Message from Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 21 March 2013

20 March 2013

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 21 March, is one of the longest established international days celebrated by the United Nations. This Day takes us to the origins of the principles that underpin international solidarity and social life. It also embodies UNESCOs chief purpose to create conditions conducive to mutual understanding and tolerance in the minds of men and women.

Racism poisons the diverse and multicultural societies in which we live. Whether it be latent or openly displayed, whether it take the form of denial of employment, housing or education or the form of physical aggression, racial discrimination thrives on the kind of reasoning that is built on the ranking and division of the human genus and that points to the stranger, the minority, the immigrant and, ultimately, humanity itself as undesirable. It is rooted in preconceptions inherited from ages past and sustained by ignorance. It must be combated through action to strengthen the inviolable principles of human dignity.

To this end, UNESCO, drawing on the full force of its mandate, is including human rights education in school curricula, thus transmitting the history of the darkest pages of the past in particular slavery, the slave trade, the Holocaust and the genocides. The sense of deep-seated unity of the human genus must be strengthened by the promotion of cultures and better knowledge of the shared foundations that bring them closer together. UNESCOs International Coalition of Cities Against Racism has shown its relevance through the exchange of best practices in order to strengthen social cohesion. According to ubuntu wisdom, most ably advocated by the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, one needs other persons to be fully oneself. UNESCO has endorsed the ubuntu message and is putting it into practice under an integrated strategy adopted more than ten years ago.

UNESCO is working to harness all cultural and educational resources and to make the most of all sources of knowledge so that we may live better together in our diversity. I call on all UNESCO partners, governments, NGOs, artists, civil society stakeholders and human rights activists to join us in upholding the principle of zero tolerance of racial discrimination, in supporting victims and in combating all forms of racism, xenophobia and intolerance.

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