23 May 2023

Records of French slaves inscribed on UN world heritage register

23 May 2023

Several hundred documents and items revealing the names and other details of victims of slavery in France’s colonial empire are being added to Unesco’s Memory of the World register.

The latest addition, which the UN cultural agency approved last week, marks the first time France has pushed for the inscription of documents on the Unesco register that were previously archived in France’s present-day overseas territories.

The Memory of the World programme and register was set up in 1992 “to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity against collective amnesia, neglect, decay over time”, according to Unesco.

The documents date from between the 17th and 19th centuries, from places including the modern-day nations of Haiti, Mauritius and Senegal and the French overseas territories of Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Mayotte, Martinique and Reunion.

They represent some of the four million people “enslaved in the French colonial empire, whether victims of trafficking or born locally into a status of servitude”, according to the French Foundation for the Memory of Slavery that lobbied for the inscription.

“These generations of women, men and children lived there without civil status, but not without traces,” the foundation said in a statement.

The records include documents in the administrative, fiscal or religious sphere that feature the victim’s name, age, sex, professional skills, and sometimes his or her physical characteristics.

The records have for years been kept by the Territorial Archives of Martinique and French Guiana, the Departmental Archives of Guadeloupe, Reunion, the Overseas National Archives and the National Archives of Haiti.

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