21.03.2012 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

Message from Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 21 March 2012

© UNESCO/D. Bijeljac - UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova opening the 7th UNESCO Youth Forum on 18 October 2011

On 21 March 1960, police gunned down 69 men and women and children in the South African township of Sharpeville as they demonstrated peacefully against the country’s Apartheid laws. The world has changed since then, but millions still struggle every day against the injustice of racism and discrimination. The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is a moment to honour the memory of those whose lives were stolen in Sharpeville. It is an opportunity for all to join the fight against racism.

Racial discrimination takes many guises, but each is an affront to human rights and dignity. Racism weakens the ties that bind societies together. It throws a shadow over the common destiny of humanity, sowing the seeds of mistrust and tensions. These dangers are heightened in a world changing rapidly. Dialogue and tolerance are essential in societies that are becoming more diverse and ever more connected.

The International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination provides a starting point in the fight against racism. The rights of every individual are the basis for building more tolerant and inclusive societies. These principles guide UNESCO’s action to promote non-discrimination, tolerance and human rights through cooperation in education, culture, the sciences and communication. This includes support to remembrance of the Holocaust through education, and action with young people against racism. It takes in activities to promote freedom of expression as part of fostering more inclusive societies and to counter discrimination. UNESCO has built an International Coalition of Cities against Racism to fight discrimination and promote tolerance at the local and municipal levels.

Education is the best way to deepen understanding and to protect the dignity of all. With the United States and Brazil, we have launched a new programme on “Teaching Respect for All” that will develop curricula to promote tolerance and understanding. Every culture is different – and this is a great wealth -- but humanity remains a whole, united around values and human rights. We must teach this everywhere.

International conventions and organizations matter, but the fight against racial discrimination must start with each of us. This is our responsibility on this International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, as it must be every day.

Irina Bokova




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