Alberta Human Rights Information Service March 21, 2016

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

March 21st marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

This day in history

On March 21, 1960, 69 people were killed and over 300 injured at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa when police opened fire on unarmed protestors who were opposing the apartheid "pass laws," a repressive tool used to control the movements of black South Africans.

In 1966, in response to this horrific event, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed March 21st the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This significant day honours those killed and injured at the Sharpeville Massacre. Although the apartheid system in South Africa has since been dismantled and advances in human rights laws and practices in countries around the world have been made, various forms of racism and discrimination continue to exist.

In an effort to monitor global efforts to eliminate racism and racial discrimination, the UN established the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which is implemented through the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This committee calls on Member States to report on their progress towards improving racial equality and non-discrimination. Canada's most recent reports to the United Nations on measures taken to give effect to the Convention, the Nineteenth and Twentieth Reports of Canada on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, were submitted to the UN on January 27, 2011.

2016 theme

The 2016 United Nations theme for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is "Challenges and Achievements of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action - 15 years after." The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action was adopted in 2001 at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in South Africa. This Declaration encourages the international community and Member States to develop and implement effective strategies to counter racism and discrimination, including the strengthening of human rights education and prevention efforts.

Despite the progress that has been made since the Durban Declaration was proclaimed in 2001, we still observe incidents of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, hatred and related intolerance towards individuals and groups. Although the Sharpville massacre occurred over 50 years ago, we continue to see how racial discrimination and inequality of rights promote dissonance locally and internationally. 

In recognition of the 15th Anniversary of the Durban Declaration and the 50th Anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we are reminded that we must recommit to the ideal that all people are equal in dignity, rights and responsibilities.

A message from Mr. Robert Philp, Queen's Counsel, Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Alberta Human Rights Commission

"International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is a day in which all Albertans can celebrate the accomplishments we have made in preventing and countering racism and discrimination. However, work remains to be done.

Our international and local news remind us daily that we must work even harder to bring about peace and harmony and eliminate racism and racial discrimination. Here, in Alberta, we continue to see incidents of racism, discrimination, xenophobia, hatred and intolerance.

As Albertans, we each have a responsibility to speak out against racism and discrimination, and live the values set out in the Alberta Human Rights Act. This provincial legislation promotes equality, recognizes diversity and protects people from discrimination in employment, accommodation and services.

The lessons learned from the Sharpeville massacre are still relevant today. On March 21st, I encourage you to reflect on the tragic events in Sharpeville, to take the time to engage in human rights events in your communities, and to make a dedicated effort to countering racism and discrimination when you see it.

Together, we can move forward in creating a province where all Albertans can participate in and contribute to the cultural, social, economic and political life of the province."

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