International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Message from the Director-General

Since 1966, on the initiative of the United Nations, 21 March has been dedicated to the fight against racial discrimination. The date was chosen to commemorate the victims of a peaceful protest which was bloodily repressed by the police in apartheid South Africa. That was half a century ago, and the apartheid system has since been officially demolished, but racism still causes widespread damage. From insults and humiliation to hate crimes and massacres, from difficulties gaining access to employment to institutionalized racist practices, racial discrimination takes many forms which are at times dramatically brutal and at others sly and underhand.

However, ultimately they all stem from the same dangerous ignorance. This is why, beyond the reinforcement of legal arsenals and sanctions, racist ideology can only be combated effectively with the weapons of the mind. Through science, firstly, which reveals the dishonesty of racist thinking and exposes its social, ideological, political and historic mainsprings. Through education, secondly, which teaches that no person is worth less than another, and that diversity is an asset which we must respect. Through culture, finally, the only means by which we can replace deadly social hierarchy with a world shaped by awareness of belonging to a common humanity.

These three pillars, these three human inventions through which humanity has raised and found itself, form the basis of UNESCO and define its mission. This year’s theme for the Day, as set by the United Nations, “Promoting tolerance, inclusion, unity and respect for diversity in the context of combating racial discrimination”, thus resonates perfectly with this mission.

The many collaborative projects set up all over the world in the last few years, with experts and local and international politicians, with schools, museums and civil society organizations, all bear witness to our commitment to the fight against racism.  

The long-term project, “The Slave Route”, launched in 1994, is still ongoing and has worked decisively towards a better understanding of the slave trade. The partnership established in 2014 with Juventus Football Club reaffirmed the urgent need to fight against all forms of discrimination in sport. Last year, it was under the patronage of our Organization that the exhibition “Us and Them – From Prejudice to Racism” was launched at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.

We intend to pursue this fight tirelessly, particularly through the International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities supported by UNESCO, which since its establishment in 2004 has proven to be a platform to share experiences, all over the world, so as to improve policies to combat racism, discrimination, xenophobia and exclusion.  

It is only through these efforts that we will indeed be able to build a world where no one is regarded as inferior, and where, as fervently hoped by philosopher Achille Mbembe, “the reality of an objective common destiny can outweigh attachment to difference”.

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General
Message on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2018