France will hold a national day of remembrance for the victims of slavery each year on 10 May, Jacques Chirac announced yesterday.
The date for the annual holiday was chosen to coincide with the date five years ago when France became the first country to pass a law declaring slavery to be a crime against humanity.
“Slavery fed racism. When people tried to justify the unjustifiable, that was when the first racist theories were elaborated.
“Racism is a crime of the heart and the spirit, which is why the memory of slavery remains a living wound for some of our fellow citizens.”
He said children should be taught about slavery as part of the national curriculum as early as primary school, adding he would propose a “European and international initiative” to tackle any company still using slave labour.
According to United Nations figures, more than 20 million people are in slavery today.
Mr Chirac’s announcement came against a background of racial tension.
Last week, he demanded that a law that schools must teach the positive aspects of colonialism be scrapped.
Dubbed “the law of shame”, it caused uproar in the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe where most people are descended from slaves.
In November, France suffered the worst unrest in nearly 40 years as rioting by youths complaining of racial discrimination spread from deprived Paris suburbs to cities across the country.
According to a poll yesterday, 82 per cent say they do not feel the government has found a solution to the problems and 86 per cent believe unrest will erupt again.