The twentieth session of the General Conference of the United, Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was held at Paris on 24th October to 28th November 1978.
At the session, it was recalled that the Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO, adopted on 16th November 1945, advocates the doctrine of the inequality of men and races’, and whereas, Article I of the said Constitution, declares that the purpose of UNESCO `is to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms … which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the-Charter of the United Nations.’
However, at the session, it was discussed that more than three decades after the founding of UNESCO, these principles are just as significant as they were when they were embodied in its Constitution. It was also observed that solid steps taken in this direction to achieve the objects laid down are very few.
The session recognized that the unity of the human race and consequently the fundamental equality of all human beings and all peoples reflect an ideal towards which ethics and science is converging today. Generally all people and all human groups, irrespective of ethnic origin contribute according to their own genius to the progress of the civilizations and cultures which in turn constitute the common heritage of mankind.
It was therefore decided to promote the implementation of the United Nations Declaration and the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. The session noted with the gravest concern that racism, racial discrimination, colonialism and apartheid continue to afflict the world in ever-changing forms. The session expressed indignation at these offences against human dignity, and deplored the obstacles they place in the way of mutual understanding between peoples and also seriously disturb international peace and security.
Thus as a result, the session adopted the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice. This declaration adopted under the auspices of UNESCO is based on the principle that racism violates human worth and dignity. Article 1(2) provides that “all individuals and groups have the right to be different, to consider themselves as different and to be regarded as such. However, the diversity of life styles and the right to be different may not, in any circumstances, serve as a pretext for racial prejudice; they may not justify either in law or in fact any discriminatory practice whatsoever, nor provide a ground for the policy of apartheid, which is the extreme form of racism.”
The declaration therefore prohibits any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, ethnic or national origin or religious intolerance motivated by racist considerations, which destroys or compromises the sovereign equality of States and the right of peoples to self-determination. It also prohibits taking away in any arbitrary or discriminatory manner, the right of every human being and group to full development. The right to full development implies equal access to personal and collective advancement and fulfillment in a climate of respect for the values of civilizations and cultures.
The declaration also specifies three important points-
- Any restriction on the complete self-fulfillment of human beings and free communication between them which is based on racial or ethnic considerations is contrary to the principle of equality in dignity and rights cannot be admitted.
- One of the most serious violations of this principle is represented by apartheid, which, like genocide, is a crime against humanity, and gravely disturbs international peace and security.
- Other policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination constitute crimes against the conscience and dignity of mankind and may lead to political tensions and gravely endanger international peace and security.
The declaration also calls upon international organizations to co-operate and assist in implementation of the principles set out in this Declaration. Organizations can thereby contribute to the legitimate struggle of all men, born equal in dignity and rights. This will ensure that all the peoples of the world are forever delivered from the scourges of racism, racial segregation, apartheid and genocide.