Marking International Day on Eliminating Racial Discrimination, Secretary-General Urges General Assembly to Turn Universal Declaration into Reality for All People

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the General Assembly event marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in New York today:

I am pleased to join you for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Today we recall the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 and pay tribute to the heroes of the struggle against apartheid, and to all those who have fought racism and racial discrimination around the world.

Racial discrimination is a deeply damaging and pervasive abuse of human rights and human dignity that affects every country.  It is one of the most destructive forces dividing societies, responsible for death and suffering on a grotesque scale throughout history.  Today, racial discrimination and the legacies of enslavement and colonialism continue to ruin lives, marginalize communities and limit opportunities, preventing billions of people from achieving their full potential.

Racism is not innate, but once learned, it can take on a destructive power of its own.  When Governments and other authorities use racism and discrimination for political ends, they are playing with fire.  Official tolerance and a tacit green light for racial discrimination can fuel tensions and set light to a conflagration of violence and atrocity crimes.

This has played out catastrophically throughout history.  We should not need reminding that racism and racial discrimination can be steps on the way to genocide.  Conversely, initiatives and programmes to eliminate racial discrimination and protect the rights of minorities are investments in crisis prevention and peace.

Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind.  But as we mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Declaration, we are still far from realising equality in dignity and rights for all.

Xenophobia, prejudice and hate speech are rising.  Political leaders scapegoat migrants, with devastating impact.  White supremacist influencers profit from racism on social media platforms.  Artificial intelligence algorithms amplify and digitize racial discrimination.  And after a period of increased global awareness of racism, some countries are experiencing a vicious backlash against anti-racist policies and practices.

We need to resist and reverse these trends resolutely and condemn and eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms.  We must take action to address racism wherever and whenever it arises, including through legal channels.  Civil society plays, obviously, an important role.  Today we recognise the contributions of organisations that fight racism and call for continued support for their critical work.

As we mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration, I join the High Commissioner for Human Rights in urging every Government to adopt, by December of this year, a comprehensive, time-bound national action plan to combat racism and racial discrimination.

Such plans should include anti-discrimination legislation and policies informed by evidence and data.  We have international legal frameworks and global commitments in place: the Universal Declaration; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; and the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

I call on all States today to ratify the Convention and to implement their obligations and commitments without delay.  We must transform political will into comprehensive action, with those experiencing racism and racial discrimination at the centre.

The private sector also has a crucial role to play.  I call on businesses to take urgent steps to eliminate racial discrimination in their products and services, and in their workplaces.

Here at the United Nations, we are making progress on our Strategic Action Plan on Addressing Racism.  My Special Adviser, Mojankunyane Gumbi, and her Anti-Racism Team are engaging with staff across the global Secretariat and developing comprehensive anti-racism training.  There are now anti-racism advocates at senior levels across the global Secretariat.  Many staff have taken part in anti-racism dialogues.

Looking forward, an independent review on past complaints of racism and racial discrimination will identify gaps and enhance accountability.  Addressing racism and racial discrimination will require deliberate, coordinated long-term efforts and I call on all staff of the United Nations to do their part.

At the United Nations and around the world, we must turn the aspirations of the Universal Declaration into reality for all people, without distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin.  In this anniversary year, let’s work together to root out racism and racial discrimination and uphold the dignity and rights of all people, everywhere.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.