“Youth standing up against racism” is the 2021 theme. It engages the public through #FightRacism, which aims to foster a global culture of tolerance, equality and anti-discrimination and calls on each and every one of us to stand up against racial prejudice and intolerant attitudes.
Young people massively showed their support at the 2020 Black Lives Matter marches, which drew millions of demonstrators worldwide. On the streets, groundswells of youth – mostly teens and twenty-somethings – came together to protest against racial injustice. On social media, they mobilized participation, calling on their peers to speak out, and to stand up for the equal rights of all.
Their activism was all the more remarkable in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw restrictions on public gatherings in many countries. As the virus began to spread in early 2020, a parallel pandemic was unleashed – of hatred, violence and fear against certain ethnicities and nationalities. It quickly became clear that stark inequities, sometimes rooted in racism, had subjected minorities to a significantly higher risk of infection and death.
COVID-19 has heavily impacted young people, including those from minority backgrounds. Many are now grappling with an increase in racial discrimination, in addition to severe disruptions to their education; diminished employment prospects; and limited ability to participate in public life, which stymies their individual and social empowerment.
The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on the day the police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid “pass laws” in 1960.
In 1979, the General Assembly adopted a programme of activities to be undertaken during the second half of the Decade for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination. On that occasion, the General Assembly decided that a week of solidarity with the peoples struggling against racism and racial discrimination, beginning on 21 March, would be organized annually in all States.
Since then, the apartheid system in South Africa has been dismantled. Racist laws and practices have been abolished in many countries, and we have built an international framework for fighting racism, guided by the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Convention is now nearing universal ratification, yet still, in all regions, too many individuals, communities and societies suffer from the injustice and stigma that racism brings.
Major UN meetings and events
In September 2021, the United Nations General Assembly will bring together world leaders for a one day meeting in New York to mark the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action under the theme of “Reparations, racial justice and equality for People of African Descent.”
In 2001, the World Conference against Racism produced the most authoritative and comprehensive programme for combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA). In April 2009, the Durban Review Conference examined global progress made in overcoming racism and concluded that much remained to be achieved. Undoubtedly, the greatest accomplishment of the conference was the renewed international commitment to the anti-racism agenda.
In September 2011, the United Nations General Assembly held a one day high-level meeting in New York to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. There, world leaders adopted by consensus a political declaration proclaiming their “strong determination to make the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and the protection of the victims thereof, a high priority for [their] countries.”
Coming as it did during the 2011 International Year for People of African Descent, the 10th anniversary was a chance to strengthen political commitment in fighting racism and racial discrimination.
On 23 December 2013, the General Assembly proclaimed the International Decade for People of African Descent commencing 1 January 2015 and ending on 31 December 2024, with the theme “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development.”