Although the world has made significant strides in the battle against racial discrimination in recent decades, recent reports point to “a disturbing rise” in incidents of a practice that constitutes a formidable obstacle to national development, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today.
“Racist practices hurt their victims, but they also limit the promise of entire societies where they are tolerated,” Mr. Ban said in a message marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
“They prevent individuals from realizing their potential and stop them from contributing fully to national progress. They perpetuate deeply embedded social and economic inequalities. Where unaddressed, they can cause social unrest and conflict, undermining stability and economic growth,” he added.
The Day commemorates 21 March, 1960, when police in apartheid South Africa fired on peaceful demonstrators in Sharpeville protesting racially discriminatory laws, killing 69 and wounding scores more.
The theme of this year’s observance is Racism and Discrimination – Obstacles to Development, and Mr. Ban underscored the importance of ending the scourge in achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to slash a host of social ills, such as extreme poverty, and hunger and lack of health care and education services, all by 2015.
“Much more remains to be done. Laws on the books haven’t always translated into improved conditions on the ground. And numerous countries have yet to formulate and implement effective anti-discrimination policies,” he said.
“Overall, recent reports point to a disturbing rise in incidents of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in many parts of the world,” he added, stressing the important role the UN has to play in the fight against the practice through its lawmaking, human rights monitoring and awareness-raising roles.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour also noted that beyond being “a denial of human rights, an affront to human dignity and a direct assault on the foundation of the human rights edifice – the principle of equality,” discrimination and bias also have a direct impact on a society's development.
“A society that tolerates discrimination holds itself back, foregoing the contribution of whole parts of its population, and potentially sowing the seeds of violent conflict,” she said in a message.