Members of the European Parliament on Friday backed a resolution calling on the EU to recognize the slave trade as a “crime against humanity” and make December 2 the “European Day commemorating the Abolition of the Slave Trade.”
The resolution, backed by 493 MEPs with 104 voting against, is not binding but aimed at putting pressure on European governments to take action against racism in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in the United States and a wave of worldwide protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Younous Omarjee, a French far-left MEP who was behind the call, said in a statement that the Parliament now becomes the “first international institution to proclaim … that the transatlantic trade and slavery are a ‘crime against humanity.'”
“In this moment of international indignation against the racist murder of George Floyd … of the collective denunciation of continuous stigmatizations, of permanent discrimination against non-white people … we must be brave enough to take action,” Omarjee wrote.
“The adoption of the resolution is a historically important victory,” said Alice Bah Kuhnke of the Greens. ”It shows that progressive forces, across party borders in the EP, stand firm in our call to end racism and discrimination in the US and in the EU, and to condemn police violence and attacks on journalists who are documenting the protests.”
She added: “The situation, with the public demonstrations and strong opposition to racism, gives us an opportunity to take important political steps to address racism, discrimination and police violence both legally and in our action. If not now, when?”
The resolution, put forward by MEPs from the three biggest political groups, calls on the EU to “officially acknowledge past injustices and crimes against humanity committed against black people and people of color, declare the slave trade a crime against humanity” and calls for December 2 “to be designated the European Day commemorating the Abolition of the Slave Trade.”
The worldwide protests, the resolution adds, “led to the recollection of Europe’s colonial past and its role in the transatlantic slave trade.” It also recommended the introduction of the “history of black people and people of color” into school curricula and holding a “European Anti-Racism Summit on combating structural discrimination in Europe.”
The resolution was adopted days after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made an impassioned speech to MEPs in which she admitted that she had not personally experienced discrimination and urged steps to end both overt injustices and invisible bias.
“We relentlessly need to fight racism and discrimination: visible discrimination, of course, but also more subtle racism and discrimination, our unconscious biases,” she said.
Just before von der Leyen’s speech, Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, a black MEP from the Greens group, told her colleagues that she had filed a legal complaint after several Belgian police officers “brutally pressed” her against a wall in order to search her.
The incident led European Parliament President David Sassoli to send a letter to Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès asking her to take “immediate and necessary measures” to resolve the case.
“As president of this institution, and in the name of MEPs, I firmly condemn any disproportionate use of violence, including from the police,” Sassoli wrote.