People's Stories Equality

Preach and practice tolerance, inclusion and respect for diversity
by António Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General
21 Mar. 2018
The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination commemorates the Sharpeville massacre -- the horrific killing of 69 people peacefully demonstrating against apartheid in South Africa.
The apartheid regime was based on institutionalized racial discrimination.
It was ultimately – and thankfully – consigned to history on the release from prison and accession to the presidency of Nelson Mandela, whose centennial we mark this year.
The memory of Sharpeville lives on in this annual UN observance, when we reaffirm our unequivocal rejection of all forms of racism, xenophobia and intolerance.
Sadly, these attitudes persist in countries and among communities around the world.
A stark and tragic example lies in the egregious treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
It is time all nations and all people live up to the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human race.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of that landmark document. We have made progress since it was adopted.
People around the world have gained greater freedoms and equality. Conditions of profound economic misery and exploitation have been improved.
Women’s rights have advanced, along with the rights of children, victims of racial and religious discrimination, indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities. And perpetrators of horrific human rights violations have been prosecuted by international criminal tribunals.
But it is also plain that the words of the Universal Declaration are not yet matched by facts on the ground.
In practice, people all over the world still endure constraints on -- or even total denial -- of their human rights.
Gender inequality remains a pressing issue – with untold women and girls facing daily insecurity, violence and violation of their rights.
We are also seeing an alarming rise in xenophobia, racism and intolerance, including anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred. Far-right political parties and neo-Nazi viewpoints are seeing a resurgence.
Refugees and migrants are systematically denied their rights and unjustly and falsely vilified as threats to the societies they seek to join, despite the proven benefits they bring.
We still have a long way to go before we end the discriminatory attitudes, actions and practices that blight our world.
So, on this international Day, let us all consider how we can better promote tolerance, inclusion and respect for diversity in all nations and among all communities.
Let us work to eliminate messages of hatred – the concept of “us” and “them”; the false attitude that we can accept some and reject and exclude others simply for how they look, where they worship or who they love.
And let us keep in mind the grave consequences of racist thinking – discrimination, slavery and genocide.
We must always stand up to leaders who spread their toxic vison of racial superiority – especially when they couch it in sanitized language to denigrate migrants and foreigners.
We have to protect our youth from these forces of intolerance and division. We cannot allow extremist ideologies to become normalized and legitimized in our societies.
The answer is to preach and practice tolerance, inclusion and respect for diversity. This is achieved through greater debate and openness, and the exchange of different views, experiences and perspectives.
And it is achieved through leadership – the kind of leadership admirably shown by Nelson Mandela. Leadership that is courageous enough and principled enough to counter intolerance, racism and discrimination in all its forms.
28 February 2018
Tolerance and respect for diversity will help bridge our polarised world, by Mary Robinson. (The Elders)
On 27 February, Mary Robinson addressed a High-Level Side Event at the 37th Human Rights Council in Geneva on the importance of tolerance and respect for diversity in the 21st Century. Organised to mark Nelson Mandela''s centenary, she reflected on the values underlying their joint pledge preceding the Durban World Conference on Racism 2001 and the lessons it still offers today''s increasingly divided world.
Nelson Mandela - Madiba changed the course of history for his country, his continent, and the whole world. He endured 27 years behind bars as a prisoner of the apartheid regime, but emerged unbound with his conscience, courage and determination intact.
As President of the first multi-racial democracy in South Africa, he governed with magnanimity and principle. Remarkably, he showed no bitterness to his former captors – he understood that if his country was to heal the deep wounds inflicted by decades of institutionalised discrimination, all its citizens needed to feel ownership of their national destiny.
Let me provide a little background to the Vision Statement prepared prior to the Durban World Conference on Racism in 2001. Frankly, being Secretary General of that conference was my most difficult task as High Commissioner for Human Rights. I felt it was important to lift the discussions to a higher level and remind ourselves of the values behind the idea of a world conference against racism.
I contacted Nelson Mandela, whom I had earlier asked to help me launch the 50th Anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in South Africa on 10th December 1997. He was very encouraging and said that if I could prepare a Vision Statement he would co-sign it with me and we could ask Heads of State or Government to co-sign.
Tolerance and Diversity: A Vision for the 21st Century
''As a new century begins, we believe each society needs to ask itself certain questions. Is it sufficiently inclusive? Is it non-discriminatory? Are its norms of behaviour based on the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and all kinds of related intolerance have not gone away. We recognize that they persist in the new century and that their persistence is rooted in fear: fear of what is different, fear of the other, fear of the loss of personal security. And while we recognize that human fear is in itself ineradicable, we maintain that its consequences are not ineradicable.
We all constitute one human family. This truth has now become self-evident because of the first mapping of the human genome, an extraordinary achievement which not only reaffirms our common humanity but promises transformations in scientific thought and practice, as well as in the visions which our species can entertain for itself. It encourages us toward the full exercise of all its inventive, creative and moral capacities, enhanced by the equal participation of men and women. And it could make the twenty-first century an era of genuine fulfilment and peace.
We must strive to remind ourselves of this great possibility. Instead of allowing diversity of race and culture to become a limiting factor in human exchange and development, we must refocus our understanding, discern in such diversity the potential for mutual enrichment, and realize that it is the interchange between great traditions of human spirituality that offers the best prospect for the persistence of the human spirit itself. For too long such diversity has been treated as threat rather than gift. And too often that threat has been expressed in racial contempt and conflict, in exclusion, discrimination and intolerance.
The horrors of racism - from slavery to holocaust to apartheid to ethnic cleansing - have deeply wounded the victim and debased the perpetrator. These horrors are still with us in various forms. It is now time to confront them and to take comprehensive measures against them.
The World Conference should adopt a declaration and plan of action - to ensure full recognition of the dignity and equality of all, and full respect for their human rights.
Over the coming year we pledge ourselves to seek that conversion of mind and heart. What we envisage for every man, woman and child is a life where the exercise of individual gifts and personal rights is affirmed by the dynamic solidarity of our membership of the one human family''.
At the Durban conference a total of 74 heads of state or government signed the Vision Statement. When I think back to the Durban Conference, and some of the fraught debates that surrounded it, other words from Mandela come to me and offer, I think, a valuable lesson for today’s increasingly polarised and aggressive world.
When he launched The Elders in 2007 in Johannesburg on the occasion of his 89th birthday, Madiba ended his address with this exhortation: “I believe that in the end it is kindness and generous accommodation that are the catalysts for real change.”
Durban’s legacy reminds all of us who are concerned with fighting racism and discrimination that we must be resolute in confronting all prejudices in whatever form they rear their ugly heads, and be guided as much as possible by those humane principles of kindness and generous accommodation which Madiba personified.
As our joint Declaration said: “The horrors of racism - from slavery to holocaust to apartheid to ethnic cleansing - have deeply wounded the victim and debased the perpetrator. These horrors are still with us in various forms. It is now time to confront them and to take comprehensive measures against them.”
It should appal us all that 17 years later, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial still pollute public discourse in too many corners of the world.
The historical revisionism we have recently seen in Poland, and the use of anti-Semitic tropes in Hungary to attack the philanthropist George Soros, are chilling reminders that the ghosts of the past are never far away, and eternal vigilance is needed by politicians, press and civil society alike to combat this poison.
Another challenge to the ideals of tolerance and diversity that we could scarcely imagine in 2001 is the explosion of the Internet and social media. Despite the unparalleled possibilities for exchange, education and connections across borders afforded by our new digital world, we must also recognise that racists, bigots and extremists of every stripe can use and abuse its platforms to spread their gospel of hate.
The extent to which the infrastructure of the Internet and social media platforms can be manipulated by those with malign intent to subvert democratic processes is a serious concern. I very much welcome in this regard the new initiative launched by my friend and fellow Elder Kofi Annan on the technological threats to democracy, which could not be more timely.
But I am also concerned at the general coarsening of language online, and the extent to which Internet users – often hiding behind the cowardly cloak of anonymity – flaunt their vile views and insult anyone who dares to oppose or disagree with them.
To resist these racists, misogynists, nationalists and extremists, we must reassert the values of Nelson Mandela as loudly and firmly as we can in all fora, both on- and offline, from the marbled halls of the Palais des Nations to our everyday interactions with family, friends and colleagues.
One of the ways The Elders are seeking to do this is through our new campaign “Walk Together”, which champions grassroots activists fighting for the freedoms Mandela valued so dearly. Just last week I was in Buenos Aires with my fellow Elder Hina Jilani, standing in solidarity with justice defenders and civil society activists. We want to create a “bright web of hope” that connects and amplifies these voices, and takes Madiba’s message to the next generation.
This will not be an easy journey but it is utterly necessary. And as we walk together, we can take inspiration from the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, who never lost his hope and determination that a better world was possible.
To end with more of his inimitable, inspirational words: "Those who conduct themselves with morality, integrity and consistency need not fear the forces of inhumanity and cruelty."

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‘Freedom from fear’: Ending violence against women
by UNFPA, UNDP and UN Women
Dec. 2017
A joint statement for Human Rights Day, 10 December 2017, from the Executive Directors of UNFPA and UN Women, Natalia Kanem and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and the Administrator of UNDP, Achim Steiner.
Human beings are born free and equal, both in rights and in dignity. This is the fundamental principle enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On 10 December nearly 70 years ago, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first international assertion of the “highest aspiration of the common people”, including the “promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms”, and “… a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want”.
On this Human Rights Day, the last day in the global campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, we repeat the deep connections between freedom from fear, freedom from want and ending gender based violence, and we say: It is time to turn the tide of violence against women and end it.
The rising movement by both women and men to end impunity for sexual abuse and build understanding of its enduring consequences has shown us how with awareness comes the determination for change. And with unity of purpose comes the strength to accomplish it.
The Declaration emphasizes inclusiveness of effort, including “every individual and every organ of society” in the work to secure the observance of rights. We acknowledge the value of ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things -- women and men -- who risk standing up for the protection of rights and access to justice, as well as the civil society and media organizations who amplify these calls and do so much to hold their governments to the highest standards.
All around the world, in every country, women and girls still struggle to exercise their full human rights, even to be seen as full human beings. Violence against women and girls is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of the deep imbalances in power in our societies, and the vulnerabilities and limitations that follow them, especially for the most marginalized, and especially in crisis contexts, when vulnerabilities are at their peak and protections at their lowest point. Defending women and girls’ rights means understanding and addressing these effects holistically.
Worldwide, 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence — most often by an intimate partner. Nearly 750 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday, and over 200 million have suffered female genital mutilation. More than 70% of all trafficking victims worldwide are women and girls, and 3 out of 4 trafficked women and girls are sexually exploited. This must end.
Today, we, the heads of UNDP, UNFPA and UN Women together call for the elimination of violence against women and girls, and the guarantee of all rights, including reproductive rights, for all women everywhere.
We know what must be done. The Declaration asserted the key principles of equality, non-discrimination, participation and accountability to ensure women could enjoy their full human rights. That means working to overturn the more than 155 laws that discriminate against women, and enacting new laws that ensure their equality and empowerment. It means focusing on preventing violence by working with judges, police and men, as well as women’s organizations and youth groups, to dismantle stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes.
It means supporting services for survivors of violence, including safe spaces and psychological counselling in humanitarian and fragile contexts. Collectively, we are reaching millions of women and girls, men and boys with the message that sexual and gender-based violence is never acceptable, and it is destructive both to our societies and our individual potential.
The UN is also working together on rights in new ways that cross sectors and offer hope. In September, we helped launch the Spotlight Initiative, a collaborative effort with the European Union to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030, in keeping with the Sustainable Development Goals. It has a particular focus on domestic and family violence, sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices, femicide, trafficking in human beings and labour exploitation.
Through this initiative, we will jointly work with public and private sectors to strengthen laws and ensure their implementation, to transform the social norms that underpin and perpetuate these abuses, and to support women’s empowerment.
In calling for equal rights for all people, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights laid the foundation for a world based on equal rights and opportunities for women, men, girls and boys. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to complete that journey in less than 13 years.
Its critical concept of leaving no one behind is ultimately a pledge to and for rights holders, and a powerful obligation for duty-bearers. It will take all of us working together to ensure these rights are comprehensively implemented, so that they can be enjoyed by all.

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