Elimination of Racial Discrimination- 21 March

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 2142 (XXI), adopted on 26 October 1966, proclaimed 21 March the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. 

The annual International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination commemorates the day the police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid “pass laws”. On 21 March 1960, a large group of South Africans gathered in the township of Sharpeville to protest against the oppressive apartheid government. In particular, the protesters sought to demonstrate against the Pass laws, which required all indigenous Africans over 16 to carry a passbook everywhere they went. Over 60 years after the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa, racism remains a global scourge; and the UN says everyone has a part to play by speaking up against hatred and intolerance.

The United Nations has built an international framework for fighting racism, guided by the International Convention (that is now nearing universal ratification) on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. However, in all regions, too many individuals, communities and societies suffer from the injustice and stigma that racism brings. The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – also known as End Racism Day – is an opportunity to “recognize the contribution of individuals and organisations that stand up against racial discrimination and the challenges they face”, according to the UN. 

In September 2021, the United Nations General Assembly brought together world leaders for a one-day meeting in New York to mark the twentieth anniversary of adopting the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action under the theme of “Reparations, racial justice and equality for People of African Descent.” On 23 December 2013, the General Assembly proclaimed the International Decade for People of African Descent commencing on 1 January 2015 and ending on 31 December 2024, with the theme “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development.”

World Economic Forum studies show the opportunity for a standardized self-assessment tool to be instigated to help address racial equity gaps in the workplace. Hate speech (much of it racist) is rising worldwide. Online hate speech contributes to global increases in violence toward minorities, including mass shootings, lynchings and ethnic cleansing, according to the US Council on Foreign Relations. Moreover, UN Secretary-General António Guterres believes that simply deploring racism is not enough, and individuals must ensure their voices are raised against it.

Considering the above-mentioned, the United Nations outlines three strategies in fighting against racism: Education (teaching the history of racism, slavery, and colonialism and learning about human rights tools to fight against oppression, racism and discrimination), Actions speaking louder than words (Speaking against intolerance leading to concrete actions to stop it), and being agents of change (acknowledging our power to tackle racism and the courage and the will to act).

The ‘World Economic Forum’s 2023 whitepaper, ‘Prioritising Racial and Ethnic Equity in Business’, outlines that alongside the appalling human suffering caused by racism, there is an economic cost to racism. Additionally, the Forum’s whitepaper details that traditional diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies are not enough to focus mainly on equality of opportunity; there should be an urgent need to be broader in tackling “racial and ethnic equity gaps” across organisations.