UN Calls for End to Discrimination on Human Rights Day

The United Nations says intolerance, prejudice and discrimination lie at the heart of human rights violations. To mark this year's Human Rights Day, the United Nations is calling on governments and people around the world to live up to the international laws and standards that exist to protect the human rights.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay admits sometimes she, too, has been guilty of discriminating against others.

"And, really in my own life, in my adult life, I must confess that --and my young children pointed it out to me -- they said mommy you are being racist."

Pillay says, growing up in South Africa, during the era of apartheid, conditioned blacks and other minority groups to view all white people as oppressors.

"I myself, growing as a child and as a young adult really suffered the inferiority complex. You really think that, because of your color, you are ugly and no good. And, you have no sense of self-confidence."

Pillay is of Tamil descent and grew up in a poor neighborhood in Durban. She overcame the discrimination she suffered under apartheid to become the first non-white woman on the High Court of South Africa.

But, she says hundreds of millions of other people, around the world, have not been able to overcome the discrimination that continues to deprive them of their human rights.

Among the principle victims, the United Nations cites women and girls who are discriminated against, in varying degrees, in all societies. It says minorities face serious threats, discrimination and racism and indigenous people often are marginalized and deprived of fundamental rights.

Pillay says no nation is completely free of human rights violations. However, she says most developed countries have democratic institutions, so they can address problems of abuse better than the developing countries.

She says she is particularly concerned about the treatment of migrants. She says, although this is a global issue, it is pre-eminent in the developed world.

"I'm concerned that Europe has not ratified the Convention for the protection of migrants and their families. We have documented cases of criminalization of illegal migrants, long periods of detention of migrants and their children, of forcible deportation. They seem to be treating migrants who come by boat and across land borders as toxic waste."

Pillay says no distinction is made between migrants, who are refugees in need of international protection, and migrants, who come to foreign countries for economic reasons.

She says state policies appear to be based on keeping migrants out. She calls this shortsighted, because migrants have skills that can contribute much to their societies.