The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on 21 March. On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid "pass laws". Proclaiming the Day in 1966, the General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination (resolution 2142 (XXI)).
In 1979, the General Assembly adopted a Programme of activities to be undertaken during the second half of the Decade for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination (A/RES/34/24). On that occasion, the General Assembly decided that a week of solidarity with the peoples struggling against racism and racial discrimination, beginning on 21 March, would be organized annually in all States.
Since then, the apartheid system in South Africa has been dismantled. Racist laws and practices have been abolished in many countries, and we have built an international framework for fighting racism, guided by the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Convention is now nearing universal ratification, yet still, in all regions, too many individuals, communities and societies suffer from the injustice and stigma that racism brings.
Racial and ethnic discrimination occur on a daily basis, hindering progress for millions of people around the world. Racism and intolerance can take various forms — from denying individuals the basic principles of equality to fuelling ethnic hatred that may lead to genocide — all of which can destroy lives and fracture communities. The struggle against racism is a matter of priority for the international community and is at the heart of the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The United Nations has been concerned with this issue since its foundation and the prohibition of racial discrimination is enshrined in all core international human rights instruments. It places obligations on States and tasks them with eradicating discrimination in the public and private spheres. The principle of equality also requires States to adopt special measures to eliminate conditions that cause or help to perpetuate racial discrimination.
Major UN meetings and events
In 2001, the World Conference against Racism produced the most authoritative and comprehensive programme for combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action . In April 2009, the Durban Review Conference examined global progress made in overcoming racism and concluded that much remained to be achieved. Undoubtedly, the greatest accomplishment of the conference was the renewed international commitment to the anti-racism agenda.
In September 2011, the United Nations General Assembly held a one day high-level meeting in New York to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. There, world leaders adopted by consensus a political declaration proclaiming their "strong determination to make the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and the protection of the victims thereof, a high priority for [their] countries."
Coming as it did during the 2011 International Year for People of African Descent, the 10th anniversary was a chance to strengthen political commitment in fighting racism and racial discrimination.