Tomorrow (March 21st) is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This event is observed annually to commemorate that day, in 1960 when police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid "pass laws". In 1966, the General Assembly of the United Nations called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination (resolution 2142 (XXI)), and proclaimed the twenty first of March to be an international day of recognition towards this goal.
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.
Even in Ireland during the boom years, the ugly spectre of racial discrimination remained visible just beneath the surface of respectable middle class Ireland. Disrespect towards Eastern European workers coming here to earn a better live was rampant. It seemed that we had forgotten about the days of mass emigration, when Irish men and women had left to look for work overseas. We had forgotten, but now it has been brought back to us with a vengeance. Today, young Irish men and women are heading to places like Poland to look for a better life.
The first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reminds us of our collective responsibility for promoting and protecting this ideal.