Wed | Dec 1, 2021

Take a stand against racial discrimination

Published:Saturday | March 20, 2021 | 12:06 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

Since 1966, March 21 has been observed annually as the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to commemorate March 21, 1960, when police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid pass laws. Since that tragic day, the apartheid system in South Africa has been dismantled, and the country has made great efforts to ensure that never again will such an evil system as racial apartheid raise its ugly head in their country.

States parties to the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) have also pledged to eliminate racial discrimination, defined in article 1 of the ICERD as:

“… any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

It would be appropriate for all of us who have watched the ease with which, even in a pandemic, racial discrimination reared its ugly head in the past year, to reflect on how we can learn from historical tragedies to combat racial discrimination today. Many of us are familiar with the major historical tragedies or inhumane actions that have affected global history and which were related to racial or ethnic hierarchising and discrimination. The global community has made strides to eliminate racism and racial discrimination. But vigilance is still required. Today, the youth are being asked to use the theme for this year, ‘Youth standing up against racism’, to continue to show their support as many did at the global 2020 Black Lives Matter marches.

As I said on March 20, 2015, in my keynote address in the United Nations General Assembly to observe the day, “Let us do today what we did in the past to end slavery, apartheid, colonial rule, discriminatory laws and practices, and various unjust wars – form a united front to end racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance, in memory of some of the victims of the Sharpville Massacre – Wiggi Bakela, James Beshe, Ephraim Chaka, Miriam Lekitla and Paulina Mafulatse – and in defence of all who experience discrimination on any grounds in any part of the world.”

VERENE SHEPHERD

Vice-Chair

United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

cerd@ohchr.org