President Paula-Mae Weekes is calling on citizens to make real, concerted efforts to erase the stain of racial discrimination from TT once and for all and to be and do better in commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and World Down Syndrome Day, both observed on March 21.
The President, via a release, recalled that 62 years ago in Sharpeville, South Africa, 69 peaceful protesters were massacred at an anti-apartheid demonstration. Six years later, the United Nations proclaimed 21 March as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in memory of the victims and as an impetus for countries around the world to redouble their efforts to end all forms of racial inequality.
She said the event was a reminder that deep-seated prejudice and hatred could easily erupt into needless violence and the stripping of other’s peace, security and human rights.
This year, the theme of the observance is Voices for Action Against Racism. It encourages people to strengthen their voices against racism, mobilise against all forms of racial discrimination and injustice, and ensure a safe environment for those who speak up.
“We in TT are no stranger to the spectre of racial intolerance, as racism often rears its ugly head during political discourse and even everyday discussions. Social media has become a haven for people to spew vitriol, hiding comfortably behind their keyboards with little to no consequences for their unfounded and often bigoted statements.
“We would do well to take pattern from the life and philosophy of one of the most influential voices of the 21st century to speak out against racism. The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who once bestowed South Africa’s vaunted rainbow nation status upon us, used his voice and position to campaign against injustice and end one of the most oppressive systems on earth. He was a fierce advocate of non-violence, equality, forgiveness and reconciliation – all critical components in the eventual dismantlement of apartheid and overall healing process of South Africa.”
She challenged people to use their voices, positions and actions to overcome racial injustice wherever they encounter it, whether at home, the workplaces, among friends, or in online forums.
World Down Syndrome Day, she said, recognises and celebrates the rights of people with Down syndrome to participate freely in the social, economic and political life of our society.
She said Down syndrome was one of the most common genetic disorders in the world yet there were many misconceptions, stigmas and biases about the condition and the ability of those who live with it.
“For people with Down syndrome, #inclusionmatters. They should be able to attend school and receive a balanced education; find decent work and function in an environment that caters to people with disabilities, and be actively involved in decision-making processes about strategies and policies for people with disabilities.
“When given the opportunity, they can contribute meaningfully to the community which, in turn, reaps a tremendous benefit. People with Down syndrome have become entrepreneurs, star employees, models, musicians, artists and powerful self-advocates. They hail from all walks of life, sharing their boundless skill, talent and optimism with all who come within their orbit.”
The president pointed out that TT was among the 164 signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which in its general principles calls for “full and effective participation and inclusion in society.” As such, people should encourage those with Down syndrome and provide the avenues and tools they need to participate in and contribute to their community and society.
“As we rock our mismatched socks, let us do our part to empower people with Down syndrome to realise their dreams and fulfil their greatest potential.”