The world observed ‘The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’ on March 21.
New Zealand commemorated it as ‘Race Relations Day’ with the Human Rights Commission promoting programmes in association with the New Zealand Federation of Multicultural Councils.
Many other associations and community organisations conducted programmes to foster unity and raise funds for the victims of the Earthquake in Christchurch. Some of these programmes included ‘Holi,’ India’s Festival of Colours.
Thousands attended festivals and events held in Auckland, Blenheim, Dunedin, Gore, Hastings, Invercargill, Marton, Nelson, Rotorua, Tauranga, Upper Hut, Wellington and Whangaraei.
A ‘Dark’ origin
The Special Day was a result of an incident that occurred in Sharpeville, South Africa in 1960, when the Police opened fire killing 69 people who were peacefully demonstrating against the apartheid regime in their country.
Six years later, the UN declared the commemoration of ‘International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination,’ calling on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.
Since then, South Africa has dismantled its apartheid system, many countries have abolished their racist laws and the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has put in place a mechanism to fight racism.
However, racism continues to be a problem and many communities and societies suffer the injustice and stigma that racism brings with it. The US, with a President of African-American extraction, is no exception.
The event this year was devoted to combating discrimination faced by people of African descent, in line with the UN General Assembly proclamation that 2011 would be the International Year for People of African Descent.
The discrimination faced by people of African descent is still evident.
Many suffer exclusion because of their poverty and lack of access to education and employment.
These and other fundamental wrongs have a long and terrible history, including the transatlantic slave trade practiced until the middle of the 19th Century, the consequences of which are still evident.
Efforts to correct these wrongs have witnessed comprehensive anti-racism agenda in many countries of the West that included, inter alia, empowerment of the people of African origin, equal opportunities for education, health and career and a number of other measures.
The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban in 2001 provided an impetus to advance better race relations and recognise the vast contributions made by people of African descent to the political, economic, social and cultural development of all our societies.
The first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948 affirmed, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reminds us of our collective responsibility for promoting and protecting this ideal.