On March 21, 1960 in Sharpeville, South Africa, the police opened fire and killed sixty-nine people during a peaceful demonstration protesting apartheid Pass Laws. Six years later, as a result of the massacre and the enduring presence of racism, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 21 to be The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In 1979, the General Assembly extended the day’s importance by declaring a week of solidarity for all people struggling against racism and racial discrimination, beginning on March 21.

In 2001, The World Conference Against Racism produced a comprehensive program for combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, called the Durban Declaration of Program and Action. The Declaration specifically acknowledges that slavery and the slave trade constitute crimes against humanity, provides recommendations to combat discrimination against various racial groups that have historically faced persecution, and expresses concern about the increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

At the Durban Review Conference in 2009, the conference determined that the Durban Declaration and Program, which this year celebrated its fifteenth anniversary, was fruitful in renewing international commitment to the anti-racial agenda, acknowledging it as a comprehensive framework for fighting intolerance. Nevertheless, the conference concluded that there is still an overwhelming need for progress in overcoming racist tendencies that affect millions of lives and hinder global development.

Many NGOs and activist groups hold events and share projects of their own in celebration of the day. For instance, the UN has declared the 2017 theme Racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration.  In celebration of the day, the Slave Route Project raises awareness of the history of slavery, while the International Coalition of Cities against Racism (launched by UNESCO) forms a network for debate and action in order to strengthen public policies to combat exclusion. To become personally involved, people across the world are encouraged to volunteer, participate in events, and to spread the message of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on social media via #FightRacism.

The urgency of civil participation to raise awareness to combat racism is essential. Fifty-seven years after Sharpeville, a climate of intolerance not only remains, but is increasing. As Jewish cemeteries are desecrated, anti-Muslim bigotry spreads, and the Black Lives Matter movement fights for their rights, the significance of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination intensifies.

Grieboski Global Strategies supports the initiatives of people and organizations everywhere to fight racism. We recognize that both explicit and aversive acts of racism affect opportunities provided to minorities and often unjustly chart the course of their lives. While systemic racism threatens the safety of innocent men, women, and children everywhere, it also harms global stability, peace, and development. The Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon explained the problem best: “In these tumultuous times, we must stand up for rights and dignity for all, and for diversity and pluralism. We must speak out against anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, and other forms of hate. An assault on one minority community is an attack on all.” GGS endorses this statement and will continue to strive for an open and honest conversation about the realities of racial discrimination, address its root causes, and ultimately decrease its impact on our global community.