Building peace in the minds of men and women

Winning design “The Ark of Return” for the Permanent Memorial in Honour of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade unveiled by UN Secretary-General

The Ark of Return, the winning design of an international competition for the Permanent Memorial in Honour of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade was unveiled by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki moon at a ceremony at UN Headquarters today.

The author of the Ark of Return is Rodney Leon, an architect based in Manhattan. An American of Haitian descent, Mr. Leon is the designer and architect of the African Burial Ground National Monument in lower Manhattan. When presenting his project, he explained: “The Ark of Return is a symbolic spiritual space and object where one can interact and pass through for acknowledgement, contemplation, meditation, reflection, healing, education and transformation.”

Three hundred and ten entries were submitted by candidates from 83 nationalities; of these, 16 designs were selected for submission to a committee of five international judges from Jamaica, Haiti/Canada, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. From this second group, seven finalists were invited to present their projects to the International Jury at UN Headquarters in August 2013. The judges came to their decision by consensus after presentations by each of the finalists, nationals of China/United Kingdom, Colombia/France, Finland, France, Italy, Portugal, and the United States.

Two other commendations were given by the Panel of Judges. Nicolas Grun and Pierre Laurent are the second place winners for the Mémorial d’Ebène. Two designs were named as third place winners: Middle Passage by Sofia Castelo, and The Wounded Earth by Carlo Gondolfi, Paola Passeri, Alessandra Ripa, and Monica Sacchetti.

“From oppression to freedom, from trauma to healing, the Permanent Memorial on the grounds of the United Nations will stand as a symbol of the efforts engaged by the international community and by citizens worldwide to break the silence on this history,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova at the unveiling.  “This will be a powerful tribute to the victims, to all women and men fighting for universal human rights.”

Other speakers at the event included: The President of the 68th Session of the General Assembly, H.E. Mr. John W. Ashe; and the Chairman of the Permanent Memorial Committee, H.E. Mr. Courtenay Rattray.

The Prime Minister of Jamaica, H.E. Ms. Portia Simpson Miller, the President of Senegal, H.E. Mr. Macky Sall, other Heads of State and Government, and film director Lee Daniels also attended the the event.

For over 400 years, more than 15 million men, women and children were the victims of the transatlantic slave trade, one of the darkest chapters in human history. The Permanent Memorial will honour and remember those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slavery system, and also increase awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice today.

Today’s announcement is a culmination of a long process. UNESCO and the UN Department of Public Information’s Remember Slavery Programme have supported the Permanent Memorial Committee in their work during the competition process. Member States from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the African Union have played a primary role in the Permanent Memorial initiative.

The progress of the construction of the Memorial, expected to be completed in the autumn of 2014, can be followed via @RememberSlavery on Twitter and Updates will also be posted from the Permanent Memorial Committee via their Facebook page.


 Media contact UNESCO, New York: Suzanne Bilello s.bilello(at); +1 212 9634386