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COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION OPENS EIGHTY-THIRD SESSION
12 August 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination opened its eighty-third session this morning, hearing an address by Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The Committee also adopted its agenda and programme of work as amended, with the dialogue meeting with State parties moved to the Committee’s February 2014 session.  The programme of work includes review of reports submitted by Chile, Chad, Venezuela, Burkina Faso, Belarus, Jamaica, Sweden and Cyprus.

In her opening statement, Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the session took place against the backdrop of two landmark events in the history of human rights and the fight against racial discrimination: the annual Nelson Mandela International Day commemorated on 18 July, and the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington in 1963, where nearly 250,000 persons gathered to demand equal civil and economic rights for African Americans at which Martin Luther King made his famous “I have a dream” speech, in which he called for an end to racism in the United States and envisioned a future where every child live in a country where he would not be judged on the colour of his skin.  Fifty years after his famous speech, King’s vision remained a dream for many people around the world and that was why the Committee Members were here today.

The Deputy High Commissioner also spoke about the spread of racist hate speech via the Internet and social networks, about using education as a tool to prevent racism, about discrimination and barbaric acts faced by some persons with albinism. She also updated the Committee on the treaty body strengthening process and the Rabat Action Plan aimed to combat racist hate speech.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 13 August, when it will hold an informal meeting with non-governmental organizations.  At 3 p.m. tomorrow, the Committee will consider the combined nineteenth to twenty-first periodic report of Chile (CERD/C/CHL/19-21).

Opening Statement

FLAVIA PANSIERI, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her opening statement, said that the session took place against the backdrop of two landmark events in the history of human rights and the fight against racial discrimination: the annual Nelson Mandela International Day commemorated on 18 July, and the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington in 1963, where nearly 250,000 persons gathered to demand equal civil and economic rights for African Americans at which Martin Luther King made his famous “I have a dream” speech, in which he called for an end to racism in the United States and envisioned a future where every child live in a country where he would not be judged on the colour of his skin.  Fifty years after his famous speech, King’s vision remained a dream for many people around the world and that was why - to continue to protect those whose human rights were being violated because of their race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin - the Committee Members were here today, said the Deputy High Commissioner.

The Deputy High Commissioner said that as the world became more inter-connected, a number of incidents in numerous countries had drawn attention to the issue of racist hate speech, which was today more easily spread across national borders via the Internet and social networks.  She said that the Rabat Action Plan on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred should be taken into account by Committee Experts during their deliberations.   

Highlighting important developments in the General Assembly’s Intergovernmental Process on the strengthening of the treaty body system, Ms. Pansieri said Member States were now discussing draft elements for a new resolution, which included cost-saving proposals such as page limitations and reductions in the translation of documents to balance some additional costs.  The twenty-fifth Annual Meeting of Chairpersons, held in New York in May, highlighted the need to strengthen human rights protection, to respect the independence and impartiality of treaty bodies and their members, and to modernize the work of treaty bodies.  Another important development was the endorsement by eight treaty bodies of the guidelines on the independence and impartiality of members of the Addis Ababa Guidelines.  

Ms. Pansieri also spoke about the recent adoption by the Human Rights Council in June of a resolution on education as a tool to prevent racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, which recognized that quality education could help create more inclusive societies.  The Human Rights Council also adopted a resolution in which States were urged to take all measures necessary to protect persons with albinism, against whom barbaric acts were sometimes committed in certain parts of the world, including amputation for the preparation of potions. 

The Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary standards had recently met in Geneva and made recommendations on national mechanisms with competences to prevent racism.  At its June meeting in Guatemala, the Organization of American States had adopted two conventions on non-discrimination: the Inter-American Convention against Racism, and the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance.  The second treaty was ground-breaking because it explicitly prohibited discrimination on broader grounds, such as age, sexual orientation and gender identity.    

In concluding remarks, Ms. Pansieri said this session the Committee would not only examine the implementation of the Convention in eight States parties, but would also consider several country situations under the early warning and urgent action procedure as well as convening an informal meeting with States parties on the working methods of the Committee. 

Dialogue with Committee Experts

ALEXEI S. AVTONOMOV, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked Ms. Pansieri for her informative opening statement and opened to floor to Members of the Committee for reactions and comments.

Commenting on Ms. Pansieri’s references to Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, a Committee Member recalled his contact with Nelson Mandela during the Algerian war of liberation, and also his attendance at Martin Luther King’s historic address: he said that the wise words of both men were still very much alive.  Another Committee Member asked for additional information on the Rabat Action Plan and underlined the necessity for closer cooperation between the Committee and States parties to the Convention.  The horrific acts inflicted on persons with albinism were not just a problem of discrimination but were due to ignorance and lack of education.  The Committee had greatly benefited from the intergovernmental meetings held in New York, said a Committee Member, who also pointed out that on one occasion the Committee had been given an extra week to complete its work.  There was currently a backlog of country reports waiting for consideration, so it was necessary to think of ways to improve the work of the Committee.   

FLAVIA PANSIERI, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in response to the comments, said that a document with further details on the Rabat Plan of Action would be provided.  She pointed out that the main purpose of that action plan was to tackle the proliferation of racist hate speech.  There were several challenges facing the Office of the High Commissioner, including a major reduction of its budget.  Discussions on funding matters were ongoing.  It was hoped that at the next General Assembly a solution would be found to ensure that the Committee could continue to carry out its work with credibility and without delays in the consideration of country reports.  Concerning albinism, Ms. Pansieri highlighted the need for awareness-raising activities and said that combating ignorance was the main way of tackling such discrimination.

IBRAHIM SALAMA, Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, stressed the importance of the relationship between the Committee and the General Assembly’s Intergovernmental Process.  The greater the resources allocated to the Committee, the more effective and timely its work.  The lack of resources had been the main reason for the existing backlog in the consideration of country reports by the Committee.

The Committee then adopted its agenda and programme of work with a minor amendment concerning the Committee’s dialogue with State parties, which would now be moved to the Committee’s February session to ensure the fuller participation of mission and Government representatives. 


For use of the information media; not an official record

CERD13/014E