(El Nuevo Día)

We commemorate the struggle leading to the abolition of slavery to reaffirm the need to condemn all forms of discrimination, intimidation and human trafficking.

By means of this International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, UNESCO aims at raising awareness on the need to fight practices leading to inequality and violations to human rights.

August 23 marks the anniversary of the 1791 insurrection of enslaved men and women in the western part of the island of Santo Domingo, who proclaimed their independence and reverted to its original name: Haití. “The uprising conveyed a universal demand for freedom that transcends all limits of time and space,” highlights the UN.

During the twentieth century, many struggles resulted in abolitionist efforts and fair policies that are great achievements for humanity.

But we must also fight other forms of slavery.

In this century, marked by technological advances, human trafficking networks linked to criminal organizations constitute a horrendous contradiction, so too is the resurgence of the racist and xenophobic rhetoric of political leaders and leading figures in countries that have embraced a firm defense of human rights and noble democratic principles for decades.

It is worrisome to hear politicians in the United States, Latin America and Europe with their discrimination rhetoric against immigrants and  LGBT communities, among others. And beyond their rhetoric, they have also directed practices and laws leading to mistreatment, oppression, and exile. Besides, their models seem to fuel hate crimes that, in the United States, for example, have caused hundreds of victims in shootings in churches, schools or public places such as shopping malls.

The scope of human trafficking is also shocking.

The International Labour Organization estimated 3.8 million adults and 1 million children were victims of forced sexual exploitation in 2016 around the world. 99 percent are women and girls. Profits from this repugnant business are estimated at $150 billion annually worldwide

Puerto Rico is not exempt from the tentacles of these evils of modern oppression and slavery. Research from the University of Puerto Rico documented recent human trafficking dynamics here. Federal authorities have intervened in local child sexual exploitation networks.

 On the island,  exploitation, inequality, and abuse against the elderly and most vulnerable may have been marked by the devastation caused by Hurricane María, which aggravated the recession scenario following the government bankruptcy.

Information on inequality and oppression, driven by the structures of power in different societies, makes people aware of these evils and leads them to expose and fight them. The Slave Route Project, launched by UNESCO, contributes to this effort by extensively identifying the historic causes, the methods and the consequences of this tragedy to promote a culture of peace.

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said in her message for the Day that “UNESCO invites everyone, including public authorities, civil society, historians, researchers, and ordinary citizens, to mobilize in order to raise awareness about this history that we share and to oppose all forms of modern slavery.”

Working for dignity and equality for all will contribute to building a more just society. Every effort leading to eradicate the rhetoric of discrimination and oppression will help move this aspiration forward. We are firmly committed to that goal.

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