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Joint statement on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – 21 March 2008

Today we commemorate the tragic events of 1960 in Sharpeville, which led to the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination1. On this symbolic day, we - the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) – stand united in calling on political parties to combat racism. In the words of Nelson Mandela, we call on political leaders to build “a society of which all humanity will be proud”.

Our organisations jointly condemn all discourse that spreads ideas of superiority on grounds of race, colour, language, religion, nationality, or national or ethnic origin. Racist discourse is opposed to the basic equality of all people.

Public perception of different minorities, cultures and religions as well as attitudes towards issues such as immigration, integration and the fight against racism are to a great extent influenced by political discourse. By speaking out against racist acts and incidents, political representatives can play a positive role in the promotion of mutual respect and understanding in society, and can have a significant impact in defusing tensions.

Racist political discourse contributes to dehumanising individuals, denigrating certain ethnic, religious or cultural groups, perpetuating stereotypes, and creating a climate in which racist violence may flourish. Racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic political discourse is no longer the sole preserve of extremist political parties, but is to be found in the overall political environment in many states. Such developments may lead to the legitimisation and trivialisation of this type of language. Concern over the increasing use of racist discourse in politics has been expressed in numerous reports, statements and documents adopted by the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Based on the existing standards and commitments of our organisations and, in light of the Charter of European Political Parties for a Non-Racist Society2, which could serve as a blueprint for other similar initiatives, we call upon all political leaders for continued leadership in the fight against intolerance and discrimination. We:

1 The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on 21 March. On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid "pass laws". Proclaiming the Day in 1966, the UN’s General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

2 The Charter of European Political Parties for a Non-Racist Society was signed on 25 September 2003 by the President of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly and the President of the European Parliament. The Charter calls on political parties to act responsibly when dealing with issues related to race, ethnic and national origin and religion. The EUMC, the Fundamental Rights Agency’s precursor, worked on promoting the Charter. ECRI in March 2005 adopted a Declaration on the use of racist, antisemitic and xenophobic elements in political discourse, making reference to the Charter.