Press Releases

18 March 2002


New Ways Needed to Address Racism, Intolerance,
He Says in Message on Day to Eliminate Discrimination

NEW YORK, 15 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 21 March:

On 21 March 1960, in the township of Sharpeville, South Africa, police opened fire and killed 69 people who were peacefully demonstrating against apartheid’s "pass laws." The United Nations General Assembly subsequently declared that day -- 21 March -- the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and called on the international community not only to commemorate that tragedy, but also to work together to combat racism and discrimination wherever they exist.

Although the principle of non-discrimination has been established as one of the foundations of international law, the persistence of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance -- the violence and invective visited on men and women not for what he or she has done, but because of who he or she is -- demonstrates the need to look for new ways to address this age-old problem. Last year, the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance attempted to do just that. The conference reached agreement on the need for tougher national legislation, improved educational efforts, and more legal and other assistance for the victims of racial discrimination. But the conference also revealed deep disagreements on a number of contentious issues.

I encourage governments and civil society to use this International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to take stock of what has been done at the national level since the world conference to promote equality, diversity and tolerance. Ours is a world in which threats such as poverty, pollution and political instability do not stop at national borders, nor make any distinction between races, wealth, status, or other markers of identity. Overcoming the painful divisions in the human family would be an achievement worth celebrating in its own right, but it is also essential if we are to unite and address the challenges and insecurities of our time.

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