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Ambassador Jayatilleka moderates high-level anti-racism panel discussion

The Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva

18th March 2008

H.E. Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka's Ambassador & Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, moderated a high-level panel discussion titled "Dignity and Justice - the Cornerstones of Combating Racial Discrimination", which was held to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The discussion held in Room XXI of the Palais des Nations from 13:15 to 14:45 consisted of the following panelists: Mr. Sergei A. Ordzhonikidze, Director General of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), Ms. Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Doudou Diène, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Ms. Jasminka Dzumhur of the International Commission of Missing Persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Mr. Hugo Sada of the International Organisation of the Francophone World (l'Organisation internationale de la Francophonie).

Introducing the panel, Ambassador Jayatilleka, who is also the Chairperson of the Inter-Governmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (IGWG), said that although the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination falls on the 21st of March, it had to be advanced as the 21st is Good Friday. This day commemorates the martyrdom of the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth who fought against all forms of discrimination.

The 21st of March marks the day in 1960, when police opened fire and killed 69 people who were peacefully demonstrating against the apartheid "pass laws" in Sharpeville, South Africa. Proclaiming the Day in 1966, the General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. "This day we are collectively reminded of the evil that is racism and what we have to continue to do to eliminate it", the Ambassador said.

Ambassador Jayatilleka also said that racism was a state of mind that could be attributed to one socio-economic system which believes that it is superior to another system and that therefore it is incumbent on it to impose its worldview on the other.

He said that, over the past few centuries this sort of thinking had resulted in colonialism and more recently in apartheid and the holocaust. Racism degrades both the oppressor and the oppressed and we haven't seen the end of it yet.

Ambassador Jayatilleka's introductory remarks were followed by presentations of the other panelists and a brief question and answer session.


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