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International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

In 1998, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission delivered its findings on the massacre of March 21, 1960 at Sharpeville. The commission found that “police deliberately opened fire on an unarmed crowd that had gathered peacefully… to protest the pass laws”. 

: The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances, was held in Durban South Africa in 2001 - UN Photo/Evan SchneiderThe pass laws were described in an edition of Time Magazine in 1960 as “almost a physical shackle.”

The Commission report went on, “the South African Police failed to give the crowd an order to disperse before they began firing and they continued to fire upon the fleeing crowd, resulting in hundreds of people being shot in the back. As a result of the excessive force used, 69 people were killed and more than 300 injured.”

All these years later, the horror of that day is remembered and its significance is marked every year through the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

In a statement to observe the Day, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay said, “the massacre in Sharpeville represents a much wider tragedy: we mark its anniversary to remember also the millions of people around the world who are still, today, victims of racism and racial discrimination.”

In April, governments and organisations will gather to review progress in the elimination of racism in the years since the 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa.

Commenting on the up-coming Review Conference, Human Rights chief Pillay said, “there has been progress in the intervening years in many areas but that progress has been partial and there have been serious setbacks too.”

The Durban Review Conference in April is “a forum,” Pillay said, “for government to come together and reinvigorate their efforts to combat racism, to share the practices that have been successful and to highlight the areas that still need most work.”

Pillay welcomed the “recent progress in preparing the groundwork for this conference: it is important that our efforts are collaborative and that we produce concrete steps that can be implemented at all levels.” This year the High Commissioner’s Office commemorated the event with a high-level panel discussion, addressing the theme “United Against Racism: Dignity and Justice for All.” The Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Kyung-wha Kang attended, along with three Special Rapporteurs and several other senior dignitaries.