President Paula-Mae Weekes has called on citizens to make concerted efforts to erase the stain of racial discrimination from Trinidad and Tobago as she marked International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which is observed today.

In her message, she said 62 years ago in Sharpeville, South Africa, 69 peaceful protesters were massacred at an anti-apartheid demonstration. Six years later, the United Nations proclaimed March 21 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.

Weekes noted that the horror of that day is a stark reminder to all that deep-seated prejudice and hatred easily erupts into needless violence, dispossessing others of the peace, security and human rights to which they are entitled.
“We in Trinidad and Tobago are no strangers 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,” she said.

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.

Weekes 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.

‘Lead healthy, fulfilling lives’

And in her message for World Down Syndrome Day, which is also celebrated today, Weekes said Down syndrome is one of the most common genetic disorders in the world, with an estimated incidence of between one in 1,000 to one in 1,100 live births globally.

“Despite its prevalence, there are many misconceptions, stigmas and biases about the condition and the ability of those who live with it to enjoy normal, everyday activities. Down syndrome usually causes physical and mental developmental delays and disabilities, but with the right cultural and institutional support systems, people with the condition can thrive and lead healthy and fulfilling lives,” she stated.

Weekes indicated that for people with Down syndrome, #inclusionmatters, as 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.”

Weekes added that this day is a golden opportunity to learn more about the full inclusion in society of persons with Down syndrome.

“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.”