21 March 1998

Press Release


ADVANCE RELEASE Message on International Day for Elimination of Discrimination Stresses Government's Role in Building Tolerant, Equal Societies

Following is the text of a message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 21 March:

Events over the past few years give ground for both optimism and renewed vigilance. On the one hand, we have seen the defeat of apartheid in South Africa, a triumph for the universality of human rights and a defeat of the evil of domination based on race. On the other, we have seen campaigns of "ethnic cleansing" and genocide, where race, ethnicity or religion has marked individuals for expulsion or slaughter.

We have seen that as societies face the challenges that come with economic difficulties and modernization, racial minorities and immigrants all too often become targets of discontent. The lesson is clear: the victory over apartheid must not be seen as an excuse for complacency but as a new call to action.

The commitment to the elimination of racial discrimination lies at the heart of the founding purpose of the United Nations. This year, as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we give new life to the message that all humankind is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration, regardless of race, colour or origin. We try to live up to the fiftieth anniversary motto of "All human rights for all".

Much of the responsibility lies with governments. Legislation, education and policies are the primary tools to prevent racial discrimination in the future, to redress the effects of racial discrimination in the past, to build tolerant and equal societies in the years to come.

- 2 - Press Release SG/SM/6495 OBV/39 19 March 1998

Governments can also help the United Nations. Some governments have still not ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination -- the United Nations primary legal instrument in the fight against racial discrimination. More important, Article 14 of the Convention, which allows individuals the right to petition the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, has been accepted by only 25 States.

As we mark this day, there is another anniversary I would like us to remember -- that of the death of Martin Luther King, 30 years ago next month. Let us pay tribute to him and to all those who have given their lives to build a world free of discrimination. Let us give this year meaning. Let us give human rights life.

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