is to take the lessons from the past and take real action so those horrible events in the past are not repeated,” he said. He added that fostering solidarity among people plays and important role in combating slavery.
Wahyu Susilo spoke about how the Bandung Declaration of 1955 could be seen as an outcome of the long fight against slavery. “But slavery is still happening,” he said, “slavery is not yet history.” Problems of slavery and forced labour affect migrant workers, and victims of human trafficking syndicates, whose condition is sometimes not much different from what happened historically, Wahyu said.
A number of cases of Indonesian migrant workers abroad have raised issues related to their protection. Many do not have balanced working hours or fair pay, have their passports withheld by their employer, and a number of them are abused physically and sexually – a form of exploitation that can be referred to as “modern slavery”.
“New forms of slavery persist to this day,” said Hubert Gijzen from UNESCO. The ILO estimates that approximately 56 percent of the victims of modern slavery are in Asia and the Pacific region. He also referred to the “grey area” between slavery and exploitation of migrant workers.
Sylvia Yazid focused on the need to strengthen procedures for migrants to find legal avenues to pursue their ambitions to work abroad, so that they do not fall into hands of criminal organizations. “Migrant workers help our country,” she said.