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Africa in focus on International Day of Racial Discrimination Elimination

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on 21 March.

By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is an observance instituted through an adopted United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution passed in October 1966 with the aim of abolishing racial discrimination and other forms of segregation. It is also in honor of the struggle to end the policy of apartheid in South Africa.

The International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination defines racial discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”


On 21 March 1960, South African police opened fire and killed 69 people in the township of Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, during a protest against the apartheid “pass laws.” The pass laws required that indigenous Africans over the age of sixteen carry a passbook everywhere as a means of controlling their movement within restricted neighborhoods.

Six years after, the UN General Assembly called upon the international community to eliminate apartheid and racial discrimination by proclaiming 21 March as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It also called on its member states to initiate appropriate programs to combat racial discrimination and promote equality.

Focus on people of African descent

This year, the United Nations is focusing its celebration on a midterm review of the International decade for people of African descent. A General Assembly resolution set aside 2015 - 2024 to focus on the descendants of the victims of the transatlantic slave trade and migrants of African ancestry as they constitute “some of the poorest and most marginalized groups.”

The resolution notes that “People of African descent can suffer from multiple forms of discrimination based on age, sex, language, religion, political opinion, social origin, property, disability, birth, or other status.”

The midterm review will be a means of providing a “solid framework to take effective measures to address these issues in the spirit of recognition, justice and development.” It will also facilitate “taking stock of the progress made and deciding on further necessary actions.”

The Church against racial discrimination

The Church has always made her voice heard in her advocacy for equality, justice and tolerance.

In September 2018, during an address to the participants of the World Conference on Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism in the Context of Global Migration, Pope Francis, lamenting the immorality of discrimination said:

“We live in times in which feelings that to many had seemed to be outdated appear to be reemerging and spreading. Feelings of suspicion, fear, contempt and even hatred towards other individuals or groups judged to be different on the basis of their ethnicity, nationality or religion… These feelings, then, too often inspire real acts of intolerance, discrimination or exclusion that seriously harm the dignity of those involved as well as their fundamental rights, including the very right to life and to physical and moral integrity.”

Calling for action, the Pope said: “The seriousness of these phenomena cannot leave us indifferent. We are all called, in our respective roles, to nurture and promote respect for the inherent dignity of every human person beginning with the family… but also in the various social contexts we engage in.” 

“The other is not only a being to be respected by virtue of his or her inherent dignity but above all a brother or sister to be loved.”


21 March 2020, 15:45