On Wednesday December 10 the UN hosted a pledging luncheon of member states and other invited guests. The purpose was to try to close the gap in funding to construct a memorial that was chosen in a competition to honor the victims of slavery, of the transatlantic slave trade. The memorial will be constructed on UN grounds.
According to Fanny Langella, the Deputy Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, “the total cost for the memorial will be $1.7 million. The funding gap at the time the luncheon was held, was about $500,000. The provisional figure for the amount raised at the luncheon was about $430,000, to be confirmed when the payments do come in.”
In his welcome to guests at the luncheon, Jan Eliasson, the UN Deputy Secretary General, explained that not only would the memorial raise awareness of the historic injustices like the transatlantic slave trade, but it would also honor “the slaves, the abolitionists, the unsung heroes who fought to end this oppression. It will promote recognition of the contributions that slaves and their descendants have made to their societies. And it will remind us that people of African descent, and victims of slavery across the world, continue to struggle under this legacy. And there is still a lot of work to be done.”
The competition received 310 entries from 83 countries. UNESCO shortlisted sixteen entries. From the semi-final entries, there were seven finalists.
Of the seven finalists in the competition, Rodney Leon’s design, “The Ark of Return” was selected as the the winning design. Leon is of Haitian descent. Eliasson commended the winning design explaining that, “It reminds us that in order to heal and make progress, we must acknowledge and understand the past. We must draw the consequences, and the conclusions from this understanding.”
Eliasson then noted that in his office there is a photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr. This photograph, Eliasson said, “was given to me by a person who was there in Selma, Alabama, at the march in 1965.” Eliasson described how Martin Luther King was in the front line of marchers, and behind him in the photograph were some flags, one of which was the flag of the United States and another flag, the flag of the UN. For Eliasson the presence of the UN flag in this demonstration symbolized the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was proclaimed 66 years ago at the UN, on the same date, December 10, as this luncheon event.
The winning design prominently features the words “Lest We Forget”.