15 DECEMBER 2009


On commemorating Human Rights Day, the Secretary General made this following remarks in opening a panel discussion on race, poverty and power:

"The annual observance of Human Rights Day is an opportunity to reflect on our progress -- but most of all on the great distance we still have to travel to reach our goal of universal human rights for all.

This year, the theme of Human Rights Day is non-discrimination. We may think we live by this principle, or even that we embody it. In our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world, diversity is routinely celebrated.

But the figures speak for themselves.

Around the world, in every country, discrimination remains widespread.

We see it against women, against migrants and minorities, against those with disabilities.

We see institutional racism, gender stereotyping and full-blown ethnic wars.

Whatever form it takes, discrimination continues to have a corrosive effect on societies, decades after it was banned under international law.

On Human Rights Day, we must challenge ourselves to fight discrimination at every level, every day, in every way possible.

Today's panel discussion focuses on the close links between poverty, racism and power.

Racism and poverty feed each other. Discrimination can cause and deepen poverty. And those living in poverty, in turn, are among the most vulnerable to discrimination.

So let me state once again:

The principles of equality and non-discrimination are fundamental elements of human rights law. Racial discrimination has been universally prohibited for many years. Every State has an obligation to fight racism.

Racism and other forms of discrimination are not only human rights violations. They are also major obstacles to economic and social progress.

These obstacles can take the form of racially-fuelled conflicts which disrupt development efforts. Or they may be the quiet exclusion of one part of the population from job and other opportunities.

We must overcome this mutually-reinforcing and destructive combination.

This is where the "power" part of today's discussion comes in.

Those who have power -- including many of us here today -- must make it a priority to end poverty and racism.

In every country, leaders and those with power must address the political and institutional context within which poverty flourishes.

Governments must fix wrongheaded public policy. They must fight passive neglect.

Policy-makers must target their poverty reduction strategies squarely at marginalised and excluded communities.

Those who may be members of dominant groups in a country should not abuse their power at the expense of minorities.

Economic elites cannot ignore the poor and downtrodden. Ethnic majorities must make room for the so-called "other".

Individual citizens have power, too -- the power to fight for equal rights.

Today's panel discussion is an excellent opportunity to take that fight forward by raising awareness and sharing information on best practices."