Historical truth, remembrance and intercultural dialogue form the basis of the Slave Route project, which also aims to contribute to building a culture of peace.
To highlight the original causes and the practices of the transatlantic slave trade, the project's 43-member international scientific committee has recommended giving priority to studying documentary sources and preparing classroom material.
The question of sources was dealt with at three meetings of the committee - in Alcala de Henares (Spain) on "The Iberian records of the slave trade" (October 1995), in Conakry (Guinea) on "Oral tradition and the slave trade" (March 1997) and in Copenhagen (Denmark) on "European records of the slave trade" (February 1996).
With money from the Norwegian aid agency NORAD, UNESCO's education sector, and especially the coordination unit of the Associated Schools Project, has drawn up a detailed plan to mobilize the network's 4,250 schools in 137 countries and prepare teaching material. UNESCO is supporting work already done in this respect, especially by the French town of La Rochelle.
The importance of preserving the memory of the slave trade can be illustrated by the remark of Nobel Prizewinner Elie Wiesel that "the executioner kills twice, the second time with silence. " It is this silence -historical, scientific and moral - on the tragedy of the slave trade which is perhaps the biggest challenge of the Slave Route project.
The hope is that, by being studied, the topic will acquire a universal quality and feature in the history books of every country, alongside all the other major tragedies of human history. UNESCO therefore attaches great importance to the visibility of the project and it has already been widely reported on in the press and the audiovisual media.
The project has accordingly led to the launching, with the World Tourism Organization, of a joint cultural tourism programme on the Slave Route to help the countries involved to identify, restore and promote all the places, buildings and physical symbols of the transatlantic slave trade. The implementation of this programme is being carried out in close cooperation with African culture and tourism ministries and with the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
To encourage remembrance, UNESCO is also setting up, notably with the backing of NORAD, a number of slavery museums in countries which have asked for them, including Haiti (the initiator of the Slave Route project), Cuba and Angola.
The project's contribution to a culture of peace is its investigation and publicizing of the tragedy of the slave trade and of the interactions it produced in the Americas and the Caribbean. This approach is reflected very well in the tide a group of intellectuals in the French port city of Nantes gave to a recent exhibition on the slave trade. They called it "The Chains of Memory". The chain, or metal ring, symbolizes the iron which keeps the slave a prisoner but also the deep and complex link the slave trade forged between Africa, Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean.
This is why one of the key aspects of the project is the highlighting of the extraordinary process of " multi- culturalization" which the slave trade generated in the Americas and the Caribbean.
Several big events and meetings have already taken place: in Port-au-Prince (Haiti) on the slave uprising of August 22, 1791, in the colony of St Domingue; in Pointe-ŕ-Pitre (Guadeloupe) on the theme of "between histories and memories on both sides of the slave route "; and in Santiago (Cuba) on cultural interaction, national identity and society.
Conferences on the African diaspora, where proceedings will be published, are planned for Brazil, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.