For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:   UNIS/GA/1629
Release Date:   21 March 2000
Assembly President Says Combating Racism, Xenophobia
And Intolerance a Collective Responsibility

 NEW YORK, 20 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the message of General Assembly President Theo-Ben Gurirab (Namibia) for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which will be observed tomorrow:

 March 21 commemorates the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and begins the observance of the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples Struggling against Racism and Racial Discrimination.  It is a time to acknowledge our progress and measure how far we’ve come, consider the obstacles that remain and plan for how far we have yet to go in the fight against racism.

 The world has, indeed, come a long way since that infamous day on March 21, 1960, when police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid regime’s “pass laws”.  Today, South Africa has a democratically elected Government and apartheid has been relegated to the history books.  It is most appropriate, therefore, that South Africa will host next year’s World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

 It is fitting that March 21 also marks the tenth anniversary of the independence of Namibia.  Ten years ago today, my country, with the steadfast support of the United Nations and the international community, prevailed in its fight for democracy, equality, human rights and peace, following decades of oppressive rule by the apartheid regime.

 There is a growing realization that racism, xenophobia and intolerance are the root causes of most of the conflicts and human rights violations that mar our world.  Combating these evils is therefore a collective responsibility.  A fundamental first step is that States and the international community acknowledge the reality of multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies.  Education initiatives and awareness raising about diversity and the harmful consequences of racism can play a very important role in combating racism and xenophobia.

 There are economic, social and cultural dimensions to racism and xenophobia.  The legacies of colonialism and slavery have created conditions and conceptions that foster racism and xenophobia in most countries.  In addition, ethnic tensions are often exploited, deliberately fostered and exacerbated to
further political objectives.  Racism is often a root cause or complicating factor in many of today’s conflicts that can create refugees and internally displaced persons.

 For over 50 years, the United Nations has endeavoured to create international legal frameworks and mechanisms to combat racism and racial discrimination.  Its Charter promotes “respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that:  “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in the spirit of brotherhood.”

 In 1965, the General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which has since been ratified by 155 States.  The Convention established the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which is mandated to monitor and review the legal, judicial, administrative and other steps taken by individual States to fulfil their obligations to combat racial discrimination.  The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide further ensure the rights of human beings against racism and intolerance.

 At the national level, governments around the world have committed themselves to promote and encourage universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.

 Many States have anti-discrimination laws and human rights institutions to implement these laws and to provide remedies to victims of racial discrimination.  There are renewed efforts in States where peace and anti-racism seemed almost impossible as recently as a decade ago.  There is also growing respect in many countries for indigenous peoples and their rights.

 The international community is committed as never before to ending racism.  The 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance will provide an occasion for the international community to review the progress made in the fight against racism, consider the challenges ahead, and propose preventive, concrete, action-oriented measures to combat racism.

 The enormous obstacles to eliminating racism will not be overcome easily, but with vision, a concrete action plan and political will, the World Conference has the potential to be a very important step in overcoming obstacles to equality and in confronting new and contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

 On this International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the first such commemoration of the new century and millennium, let us rededicate ourselves to the principles enshrined in international human rights instruments, and promote the vision of “One World, One People” as we strive to overcome the scourges of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

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