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UN Renews Commitment Against Racism

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opens the 66th UN General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 21, 2011.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said while much has been done to combat racism and xenophobia, much remains to be done. He spoke on the 10th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action.

The document was adopted in Durban in 2001 at the U.N. World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. At the time it was called an “innovative and action oriented agenda to combat all forms of racism.”

Then and now

“Ten years ago, in adopting the Durban declaration and Program of Action against Racism, the international community acknowledged that no country could claim to be free of discrimination and in tolerance. Ten years later, that is still the case,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The world today, he said, is better prepared to “prosecute and protect” against genocide, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and contemporary forms of slavery - and is more aware of the subtle face to face and institutionalized forms of discrimination.

“We must acknowledge that intolerance has increased in many parts of the world over the past decade. The resurgence and persistence of such inhuman attitudes and detrimental practices indicate that we have not done enough to stem the tide,” he said.

He cited examples of discrimination against Africans and people of African descent, Asians, indigenous people, the Roma and others.

“Let us stand firmly against anti-Semitism. We must oppose Islamaphobia and reject discrimination against the Christians. Bias based on religious identity has no place in our world,” he said.

Neither, he said, does discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.


Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for a renewed commitment by member states.

“Let us pledge here and now to revitalize our efforts nationally, regionally and globally to combat the scourges of racism. We can begin by showing leadership here today by underscoring that equality and non-discrimination are fundamental principles of the international community. They give hope to victims,” she said.

Also addressing the U.N. was South African president Jacob Zuma, whose country hosted the 2001 conference on racism.

“Just under a decade before that it would have been inconceivable that a gathering of that nature discussing racism would have taken place in South Africa,” he said.

At the time, apartheid was a very real and recent memory.

“Racism and racial discrimination continue to be a brutal attack on human dignity, an affront to self worth of individuals and has a prolonged and negative impact on its victims,” he said.

Zuma says the world should continue with the same resolve that led to the end of slavery, colonialism and apartheid.

2011 is the International Year for People of African Descent.