Children in a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Haiti.
Children in a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Haiti.
Photo:UN Photo/Logan Abassi

Youth standing up against racism

“Youth standing up against racism” is the 2021 theme. It engages the public through #FightRacism, which aims to foster a global culture of tolerance, equality and anti-discrimination and calls on each and every one of us to stand up against racial prejudice and intolerant attitudes. 

Young people massively showed their support at the 2020 Black Lives Matter marches, which drew millions of demonstrators worldwide. On the streets, groundswells of youth - mostly teens and twenty-somethings - came together to protest against racial injustice. On social media, they mobilized participation, calling on their peers to speak out, and to stand up for the equal rights of all.

Their activism was all the more remarkable in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw restrictions on public gatherings in many countries. As the virus began to spread in early 2020, a parallel pandemic was unleashed - of hatred, violence and fear against certain ethnicities and nationalities. It quickly became clear that stark inequities, sometimes rooted in racism, had subjected minorities to a significantly higher risk of infection and death.

COVID-19 has heavily impacted young people, including those from minority backgrounds. Many are now grappling with an increase in racial discrimination, in addition to severe disruptions to their education; diminished employment prospects; and limited ability to participate in public life, which stymies their individual and social empowerment

Background

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on the day the police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid "pass laws" in 1960.

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. 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.

Principle of equality

The United Nations General Assembly reiterates that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and have the potential to contribute constructively to the development and well-being of their societies. In its most recent resolution, the General Assembly also emphasized that any doctrine of racial superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous and must be rejected, together with theories that attempt to determine the existence of separate human races.

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 September 2021, the United Nations General Assembly will bring together world leaders for a one day meeting in New York to mark the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action under the theme of “Reparations, racial justice and equality for People of African Descent.”

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 (DDPA). 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.

On 23 December 2013, the General Assembly proclaimed the International Decade for People of African Descent commencing 1 January 2015 and ending on 31 December 2024, with the theme “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development.”

Resources

Key documents

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

2021 Events

  • 18 Feb: ECOSOC special meeting to commemorate the DDPA 20th Anniversary “Reimagining Equality: Eliminating racism, xenophobia and discrimination for all in the decade of action for the SDGs”
  • 22 Feb: High-level panel discussion at the 46th HRC session “The state of play in the fight against racism and discrimination 20 years after the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action and the exacerbating effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on these efforts” 
  • 12 Mar: Annual panel debate with a theme “The role of youth in combatting racism and racial discrimination,” to celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial discrimination
  • 18 Mar: At the 46th HRC session, the High Commissioner presents an oral update to the Council on the implementation of its resolution 43/1 
  • May: (tentatively during its third week ) the PGA will be organising a mid-term review of the International Decade for People of African Descent in New York
  • September: the High-level GA meeting to commemorate the DDPA 20th Anniversary;
  • Last quarter: regional meeting on the International Decade for People of African Descent for MENA region

 

Child taking a helping hand

Racism, xenophobia and intolerance are problems prevalent in all societies. But every day, each and every one of us can stand up against racial prejudice and intolerant attitudes. Be a human rights champion, #fightracism and #Standup4humanrights.

campaign poster with many photos and sign Add your photo

Show your support for #FightRacism by sharing your picture.

  1. Visit https://share.ohchr.org
  2. Add your photo with our “I Stand Up To Racism” filter. You can also choose one of our filters inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  3. Share it on social media using #FightRacism and #StandUp4HumanRights

 

As we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial discrimination, we battle two pandemics – racism and COVID-19. As the COVID-19 pandemic races through the world, claiming lives and livelihoods, racial divisions are exposed. Young people, everywhere, are standing up for what is right. #FightRacism

We all can do something against racism. You too. Join UNESCO and leading personalities from all over the world in denouncing mounting racial discrimination. UNESCO has been on the forefront of the fight against racism since its creation in 1945. In 1978, it adopted the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice which reaffirms that “All human beings belong to a single species and are descended from a common stock. They are born equal in dignity and rights and all an integral part of humanity.”

A crowd of women sitting and laughing

International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.