“France, the country of enlightenment and liberty, is today at the forefront of the fight against modern slavery, a scourge that we are determined to combat relentlessly,” said Sarkozy in a statement read by Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux at a remembrance ceremony in Paris.
“The fight is never over, we must not forget that,” the president stressed, pointing to the millions of men, women and children who continue to live in “inhuman and degrading conditions”.
A series of events are planned to take place across France to mark the occasion, including ceremonies and exhibitions in the former slave ports of Nantes, Bordeaux, La Rochelle and Le Havre.
Sarkozy’s predecessor Jacques Chirac declared 10 May a national day of remembrance for the victims of slavery in 2001.
On 10 May of that year, France passed the Taubira Act, which recognised the slave trade as a crime against humanity.
Campaigners will launch an appeal on Monday to have other European countries to do the same. The European Memorial Foundation for the Slave Trade is to address letters to the leaders of Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain urging them to follow France’s example and pass legislation acknowledging the historic injustice of slavery.
France first banned slavery in 1794 during the French Revolution, but later restored it in 1802. It was definitively abolished in 1848, later than many other European countries.