Embrace Diversity on Human Rights Day to Spread Equality, Freedom and Dignity

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Navi Pillay

Old and new forms of discrimination and intolerance continue to divide communities all over the world. Sentiments of xenophobia are on the rise. They are often manipulated for demagogic purposes or even for sinister political agendas.

Day after day, their corrosive effects undermine the rights of countless victims. This is why today, on Human Rights Day, the United Nations is urging everyone everywhere in the world to embrace diversity and end discrimination.

Discrimination can take many forms, covert or blatant, public or private. It may appear as institutionalised racism, or ethnic strife, or manifest itself in episodes of intolerance and rejection that escape scrutiny. Its victims are individuals or groups that are most vulnerable to attacks - all those who, due to their race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, status, disabilities and sexual orientation are perceived as different.

Discrimination is often multilayered. Groups that are marginalised on the basis of their origin or status encounter further exclusion and a curtailment of their rights when they attempt to have the access that international law entitles them to - housing, food, health- care and education.

People with disabilities make up the world's largest and most disadvantaged minority. For example, 98 percent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school. Indigenous people represent 5 percent of the world's population, but 15 percent of its poorest people. Women account for two-thirds of the world's working hours and produce half of the world's food. Yet, because of discrimination, they earn only 10 percent of the world's income and own less than 1 percent of the world's property.

History has proved time and again that, when discrimination, inequality and intolerance are allowed to take root, they may shatter the very foundations of societies and damage them for generations. Left unchecked, they may spill across borders and poison relations among nations.

History has proved that these abhorrent practices have no beneficial aspects whatsoever. Discrimination undermines the social and economic cohesion of societies. It saps their resources. It squanders talent. It marginalises productive individuals and groups, and depresses their creativity and initiative. …