Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentleman.
Today we pay tribute to the millions whose lives were cruelly damaged and millions lost as a result of the transatlantic slave trade. Men, women and children were forced into bondage. This destroyed lives, families, and societies.
The slave trade was a business of monumental proportions, conservative estimates put the total numbers exiled from the African homeland between ten and twelve million. By the time the American Civil War broke out in 1861, the largest enslaved population in the world lived in the United States. This period is one of the most painful chapters in my country's history.
We acknowledge and honor the long fight for freedom that is so central to the experience of all Americans, in particular those who fought to end this repugnant practice on our shores.
One hundred and fifty years ago, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that removed the chains of slavery and declared all people enslaved in the rebellious states "then, thenceforward, and forever free." And the Thirteenth Amendment to United States Constitution abolished slavery once and for all in the United States. We are proud that these documents are now on display at the United Nations.
The Emancipation Proclamation was an act of justice extraordinary for its time and legacy. Its promises were not fulfilled on a single occasion. Americans struggled to fulfill the principles of our founders stated clearly in our Constitution: that all women and men would be granted the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In the achievements of the Civil Rights movement, and in many other ways, the United States worked to rise above the legacy of slavery.
We have sought to protect the right of every person to fundamental freedoms.
Our work is far from complete at home or abroad. Today, we are witness to human trafficking, which President Obama has called "a debasement of our common humanity." More than 20 million men, women, and children are victims of human trafficking without recourse to protection or justice. Together, we can bring traffickers to justice, empower survivors to reclaim their rightful freedom, and end this scourge once and for all.
Let us bear witness to the past in which basic rights were denied, and let us build a future in which no form of human slavery exists, a future in which all men and women can live in dignity and freedom.
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