For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:   UNIS/PI/202
Release Date:   21 March 2000
Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination Observed 21 March;
Focus on 2001 South Africa World Conference Against Racism

 NEW YORK, 20 March (UN Headquarters) -- This year’s observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21 March will mark the beginning of the new millennium with renewed efforts to eradicate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance.  In recent years, an unprecedented number of conflicts, including acts of genocide, have proliferated in many parts of the globe, at a time when the peoples of the world had reason to hope that such confrontation was past.

 The United Nations will use this observance of the International Day to focus attention on forthcoming World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to be held in South Africa in 2001.

 The importance of convening a world conference against racism, a recommendation made by the United Nations General Assembly, is vital, as daily reports of discrimination against immigrants, refugees, minorities, indigenous populations and migrant workers, among others, are on the rise.  Racist ideas are being smeared from the Internet into communities and homes.  Sectarian and religious violence are tearing apart communities, and many countries are sitting on a time bomb.

 On 21 March 1960, South African police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against the apartheid “pass law” in Sharpeville, South Africa.  Proclaiming the International Day in 1966, the international community was called to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

 “Bigotry, hatred, prejudice ?- these are the ugly symptoms of a sickness humanity has always and everywhere suffered.  Racism can, will and must be defeated”, said Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General.

 Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary-General of the World Conference, has issued an article for this year’s International Day under the title “Fighting Racism:  Enough Talk, Time for Action”.  In it, she notes, “ Tackling racism and xenophobia must be one of our top priorities ... .  International standards have been set for the prevention and elimination of discrimination, but social and political realities undermine the promise of human rights law.”

 The World Conference will be a unique opportunity to create a new world vision for the fight against racism in the twenty-first century.  The Conference will promote greater awareness concerning the scourge of racism and increase the political commitment to eliminate racism and racial discrimination.  It will focus on practical steps to eradicate racism by considering how to ensure that the international standards and instruments are applied in efforts to combat it. The Conference will also formulate recommendations for further action to combat bias and intolerance.

 The centrepiece of international action to combat racism and racial discrimination is the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  The Convention, adopted by the General Assembly in 1965, has been ratified by 155 States.  A main aim of the Conference will be to obtain its universal ratification and to promote the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as the pre-eminent body to receive and act on communications from individuals claiming to be victims of violations.

 The United Nations General Assembly has emphasized that the Conference should be “action oriented and focused on practical measures to eradicate racism ...”, and that the World Conference should address in a comprehensive manner all forms of racism, including contemporary forms of intolerance.  The Convention will also increase awareness about racism and its consequences and devise concrete methods to overcome racial discrimination.

 The United Nations continues to initiate and coordinate activities within the framework of the World Public Information Campaign on Human Rights and the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education 1995-2004.  It strives to promote effective coverage of human rights activities, as well as the distribution of relevant human rights information material throughout the world. The World Conference against Racism next year falls within the framework of three ongoing decades:  the Third Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, 1993-2003; the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, 1995- 2004; and the United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty, 1997-2006.

 For further information, contact Saleem Fahmawi, Development and Human Rights Section, Department of Public Information, tel: (212) 963-1887; fax: (212) 963-1186.

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