Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 11, March 28, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Fight for the Rights of All

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Since 1966, March 21 has been designated by the UN General Assembly as, International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (IDERD). March 21 was chosen to commemorate the day in 1960 when police opened fire and killed 69 peaceful protestors demonstrating against the so-called "pass laws" imposed by the apartheid regime in South Africa. Those tragic events became known internationally thereafter as the Sharpeville massacre.

This year it was necessary to postpone the national demonstration that would have taken place in central London, but an online rally was held on Facebook instead, during which there were video messages from trade unionists, MPs, faith groups and other campaigners. However, as has been customary, there was no official recognition of the day by the government.

The resolution of the UN General Assembly in 1966 declared that racial discrimination and apartheid were "denials of human rights and fundamental freedoms and of justice and are offences against human dignity". It further declared that they were "a serious impediment to economic and social development and are obstacles to international co-operation and peace". The UN condemned racism and declared that such "policies and practices on the part of any Member State are incompatible with the obligation assumed by it under the Charter of the UN". Members of the UN were obliged to take measures to combat and eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. From 1969 the UN also established an International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) which has been signed and ratified by over 180 countries including Britain.

Since the 1960s the UN has taken a series of other measures to eliminate all forms of racism, paying particular attention in the 1970s to manifestations of racism that were a legacy of colonial rule in Africa, in such countries as South Africa, Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Namibia, as well as in Palestine. In 2001, the UN hosted the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which was particularly significant for condemning colonialism as a major cause of racism and for acknowledging that that "slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so, especially the transatlantic slave trade and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance". The UN declared 2011 the International Year for People of African Descent in order to "redouble efforts to fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance that affect people of African descent everywhere." In 2013, the UN General Assembly proclaimed an International Decade for People of African Descent, from 2015-2024, "to further underline the important contribution made by people of African descent to our societies and to propose concrete measures to promote their full inclusion and to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance". Since it is now at its mid-point, the UN has proposed that in 2020 IDERD is focused on the "midterm review" of the International Decade for People of African Descent.

Although the UN has championed these significant initiatives for over half a century, many people may be entirely ignorant of them, not least because they have almost no official recognition in Britain. It could be argued that although the British government is a leading member of the UN Security Council, and has ratified the ICERD, the actions and policies of successive governments, as well as the British state, have been at variance with spirit and aims of the UN General Assembly's aim to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

Many examples can be found in the recently released Windrush Lessons Learned Review, which reported on the actions of the Home Office from 2008-2018 in relation to the status of citizens who were mainly of Caribbean and African heritage. The Review concluded, "Members of the Windrush generation and their children have been poorly served by this country," and that the actions of the Home Office "were consistent with some elements of institutional racism". In particular, the review was critical of successive immigration and nationality legislation enacted over half a century and of the British government's so-called hostile environment policy.

However, many other examples could be presented, from government support of the apartheid regime in South Africa for many decades, to the refusal to accept that the trafficking of Africans across the Atlantic for centuries, as well as Britain's vast colonial empire, constituted crimes against humanity for which reparation must be made.

There is no doubt that racism directed at people of African descent is not the only form of racism, nor the only form of racism for which Britain needs to make reparation. However, what is significant is that Britain's governments fail to even recognise the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Indeed, for the British state and its governments, racism remains a preferred policy used against not just one section of the people but to attack the rights of all. It is the task of the working class and all progressive people to continue to fight for the elimination of all forms of racism and to fight for the rights of all.


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