Warning that racial discrimination and intolerance are still “extremely serious problems,” United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on the international community at large to adopt broad national action plans to eliminate racism. In a message marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Mr. Annan said prejudice is deeply embedded in the economic, social and political structures of many societies, and has been among the root causes of a number of violent conflicts. The International Day commemorates the victims of the Sharpeville massacre on 21 March 1960, in which 69 peaceful demonstrators against apartheid were killed by South African police forces, marking an important watershed in the fight against racism. “But the fight is not yet won,” Mr. Annan warned. “More than 40 years later, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are still extremely serious problems,” he said. “Indeed, discrimination is deeply embedded in the economic, social and political structures of many societies, and has been among the root causes of a number of violent conflicts.”
Mr. Annan stressed the centrality of the UN at the heart of efforts to address the plight of migrants, minorities, indigenous peoples, people of African descent and other victims, and the need for education to inculcate values of equality and respect for human rights. “For this process to be successful, however, both governments and civil society need to take ownership of it,” he said. “Governments should provide clear policy direction by adopting broad national action plans against racism. This should be complemented by the efforts of civil society to build inclusive societies, in which diversity is seen as an asset and not a threat.”
General Assembly President Jan Kavan of the Czech Republic stressed the link between racism and poverty in his message marking the Day, and called on all governments to punish the perpetrators of racist crimes. “Poverty, underdevelopment, social exclusion and economic disparities are closely associated with racism and related intolerance,” he said. “The persistence of racist attitudes and practices in turn generates more poverty.” Stressing that the prohibition of racial discrimination is an incontrovertible norm of international law, Mr. Kavan regretted that it is a norm that is not always respected. “I call upon all Member States to resolutely bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes motivated by racism and xenophobia,” he said.