Sitios de Memoria
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At the proposal of Haiti and some African countries, the General Conference of UNESCO approved at its 27th Session in 1993 the implementation of the "Slave Route" Project (Resolution 27 C/3.13).


Supported by the Organization of African Union (OAU) during its 56th ordinary session held in Dakar, the project was officially launched in September 1994 during the First Session of the International Scientific Committee of the Slave Route in Ouidah (Benin), one of the former pivots of the slave trade in the Gulf of Guinea.

The official Ouidah documents were brought out in book form by the UNESCO Publishing House in 1998 under the title "From Chains to Bonds: the Slave Trade Revisited." The idea of a "Route" expresses the dynamics of the movement of peoples, civilizations and cultures, while that of "slave" addresses not only the universal phenomenon of slavery, but also in a more precise and explicit way the transatlantic slave trade in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. 

The project has three major objectives:

- to break the silence surrounding the slave trade and slavery through the historical study of the causes and dynamics of the transatlantic slave trade;

- to clarify the consequences and interactions resulting from the slave trade;

- to contribute to the establishment of a culture of tolerance and peaceful coexistence between all peoples.

New Strategy for the Slave Route Project

The Slave Route Project deals with a tragedy that has involved all the continents and  provoked profound transformations, the impact of which - the massive deportation of millions of Africans and their enslavement during centuries - continues to be felt in today’s societies.  These deep and global transformations partially explain the socio-cultural, geopolitical and economic configurations of the contemporary world.

Recognizing the breadth of the question at hand, an external evaluation undertaken to consider the Project’s first ten years deemed it still very young with a long way to go before it could attain the ultimate objectives of breaking the silence on the slave trade and thereby contribute to the establishment of a culture of peace, peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding among peoples.

The strategy to be drafted for the second phase of the Project should draw on lessons learnt from the first ten years and respond to:

  • the recommendations emanating from the evaluation undertaken in 2005;
  • the recommendations of the Executive Board at its 172nd Session and the General Conference at its 33rd Session;
  • the proposals made by the International Scientific Committee at its previous meetings;
  • the expectations expressed by Member States, notably during the 2004 International Year for the Commemoration of the Fight against Slavery and its Abolition.

The new strategy is based on the following four elements highlighted by the Director-General in his observations on the evaluation report submitted to the Executive Board at its 172nd Session: (i) improvement of the governance structure of the Project, (ii) reinforcement of inter-sectorality, (iii) extension of research to new regions, and (iv) mobilization of funds and partnerships.

It recommends two types of intervention to increase effectiveness and impact:

  • to reinforce and deepen the achievements of the Project by adopting new approaches and implementing actions conducive to this reinforcement;
  • to define new orientations and subjects to strengthen the global reach of the Project.

I. Reinforcement of the Strategic Alternatives of the Project

A. Strategic Alternatives  

1. Objectives

The new strategy will retain the three objectives defined for the Project at its outset, the relevance and unifying effect of which were confirmed by the above-mentioned external evaluation of the Project. However, to better reflect certain elements underlying the previous formulation, these objectives will be reformulated as follows:

  • to break the silence surrounding the slave trade and slavery in the different regions of the world by elucidating their scale, their root causes, stakes and modus operandi through multidisciplinary scientific research;
  • to highlight the consequences of the slave trade and slavery for contemporary societies, in particular to ensure a better understanding of the multiple transformations and  interactions they generated among peoples and cultures;
  • to help establish a culture of peace, mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence among peoples, stimulating reflection on intercultural dialogue, cultural pluralism and defining new forms of citizenship in modern societies.

2. Main Lines of Action

The new strategy will also maintain the main lines for action set forth in the first phase of the Project. They will, however, be reformulated as follows:

  • improving scientific research on the slave trade and slavery;
  • developing curricula and educational material to encourage the teaching of this tragedy at all levels of education;
  • promoting the contribution of Africa and its Diaspora;
  • promoting living cultures and artistic and spiritual expressions resulting from the interactions generated by the slave trade and slavery;
  • preserving the archives and oral traditions related to the slave trade and slavery;
  • taking inventory of and preserving tangible cultural heritage, places and sites of memory linked to the slave trade or slavery and promoting memory tourism based on this heritage.

B. New Approaches to Reinforce the Project’s Strategic Alternatives

To facilitate this reinforcement, new approaches and actions are proposed for the implementation of this strategy. These approaches and activities will be undertaken in close collaboration with the Sectors, Central Services and Field Offices concerned.

1. Development of Scientific Research

During the first phase of the Project, scientific research constituted its core activity. Since then, many universities and academic institutions have developed research programs to shed light on the subject. The Project, which is not cut out to be a specialized research center and has no means to conduct extensive research, has to identify a niche to use its comparative advantage as grounds for international cooperation. Its activity should be oriented towards reinforcing institution and expert networks, and facilitating the exchange of knowledge.

However, to fill in some gaps, research will be conducted on the least- known aspects of the slave trade and slavery.  To that end, new networks will be set up under the Project, in particular in certain regions that have so far received little coverage, and in order to explore themes that have not yet been studied.

A series of studies will be launched to increase knowledge of historic facts related to the slave trade and its consequences in Asia and the Arab-Muslim world.

To ensure involvement of more and more young researchers and have a fresh look at the subject, a scholarship research program will be established in collaboration with universities and centers of excellence in the different regions. Such a program will encourage exchanges between these institutions and enable students interested in this field to undertake research related to the slave route and slavery.

Within this new strategic orientation, the International Scientific Committee will play its most crucial role: it will advise on the choice of research themes and partners, approve the studies undertaken, and consolidate consensus on the accumulated knowledge on the slave trade.

2. Development of Curricula and Teaching Material

The strategy foresees reinforcing the Project’s action in this crucially important domain and improving the translation of research results in the form of educational programs to respond to the urgent needs expressed by partners in this activity (teachers, local authorities, civil society organizations and media). Two approaches will be adopted in this respect:

(a)     Revision of school textbooks and university courses
To encourage the revision of textbooks at different levels and of university courses in order to place a greater focus on teaching about the slave trade and slavery. Actions to be taken:

-        draft a strategy document designed for national authorities, particularly ministries and education professionals, on the need and modalities for the revision of school textbooks and university syllabuses;
-        lobbying ministries of education during large meetings/events to prompt them in this direction. As a first step, efforts will be undertaken to urge countries which are well “prepared,” i.e. some countries of the Caribbean, Latin America, the Indian Ocean and Europe. A specific action will be undertaken to work with the African Union (AU) for the development of school curricula at the sub-regional level.

(b)     Development of teaching material
To reflect the results of research in teaching material in order to raise awareness among parties interested in the slave trade. This material ought to utilize multimedia technology in its endeavor to address both schools and local communities. Modes of action:
-        develop a methodology model to prepare above-mentioned material;
-        draft teaching material targeting sub-regions that also have in common certain historic characteristics: Central America, West Africa, and the Indian Ocean. This material could be the basis for developing material to satisfy specific national or local needs.

3. Awareness-Raising on the Contribution of Africa and Its Diaspora

A series of activities will be launched under the Project (studies, events, meetings, exhibitions) to contribute to a better knowledge of Africa’s contribution to the rest of the world, as well as the contributions made by populations of African descent to the evolution of their host countries and their countries of origin.

Emphasis will be placed on the transfer of African knowledge, know-how and technology to the rest of the world, particularly to countries of the Americas and the Indian Ocean.

The Project will also contribute to reinforcing the links between Africa and the Diaspora of the slave trade through awareness, in particular within the framework of the AU strategy, and on the occasion of important events (i.e. the Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the International Congress of Black Intellectuals and Artists and the Third International Festival of Black Arts, etc.).

4. Promotion of Live Cultures and Artistic and Spiritual Expressions
Project activities to increase knowledge of and promote live cultures and the artistic and spiritual expressions generated by the slave trade will continue to be implemented. To this end, the Project will seek closer association with major events bringing to light these cultures and expressions, such as music festivals, cinema, commemorative celebrations, etc. The label (Project Supported by the Slave Route) will be used to support these events and give them greater visibility.

Emphasis will be put on the least-known aspects of these cultures and expressions, especially those born out of dialogue and interactions between Africans and the American-Indian populations. The modes of this intercultural process, which have challenged bias, stereotyping and segregation policies as well as its impact on the construction of identities in modern societies, will be analyzed. Current interactions in these modern societies, especially the new cultures and contemporary expressions that are nourished by the heritage of the slave trade and slavery will receive more attention under the Project

5. Preservation of Archives and Oral Tradition

The collection of oral traditions and its preservation will be pursued and new studies will be undertaken, particularly in East, West and North Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. Besides their publication in the UNESCO collection titled “Memory of peoples-the Slave Route,” the findings of these studies will be electronically recorded to facilitate the conservation, dissemination and promotion of these oral traditions. The findings will also be used to draft teaching material, and as a basis for the identification of sites and places of memory in the countries concerned.

Greater efforts will be exerted for the identification, preservation and use of written archives and iconography related to the slave trade. To this end, new and fruitful partnerships will be established under the Project with archives, libraries, museums and private collections.

The Project will facilitate the exchange of experience and material between museums and archives centers of certain countries which have important collections of archives, such as Cuba, France, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and similar institutions in Africa, especially in the context of commemorations of the abolition of slavery in 2007 and 2008.

Cooperation with international and regional organizations of archive professionals will be reinforced in view of the need to increase awareness of the existence of these sources and facilitate their availability to researchers.

The Project's iconographies will be digitized and transferred to the Project’s website to facilitate access thereto under certain conditions.

6. Inventory and Preservation of Tangible Heritage, Places and Sites of Memory

In close cooperation with the World Heritage Center, the Project will pursue the implementation of the joint UNESCO-WTO (World Tourism Organization) program for the identification, preservation and promotion of sites, buildings and places of memory linked to the slave trade and slavery via cultural tourism. Based on those already existing in Africa (Central Africa, Lusophone African countries and West Africa), inventories of other regions will be carried out (East Africa and Southern Africa, Indian Ocean, the Caribbean, the Americas and Europe). Thus, taking inventory as proposed would enable the following:

-     drawing geographical maps presenting sites, buildings and places per region and per country;
-     establishing memory itineraries to promote cultural tourism;
-     encouraging  the preparation of documents for the proposal of new sites related to the slave trade, to be put  on the World Heritage List;
-     encouraging the extension and/or modification, where applicable, of sites already inscribed on the list in order to ensure a greater presence of heritage relating to the slave trade;
-     encouraging States parties to the 1972  Convention to propose a number of sites or cultural itineraries related to the slave route and slavery in view of their inclusion in the List.

In collaboration with the World Heritage Center and the Cultural Heritage Division, the Project will contribute to a better knowledge of the close links between the slave trade and certain sites, buildings and places included in the World Heritage List. As these links are unfortunately often overlooked, a revision of their descriptions on the web site of the World Heritage Center and in the UNESCO publications would be implemented in consultation with the States parties concerned. Information included in the description of the sites listed in the World Heritage List is of particular importance in that it may contribute to breaking the silence surrounding the slave trade and slavery.

II. New Directions of the Project

In response to recommendations made by the external evaluation, the Executive Board, the General Conference at its 33rd session and in response to Member States’ expectations expressed during the celebration in 2004 the International Year for the Commemoration of the Fight against Slavery and its Abolition, the new strategy foresees a number of new directions:

A. Extend the Scope of the Project to Other Regions

To convey the universality of this tragedy, through the Project’s activities, which have thus far focused on the transatlantic trade. Hence, it will be extended to cover the following regions in phase two:

  • The Arab Muslim world: envisaged activities:

-     undertake studies complementary to existing research on the trans-Saharan and oriental trade;
-     launch information and mobilizing activities (meetings, publications, exhibitions, and communications) to contribute to breaking the silence;
-     establish and reinforce research networks on the question.

  • Asia: activities to be carried out:

-     undertake studies to complete the embryonic research on the trade, its consequences, the African Diaspora in Asia (the Indian sub-continent and the Far East) in collaboration with concerned research networks such as TADIA;
-     launch information and mobilizing activities to contribute to breaking the silence;
-     establish and reinforce research networks on the question.

  • Andes: activities to be implemented:

-     undertake studies to better understand the cultural interactions between Africans and the American-Indian populations;
-     launch a pilot project at Esmeraldas, with a view to its extension to other regions, to make known the Afro-Amerindian intercultural dialogue in the context of their joint resistance against slavery and colonization.

B. Introducing New Themes

The following themes will be introduced to consider the hitherto poorly-explored implications of the slave trade and slavery:

  • The psychological consequences of slavery: activities to be undertaken:

-     studies on trauma inherited from this tragedy and on the consequences on individual and collective behaviour of African-descendants;
-     organization of a conference in Canada to consolidate information on this question;
-     make national authorities aware of the necessity of training health, social and education professionals on the psychological after-effects of slavery.

  • Fight against racism and discrimination: the Project has contributed to the recognition by the United Nations of slavery “as a crime against humanity” at the World Conference against Racism held in Durban, 2001. The Project will thus participate in the implementation of certain recommendations submitted in the Declaration and plan of action resulting from this conference as reflected in UNESCO’s strategy against racism and discrimination adopted in 2003 by the General Conference.

Actions to be taken:

-     participate in information and mobilizing events related to the deconstruction of racist theories and prejudice that continue to feed discrimination against populations of African descent;
-     organize meetings on management and plurality of memories, and the draft appropriate policies in the construction of new identities and citizenship in modern societies.

III. Implementation of the New Strategy

The limited resources available for the Project render the realization of all the activities outlined above highly challenging. It will be important for the Project to draft a new policy to actively reinforce collaboration with partners and to mobilize other means.

To this end, the following actions will be developed:

  • clarify the roles and responsibilities of the various partners/stakeholders of the Project: the UNESCO Secretariat, the International Scientific Committee, the national committees and the National Commissions for UNESCO;
  • draft communication and information strategy to raise awareness about the activities and the achievements of the Project among different audiences and in different regions (work in progress);
  • prepare a strategy for mobilizing extra-budgetary funds to finance certain programmes by external partnerships (work in progress);
  • reinforce intersectorality at UNESCO Headquarters for improved coordination and rationalization of available resources and competencies in the relevant Sectors/Divisions: creation of an intersectoral group;
  • reinforce interagency cooperation for improved synergy.