New York

18 March 2016

UN Secretary-General's Remarks at General Assembly Meeting to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination [As delivered]

I am pleased to join you to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Let us recall that the date of this annual observance is the anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre of peaceful demonstrators in South Africa in 1960.  I draw encouragement by how far we have come since that tragedy.  But we have much distance still to travel in our work for equality for all.

For this year’s observance, we are commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.  Adopted by consensus at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, these texts remain the most comprehensive framework for international, regional and national actions against racism.

The international community acknowledged in Durban that no country could claim to be free of racism. This remains the case today.

We have undoubtedly come a long way in ensuring equal rights and non-discrimination. 
Member States have adopted or amended legislation to guard against racial discrimination.  An International Decade for People of African Descent was proclaimed by the General Assembly and will continue through the year 2024. Civil society organizations worldwide working on racism are increasingly active and vocal.

Yet the persistence of racism indicates that we have not yet done enough. I am deeply alarmed by a surge of intolerance, racist views and hate-driven violence around the world. Racial profiling and violence against certain communities is on the rise.  Economic hardship and political opportunism are triggering increased hostility towards minorities.  This is being manifested most directly in anti-refugee, anti-migrant and, in particular, anti-Muslim bigotry, attacks and violence.

Extreme right-wing political parties are fomenting divisiveness and dangerous myths.  Even once-centrist parties have hardened their views; once-moderate countries are seeing xenophobia rise sharply; and once-sober voices have exploited fears in a dangerous echo of the darkest chapters of the last century. 

All of this increases the risk of societal fracture, instability and conflict.

In these tumultuous times, we must stand up for rights and dignity for all, and for diversity and pluralism.  We must speak out against anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim bigotry and other forms of hate.  An assault on one minority community is an attack on all. 

I am also concerned that the political will that existed fifteen years ago is under threat. The collective determination that enabled such a far-reaching agreement is being undermined by political expediency. The shared commitment to the universal values of the United Nations Charter is being tested.

We must keep foremost in our minds the countless victims of racial discrimination.  By implementing the Durban agreements, we can uplift not only those who suffer most profoundly but humanity as a whole.

Non-discrimination and equality are the very foundation of our universal human rights system.  Let us unite to ensure dignity, justice and development for all. 

Thank you.