The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on 21 March. On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid “pass laws”. Proclaiming the Day in 1966, the General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racialdiscrimination (resolution 2142 (XXI)).
In 1979, the General Assembly adopted a Programme of activities to be undertaken during the second half of the Decade for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination (A/RES/34/24). On that occasion, the General Assembly decided that a week of solidarity with the peoples struggling against racism and racial discrimination, beginning on 21 March, would be organized annually in all States.
Since then, the apartheid system in South Africa has been dismantled. Racist laws and practices have been abolished in many countries, and we have built an international framework for fighting racism, guided by the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Convention is now nearing universal ratification, yet still, in all regions, too many individuals, communities and societies suffer from the injustice and stigma that racism brings.
Message of the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
“Learning from past tragedies to combat racism today”
Every day, people of all ages endure hatred, injustice and humiliation because of their skin colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, or other supposedly racial characteristics. Such discrimination has underpinned oppression, poverty, slavery, genocide and war.
The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is an opportunity to renew our commitment to building a world of justice and equality where xenophobia and bigotry do not exist. We must learn the lessons of history and acknowledge the profound damage caused by racialdiscrimination. That means carefully preserving the memory of historical wrongs so we may use our knowledge to eradicate prejudice and teach tolerance, non-discrimination and respect for diversity everywhere and for all.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the launch of the International Decade for People of African Descent. In the past fifty years, there has been progress in the fight against racism and racial discrimination. We have seen the end of colonialism, the dismantling of apartheid and the rise of a global movement forequality. Yet, as history and current events attest, racial discrimination still presents a clear danger to people and communities in all regions.
Lasting peace can only be built on the premise that all people have equal rights and dignity – regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, social or other status. To that end, I urge all nations to ratify theInternational Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, to promote historical accuracy and put in place robust policies and laws that will end all forms of discrimination as enshrined in the Convention.
GENEVA (20 March 2015) – Speaking ahead of the International Day for the Elimination ofRacial Discrimination, three United Nations experts on racism have called on Governments around the world to preserve the historical memory of past atrocity crimes to make more effective the global fight against racism.
The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Mutuma Ruteere; the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, Mireille Fanon Mendes-France; and the Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of RacialDiscrimination, José Francisco Cali Tzay, said that breaking the silence on past human rights tragedies can only be achieved through political will and education.
“This year the International Day for the elimination of racial discrimination has a particular resonance as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms ofRacial Discrimination (ICERD) and commence the International Decade for People of African descent (2015-2024).
Striving for a world free of racism and racial discrimination while remembering historical tragedies and inhumane actions, related to racial or ethnic hierarchizing and discrimination, which have affected global history and caused untold suffering are inseparable parts of the fight against racism that all actors must undertake. We continue to be confronted with evidence that we are still some way from realizing the goal of universal non-discrimination, inter-ethnic harmony and unbiased justice that so many have worked to achieve.
The complex linkages between past and contemporary forms of racism must indeed be considered to prevent racial discrimination, xenophobia, afrophobia and related intolerance and banish racism in our societies. In this respect, political will and education is key in breaking the silence on past human rights tragedies.
Often history books are silent about past atrocities committed in the name of race and ethnicity, falsify or distort historic facts, spread racial prejudice, and elude the history, cultures, traditions and positive contributions of those exposed to racism and discrimination, including people of African descent, minorities, migrants, indigenous peoples and other groups.
As we commemorate this important milestone for the ICERD, we can look back and see some great successes in the fight against racism; the most significant has been the end of Apartheid in South Africa. But racism and discrimination is present today in our modern societies across the globe and in many forms. Only by recognising and learning from history can we make past successes a contemporary reality.
We call upon States, and all relevant actors to adopt and implement measures to preserve historical memory of past atrocity crimes, to promote an accurate reflection of historical facts relating to past atrocities in text books and other educational material; to implement awareness-raising initiatives and ensure trainings for teachers on racial discrimination; prescribe unbiased schoolbooks that include thepositive contribution of the victims of racial discrimination, while promoting more tolerance and respect for diversity.
We urge States to fully implement the ICERD as well as the Durban Declaration and Programme ofAction, and the Programme of Activities for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice and Development which constitute key instruments in theglobal fight against racism including past atrocities.”
Learning from historical tragedies to combat racial discrimination today
Message from Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO
Knowledge of history and memory of past crimes can allow us to build a future of peace, providing an antidote to hatred and prejudice. It is in this spirit that International Day for the Elimination of RacialDiscrimination is dedicated this year to the theme of “Learning from historical tragedies to combat racial discrimination today.”
UNESCO has been working tirelessly for many years to disseminate teaching of the history of slavery and the slave trade, recognized as a crime against humanity in 2001. It is essential to deconstruct stereotypes and prejudices that have justified the exploitation of human beings by other human beings and which still persist today, based on ignorance and hatred in various forms of racial discrimination, xenophobia and the rejection of others.
By conducting educational and cultural programmes, such as the Slave Route Project and the General History of Africa, and by preserving documentary heritage through the Memory of the World Programme, our conviction is that, while the crimes mobilized several nations, the memory of those crimes can now, in a reverse action, bring countries together and highlight the irreversible connections that have been created between peoples. This message is essential today, to help people to live together in our multicultural societies and this is precisely the message of the International Decade for People ofAfrican Descent.
Our first duty is to remember that past tragedies also shed light on the courage and determination ofthose who have advanced human dignity by fighting against oppression until slavery was abolished. We are all eternally indebted and this resolve must guide the fight against modern forms of slavery, oppression and discrimination. The initiatives of the International Coalition of Cities against Racismshow that significant progress is possible in the fight against racism and discrimination through theadoption of more effective local anti-discrimination policies.
At a time when the United Nations are inaugurating the Permanent Memorial to Honour the Victims ofSlavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, transmitting this history remains a compass to guide us towards the future to build peace in the minds of men and women. There is no more powerful driving force for dignity and freedom. This is the meaning of the words of Toussaint Louverture, leader of thevictorious slave revolt in Haiti in 1791: “I was born a slave, but nature gave me the soul of a free man.”
Commemorating March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, nepaldalitinfo international network urges interested organizations and groups to use throughout this year these slogans developed or adapted from various sources:
Combat caste discrimination; learn from historical tragedies!
Caste is not culture; caste is criminality in the 21st century!
Ethnic identity is for diversity of people, not for their discrimination and abuse!
Schools are sublime and uplifting; stop making them a breeding ground of caste discrimination!