, DAKAR, Mar 26 – Senegal has declared slavery and the slave trade crimes against humanity, putting the emphasis on a "duty to remember" rather than seeking financial reparations.
The first of millions of slaves shipped from Africa to the Americas in the Atlantic slave trade came from the west African nation and the law passed Tuesday is the first on the continent declaring slavery a crime against humanity.
Spokesman for the justice minister, Cheikh Bamba Niang said the law did not anticipate demands for financial compensation.
Campaigns for compensation among Africans and African-Americans have often cropped up, stirring controversy over who would pay them and to whom while critics note many Africans themselves practised slavery and colluded with slave dealers.
"It is about a memorial law, a duty to remember. It is a judicial response to a historical, distant fact. To show the magnitude and the horror and its dramatic consequences on Africa," said Niang.
He said President Abdoulaye Wade "said that when one compensates, one erases. For him you can forgive and commemorate, but not erase because dignity does not have a price."
While Senegambia (then incorporating Gambia) was the source of some of the first slaves as the Trans-Atlantic slave trade gained momentum in the 1600s, many more came from countries further south on the west African coast.
Senegal was affected by the "ebony" trade carried out by Europeans on the Atlantic side and Arab-Berber raids on populations living along the Senegal River.
Just off the coast of the capital Dakar, Goree Island and its popular tourist site the "House of slaves" were listed as a world heritage site in 1978 as a symbol of the Atlantic trade.
Similarly Gambia\’s James Island and other sites in Nigeria and Ghana have become important tourist sites commemorating the slave trade.
The adoption of the bill in Senegal comes several days before the country celebrates its 50th year of independence on April 4.
Putting the accent on "the duty to remember" the law provides for an annual day of commemoration on April 27 "corresponding with the date of the abolition of the slave trade in the French colonies, April 27, 1848, at the initiative of Victor Schoelcher," a French humanitarian who dedicated his life to the abolition of slavery.
In addition, it stipulates that "school programs must, notably in history studies, include this question and reserve sufficient space for it so that our children can understand what happened and the consequences of the slave trade on the evolution of Africa."
"This bill could allow all the slave countries to have courage to come to terms with their past and for Africa to reflect on its past and its relations with the diaspora," Justice Minister Amadou Sall said while presenting the bill to lawmakers.
"It is an important aspect of identity, it is important to feel Senegalese, African," said Niang.
African nations have agreed slavery should be declared a crime against humanity, while often disagreeing on topics such as the need for compensation for the slave trade and an apology from countries involved.
Last year the US Senate passed a resolution apologising for slavery, while in 2006 then British prime minister Tony Blair stopped short of a full apology while admitting "deep sorrow" for Britain\’s role in the slave trade.
French association DiversCite praised Senegal for a "historic decision which rehabilitates the memory of deported Africans and breaks a lapse in memory of this tragedy by Africans."
DiversCite had launched an "African campaign to declare the slave trade and slavery crimes against humanity."