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Human rights defenders

High Commissioner pays tribute to civil rights activist Rosa Parks

05 February 2013


Thursday, December 1, 1955, in downtown Montgomery, Alabama.  Rosa Parks, an African American, refuses to give up her seat on the bus to a white person as required by the segregation law at the time.

“That simple act of defiance became a defining moment in the Civil Rights Movement in America and inspired anti-racism movements around the world,” says UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Parks.

A few months later, the US federal district court ruled that Alabama's racial segregation laws for buses were unconstitutional. That decision was overturned on appeal in November 1956 when the Supreme Court upheld the district court's ruling, leading to a city ordinance that allowed all bus passengers to sit anywhere they wanted.

In her statement paying tribute to Parks, the High Commissioner draws attention to the mechanisms established by the UN to combat racial discrimination and the progress that has been achieved globally: “Almost six decades later, countries worldwide have outlawed racism and there is universal agreement that racial segregation violates universal values.”

However, Pillay has cautioned that, “Despite these efforts and successes, racism and racial discrimination persists. It leads to poverty, inequality, marginalization and stigmatization in societies around the world.”

“The determined and principled stand taken by Mrs. Parks against segregation should serve as a powerful motivation for all of us as we combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,” she says. 

“In an increasingly globalized world, we are more often than not exposed to prejudice, stereotypes, ignorance and xenophobia,” Pillay says. “We should face the challenges up front, as exemplified by Rosa Parks. When we share the story of this brave woman to our children and future generations, it is also essential to nurture the spirit of tolerance, multiculturalism and the richness of diversity.”

The High Commissioner says the anniversary of the birth of an inspirational figure like Parks offers an opportunity to recall all those who have suffered because of racism and racial discrimination and to draw inspiration from her efforts.

Rosa Parks, described by the US Congress as “the first lady of civil rights” was born in Alabama, on 4 February 1913.

5 February 2013