17 March 2003

Forty Years After Sharpeville Massacre, Fight Against Racism Not Yet Won, Says Secretary-General in Message on International Day

NEW YORK, 14 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which is observed 21 March:

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination commemorates the victims of the Sharpeville massacre on 21 March 1960, in which 69 peaceful demonstrators against apartheid were killed by South African police forces. That tragedy marked an important watershed in the fight against racism, but the fight is not yet won.

More than 40 years later, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are still extremely serious problems. Indeed, discrimination is deeply embedded in the economic, social and political structures of many societies, and has been among the root causes of a number of violent conflicts. Members of particular racial or ethnic groups continue to be more likely to be poor and to have less access to adequate health services and education than dominant groups. The persistence of old patterns of racism condemns many people to a life of marginalization and humiliation. And in the last decade, new manifestations of hatred have emerged.

The United Nations remains at the heart of efforts to address the plight of migrants, minorities, indigenous peoples, people of African descent and other victims. Such efforts pay particular attention to education, in order to inculcate the values of equality, tolerance, diversity and respect for human rights in all members of society. For this process to be successful, however, both governments and civil society need to take ownership of it. Governments should provide clear policy direction by adopting broad national action plans against racism. This should be complemented by the efforts of civil society to build inclusive societies, in which diversity is seen as an asset and not a threat.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, let us honour all past and present victims by intensifying our efforts to build a future free of this scourge -- and a world in which equality is a reality for all.

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