With warnings that the virus of racism is on the march around the world and urgent calls for a global assault on the scourge, with new proposals to strengthen human rights and panel sessions on overcoming hate crimes, the United Nations today marked the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
“No one can be neutral in the fight against such intolerance,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message, noting that on this very day he is putting before the General Assembly proposals for UN reform that include ways to strengthen human rights machinery so that it can combat evils such as racism more effectively and consistently.
“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,” he declared.
“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,” he added.
In his report – “In Larger Freedom,” after a phrase in the UN Charter – a comprehensive deal for tackling poverty, security threats and human rights abuses, Mr. Annan proposes the establishment of a new Human Rights Council and better means to pre-empt and combat genocide, ethnic cleansing and other such crimes against humanity.
The Secretary-General noted that the Day marks the 45th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa when 69 demonstrators were shot and killed during a non-violent protest against apartheid, a date on which the UN draws special attention to the continuing fight against all forms of 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,’” he concluded.
The President of the General Assembly, Jean Ping of Gabon, also stressed the link to Sharpeville. “This remembrance gives us the opportunity to renew the commitment of the international community for the preservation and the respect of both human dignity and equality, in accordance with the principles enshrined in its Charter,” he declared.
“The rise of acts of racism, xenophobia and other related forms of intolerance calls upon all of us to be vigilant and to further mobilize ourselves in order to combat with greater energy those evils which, throughout the world, are at the origin of conflicts and still constitute factors of social exclusion and poverty,” he added.
The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism of the UN Commission on Human rights drew attention to the increase of racism in Europe. “The multiplication of racist incidents targeting immigrants, minorities and refugees are evidence of a general increase of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia,” Doudou Diène said in a report to the Commission today.
“The increase of racism and xenophobia in some European countries, illustrated by continuing racist incidents including violent attacks against members of minorities in recent years, raises the central question of the relationship between identity construction and racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. The EU (European Union) will need to address this issue,” he added.
Meanwhile in Geneva, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was marking the day by convening a panel on effective practices to overcome hate crimes, while in Paris the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) organized youth workshops and cultural events within the framework of the International Coalition of Cities against Racism.
At UN Headquarters in New York, a series of panels was looking at progress in global efforts to combat racism and racial discrimination.