New York – Every year, the world commemorates the anniversary of the 1960 Sharpville massacre, which saw dozens of peaceful demonstrators shot by police in apartheid South Africa merely for protesting racially discriminatory laws.
This year, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is devoted to combating discrimination faced by people of African descent. This focus reflects the UN General Assembly’s proclamation of 2011 as the International Year for People of African descent.
The discrimination faced by people of African descent is pernicious. Often, they are trapped in poverty in large part because of bigotry, only to see poverty used as a pretext for further exclusion. Often, they lack access to education because of prejudice, only to have inadequate education cited as a reason to deny them jobs. These and other fundamental wrongs have a long and terrible history, including the transatlantic slave trade, the consequences of which are still felt today.
A decade ago in Durban, the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance adopted a forward-looking and comprehensive anti-racism agenda in which the empowerment of people of African descent figured prominently. The International Year is an opportunity to advance this effort and recognize the vast contributions made by people of African descent to the political, economic, social and cultural development of all our societies.
Overcoming racism compels us to address public policies and private attitudes that perpetuate it. On this International Day, I call on Member States, international and non-governmental organizations, the media, civil society and all individuals to engage meaningfully in the promotion of the International Year for People of African descent – and to work together against racism whenever and wherever it occurs.