United Nations Secretary Gen. Ban Ki-moon responds to questions during...

United Nations Secretary Gen. Ban Ki-moon responds to questions during a news interview at United Nations headquarters. (Jan. 13, 2013) Credit: AP

The United Nations set aside Monday to commemorate the millions of victims of the international slave trade.

The observance is part of a weeklong series of events reflecting on slavery, including a concert, a screening of the Oscar-nominated film "Lincoln," poetry readings and book signings.

"This week, we remember the more than 15 million men, women and children victims of the transatlantic slave trade," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said during a concert Friday in the UN General Assembly Hall featuring international artists such as the reggae group Steel Pulse and the Cameroon National Ballet.

"The rhythms of Africa traveled on ships with their human cargo," Ban said in his remarks. "They were handed down from parents to children. Not only did they survive the slave masters' attempts to destroy identity, heritage and a sense of home -- they defined the music of a culture and ultimately a nation. Without Africa's sons and daughters there would be no jazz, no rock and roll, no hip-hop."

The theme of the commemoration is, "Forever Free: Celebrating Emancipation," a tribute to the emancipation of slaves in nations across the world.

The day marks a year of anniversaries, including the 150th year since President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which was declared Jan. 1, 1863, setting in motion the abolition of slavery in the United States. In addition to erecting a historical exhibit about the transatlantic slave trade, the UN also is displaying an original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation.

"Slavery in the Americas had a harrowing history and tragic legacy," Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the UN, said in a statement. "Countless men, women and children were forcibly stolen and sold into bondage. . . . Let us not forget slavery's enduring impact and the wounds that we, as a nation, must still strive to heal."

The UN also notes that 2013 marks 220 years since France's General Emancipation decree liberated slaves in Haiti, 180 years since the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 freed slaves in Canada, the British West Indies and the Cape of Good Hope, and 170 years since the Indian Slavery Act of 1843 was signed, banning slavery in territories controlled by the East India Trading Co.

Slavery was also abolished 165 years ago in France, 160 years ago in Argentina, 150 years ago in the Dutch colonies and 125 years ago in Brazil, according to UN documents.

Ban paused to acknowledge the death last Thursday of the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, whose most famous novel, "Things Fall Apart," is required reading in many college literature courses.

He quoted Achebe as saying: "Nothing even approaching the transatlantic slave trade has ever happened in the history of the world . . . It is a very long and tortuous story, but someday it will be told."

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