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Action to promote equality, tolerance urged as UN marks anti-racism day

Action to promote equality, tolerance urged as UN marks anti-racism day

As the United Nations today marked the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, top UN officials stressed the need to take stock of what governments and civil society have done since last year's landmark international conference in Durban, South Africa, and to focus on practical ways of implementing its decisions.

“[T]he 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,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message for the Day, noting that the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance attempted to do just that.

The Secretary-General underscored that the Durban forum had reached an 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, he added, also revealed deep discords on a number of contentious issues.

“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,” Mr. Annan said. “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.”

For his part, the President of the UN General Assembly, Han Seung-soo, said that thanks to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which was later endorsed by the General Assembly, there was now a legal and practical framework in place to assist the international community in dealing with the problem of racial discrimination. The greatest challenge right now, he stressed, was to live up to the commitment expressed at the Durban Conference.

“This requires a strong and enduring commitment to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action in order to fulfil the high hopes of all people still suffering from racism and racial discrimination,” the Assembly President stressed.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination commemorates the day – 21 March 1960 – when the police in the township of Sharpeville killed 69 people peacefully demonstrating against South Africa's apartheid “pass laws.” Declaring the observance of the International Day, the UN General Assembly called on the international community not only to commemorate that tragedy, but also to work together to combat racism and discrimination wherever they exist.