Friday, March 21, 2014

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination


Today, March 21, is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Why do we observe this day every year?  On this day in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa against the apartheid "pass laws". Designating this Day in 1966, the General Assembly of the United Nations called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

Those of us working to combat racism and racial discrimination face both long-standing and newly evolving challenges, all of which are rooted in attitudes, opinions and behaviors that transcend generations.  In Latin America, denial, exclusion and marginalization against millions of people of African descent are pervasive. The civil and political rights, as well as the economic, social and cultural rights of Afro descendants are affected by a lack of laws and policies along with sufficient enforcement to address the problems they face. In Africa, the denial of ethnic discrimination is aggravated by the lack of documentation of bias, incidents and attempts at remediation. 

This situation stands in stark contrast with one we faced 14 years ago in Santiago, Chile. There, a Conference of the Americas took place in preparation for the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa in September 2001. During that Durban conference, governments of the world recognized that colonialism, slavery and other forms of servitude were a source of racism and racial discrimination worldwide. Because of that conference, many participating governments committed themselves to remediation and positive action through the Durban Declaration and Program of Action.

In the Americas, we have the opportunity to implement an Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance, approved during the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in June of 2013 in Antigua, Guatemala. Six countries have signed the Convention: Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Antigua and Barbuda, Uruguay and Ecuador. We encourage these countries to take the next step following their signing and ratify the Convention.  Their example will set the standard for all other countries of the Americas to step up their efforts to combat racial discrimination.  We at Global Rights, with our civil society partners, recommit ourselves, as we do every year, to remain at the forefront of this important work, building on the momentum created by the seven lead countries.

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