Press Releases

17 March 2005

“No One Can Be Neutral” in Fight against Virus of Racism, Says Secretary-General in Message on International Day

NEW YORK, 16 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, observed 21 March:

Forty-five years ago today, 69 demonstrators were shot and killed in the Sharpeville massacre, during a non-violent protest against apartheid.  Each year, the United Nations marks this anniversary by drawing special attention to the continuing fight against all forms of racial discrimination.

Despite decades of efforts to eradicate it, the virus of racism continues to infect human relations and human institutions in all parts of our globe.  Today, the old strains of this disease, such as institutionalized discrimination, indirect disadvantage, racist violence, hate crimes, harassment and persecution, are compounded by new forms of discrimination, seemingly defying many of the gains we have made.  The Internet is used for the propagation of racism, the number of victims of human trafficking is growing, xenophobic arguments in political discourse are on the rise, and innocent people are “racially profiled” in the name of distorted notions of security.  Even anti-Semitism is once again rearing its ugly head, six decades after the liberation of extermination camps in which the entire world saw the barbaric extremes to which racism, if not confronted, can lead.

No one can be neutral in the fight against such intolerance.  And we must not give up either the struggle against racism or hope for victory.  In 2001, the Wold Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance adopted the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action as a blueprint for States to work together to eradicate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.  Education and awareness-raising, effective national laws and policies, unbiased media:  each of these can help foster a culture of tolerance and peace.  With the joint commitment of human rights defenders, governments, courts, parliaments, non-governmental organizations and independent national human, we can and must overcome.

The United Nations will continue to do its part as well.  Through the work of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Commission on Human Rights, UNESCO, and each and every person employed by the Organization, we must continue to seek the realization of the Charter’s vision of “respect for human rights without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”.  Indeed, today I am putting before Member States important proposals to strengthen this human rights machinery so that it can combat evils such as racism more effectively and consistently.

This year in Geneva, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will mark the day by convening a panel on effective practices to overcome hate crimes.  In Paris, UNESCO is organizing youth workshops and cultural events within the framework of the International Coalition of Cities against Racism.  And in New York, a series of panels will look at progress in global efforts to combat racism and racial discrimination.

As we remember the sacrifices of Sharpeville, and the sufferings and victories of people across the years and around the world in combating racism, let us today heed the call of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women”.

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