Press Releases

                                                                                                                        15 March 2004

Tolerance, Inter-Cultural Dialogue, Respect for Diversity more Essential than Ever, Secretary-General Says in Message for Day to Eliminate Racial Discrimination

NEW YORK, 12 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 21 March 2004:

On 21 March 1960, a non-violent protest took place in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the “pass laws” -- one of the most hated institutions of apartheid; it ended with the death of 69 demonstrators.  The Sharpeville massacre was a landmark in the history of the anti-apartheid movement.  It also led the United Nations General Assembly to establish this annual observance, which is meant to draw attention to the fight against racism wherever and whenever it occurs.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, reminding us of the horrors that ethnic and racial hatred can cause.  This year is also the bicentenary of the revolution in Haiti, which led to the liberation from slavery of the peoples of the Caribbean and Latin America.  And the General Assembly has proclaimed 2004 the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition.  What must link these observances is not only our honouring the memory of the victims of past tragedies, but also our determination to save others from becoming the victims of similar tragedies in the future.

That means reversing the lasting consequences of slavery and the slave trade.  The historical injustices of slavery and the slave trade have contributed to the poverty, underdevelopment, marginalization, social exclusion, economic disparities, instability and insecurity that affect many people in different parts of the world, in particular in developing countries.  At the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2001, States acknowledged that slavery and the slave trade were appalling tragedies in the history of humanity, and among the major sources of racism.  The United Nations remains strongly committed to helping people and countries to overcome this legacy, while at the same time combating contemporary forms of slavery -- such as forced labour, including for the purpose of sexual exploitation -- that remain a blight on our collective conscience.

Racism is also among the roots of genocide.  Racist practices, racist ideologies and dehumanizing public discourse that denies whole groups of people their dignity and rights must be condemned.  More than that, we must strengthen our capacity for early warning and prevention of genocide, mass murder, ethnic cleansing and comparable crimes, and truly support efforts at bringing perpetrators to justice, for example through the International Criminal Court.  I expect soon to appoint a United Nations special adviser on the prevention of genocide, and to make other proposals for strengthening our action in this area.

Tolerance, inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where peoples are becoming more and more closely interconnected.  We look to governments, in particular, for political will and resolute action.  On this international day for the elimination of racial discrimination, let us all be inspired anew by the fundamental principle, enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of the equality of all human beings.

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