Where global solutions are shaped for you | News & Media | COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION CONSIDERS THE REPORT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM

ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe

COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION CONSIDERS THE REPORT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM

5 August 2016

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined twenty-first to twenty-third periodic report of the United Kingdom on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Paul Downie, Department for Communities and Local Government of the United Kingdom, introducing the report, said that the United Kingdom was a multi-ethnic and multi-faith country, with a very diverse society in which 13 per cent of the population identified as belonging to an ethnic minority.  Its equality legislation was contained in a single Equality Act which covered nine protected characteristics, including race, while the 2020 Vision aimed to improve opportunities for Black and minority ethnic people.  Two weeks ago, the Government adopted a new Hate Crime Action Plan which set out how this divisive crime would be tackled over the next four years.  The integration approach in the United Kingdom was built around five themes of common ground, social mobility, participation, representation, and tackling extremism and intolerance. 

Also introducing the report, Luska Jerdin, Head of Equality Strategy, Scottish Government’s Equality Unit, said that equality was now reflected in the Scottish Government Purpose, which was focused on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish.  The investment and the focus in the new Race Equality Framework provided immediate benefits today and laid the foundation of a preventative approach to protect future generations and future migrants to Scotland from the impacts of racism and racial inequality.  Scotland would also continue to support the integration of refugees and asylum seekers through the New Scots Strategy and would look at how best to improve the lives of Gypsy/Travellers.

Joanne Glenn, Head of the Welsh Government’s Inclusion Team, also introducing the report, said that hate crimes were addressed through the actions outlined in the May 2014 Tackling Hate Crimes and Incidents: A Framework for Action.  The aim of tackling hostility and prejudice was embedded across a number of key policy areas, including housing, health, social services, sport and culture, while the Community Cohesion Programme strove to help create strong and cohesive communities.  In March 2016 Wales had published the Refugee and Asylum Seekers Delivery Plan to ensure that asylum seekers and refugees had the opportunities to learn, thrive and contribute to the economic, environmental, social and cultural life of Wales.

Also introducing the report, Linsey Farell, Executive Office of the Northern Ireland Executive, said that the Racial Equality Strategy 2015-2025 established a framework for action to tackle racial inequalities, eradicate racism and hate crime, and promote good race relations and social cohesion.  Racism in the society was, to an extent, shaped by sectarianism, which created residential segregation and heightened territorial awareness that now impacted upon minority ethnic communities.  Together: Building a United Community was the strategy which provided the framework for Government action in tackling sectarianism, racism and other forms of intolerance while seeking to address division, hate and separation.

Representatives of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission also addressed the Committee.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts took note of the latest developments in the United Kingdom, which were of particular interest to the Committee, such as the changing structure in the country as devolution progressed, a passionate campaign on the decision on whether to leave or stay in the European Union, and the election of Sadiq Khan as the mayor of London, which was an illustration of the complexities of the situation in the United Kingdom.  The Convention was still not a part of the domestic legal order, and it did not apply to the British Indian Ocean Territory, including the Chagos Islands.  The full application of the Equality Act 2010 was another salient issue as it did not apply to Northern Ireland, and concern was expressed about the effective implementation of the equality and anti-racism legislation across devolved areas.  

The unequal treatment of Blacks in employment, the criminal justice system, health and education indicated systemic and institutional discrimination against people of African descent rooted in slavery and transatlantic slave trade, an Expert said.  Other issues that Experts raised in the discussion included the resettlement of Chaggosians from the islands, racial profiling, the disproportionate impact on British Muslims of the Prevent Strategy and Agenda, the impact on access to justice of reforms of legal aid which led to a nearly 70 per cent drop in the number of people receiving initial legal advice, and the marking of the International Decade of People of African Descent in the country.

In concluding remarks, Gun Kut, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the United Kingdom, said that the concluding observations would include the areas of positive development in the United Kingdom, areas where problems persisted or even deteriorated, and the political will to tackle the challenges. 

Mr. Downie, in his concluding remarks, said that the questions that the Experts had raised showed a good understanding of the situation in the United Kingdom.

The delegation of the United Kingdom included representatives of the Department for Communities and Local Government, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Scottish Government, Welsh Government, Northern Ireland Executive, Government of Jersey, Government of Guernsey, and the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Live webcast of country reviews is available at http://www.treatybodywebcast.org.

The Committee will reconvene in public on Monday, 8 August, at 10 a.m., to hear from non-governmental organizations from Paraguay, South Africa, Lebanon and Ukraine whose reports it will consider next week.

Report

The combined twenty-first to twenty-third periodic report of the United Kingdom can be read here: CERD/C/GBR/21-23.

Presentation of the Report

PAUL DOWNIE, Department for Communities and Local Government, explained that the United Kingdom’s Parliament had devolved substantial powers to national legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, while the United Kingdom’s Government had retained responsibility for all that happened in England, for fiscal policy, security, defence and immigration across the United Kingdom, and for the equalities legislation in England, Scotland and Wales.  Northern Ireland had responsibility for its own legislation.  Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales had responsibility for major areas of public policy, including health, education, housing, local government and justice.  The Crown Dependencies were not part of the United Kingdom but were self-governing dependencies of the Crown, and were responsible for making primary and secondary domestic legislation, including in the area of human rights.  They were not represented in the United Kingdom’s Parliament.  While there might be different experiences and different approaches to the agenda taken in the different jurisdictions, all parts of the United Kingdom were fully committed to the Convention. 

The United Kingdom was a multi-ethnic and multi-faith country, and a very diverse society in which 13 per cent of the population identified as belonging to an ethnic minority.  In recent years, members of African, Caribbean and Asian communities had made their way to the top in many different areas, but there was still further to go.  The United Kingdom wanted to create a genuine opportunity country where ethnic origin and background were not allowed to become a barrier to getting to the top.  Equality legislation was contained in a single Equality Act which covered nine protected characteristics, including race, and placed a positive duty on public duty to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and good relations in their public functions.  As legislation alone was not enough, the current Government had adopted 2020 Vision, which had set out a series of goals to improve opportunities for Black and minority ethnic people.  The Government was clear that hate crime of any kind had no place in the society and had adopted two weeks ago a new Hate Crime Action Plan, which set out how this divisive crime would be tackled over the next four years.  Any episodes of hate crime underlined the importance of building a truly integrated society in which diverse communities valued what they had in common rather than emphasizing difference.  The United Kingdom’s integration approach was built around five themes of common ground, social mobility, participation, representation, and tackling extremism and intolerance. 

LUSKA JERDIN, Head of Equality Strategy, Scottish Government’s Equality Unit, said that the promotion of equality was at the heart of the Government, which had taken practical action to tackle inequality.  Equality was now reflected in the Scottish Government Purpose which was focused on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish.  It was also at the heart of how Scotland measured its performance as a nation through an outcomes framework Scotland Performs, which emphasized the importance of a fair and inclusive Scotland that tackled the inequalities in the society and built strong, resilient and supportive communities.  Scotland was a more diverse country then five years ago, due in part to migration and part to its active role in the United Kingdom’s asylum dispersal programme.  One of the most significant recent developments in Scotland was the establishment of a new race Equality Framework, with its investment and the focus providing immediate benefits today and forming the foundation of a preventative approach which would help protect future generations and future migrants to Scotland from the impacts of racism and racial inequality.  Scotland would also continue to support the integration of refugees and asylum seekers through New Scots Strategy and would look at how best to improve the lives of Gypsy/Travellers.

JOANNE GLENN, Head of the Welsh Government’s Inclusion Team, reiterated that human rights would remain embedded in the actions of the Government, and that hate crime would not be tolerated in Wales, which would be addressed through the actions outlined in the May 2014 Tackling Hate Crimes and Incidents: a Framework for Action.  The Government had developed a Delivery Plan to ensure that the aim of tackling hostility and prejudice was embedded across a number of key policy areas, including housing, health, social services, sport and culture, while the Community Cohesion Programme had been introduced to help create strong, cohesive communities.  Wales had a proud history of providing refuge to people fleeing war and persecution and played a full role in both the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Programme and in supporting asylum seekers dispersed to Wales.  The Refugee and Asylum Seekers Delivery Plan had been published in March 2016 with the aim of enabling asylum seekers and refugees to have the opportunities to learn, thrive and contribute to the economic, environmental, social and cultural life of Wales.

LINSEY FARELL, Executive Office of the Northern Ireland Executive, said that its Racial Equality Strategy 2015-2025 established a framework for action to tackle racial inequalities, eradicate racism and hate crime, and promote good race relations and social cohesion.  It committed the executive to a review of the legislation, the rolling out of ethnic monitoring, and the establishment of a group of minority ethnic representatives “to be the voice of minority ethnic people and migrants within Government”.  There was no illusion in Northern Ireland about the size of the challenge it faced in tackling racial inequalities; it was aware that, although it had not developed as a multicultural society in the same way that the other parts of the United Kingdom had, it now had an opportunity to develop a diverse society based on best practice and practice that was appropriate to Northern Ireland.  Racism in the society was, to an extent, shaped by sectarianism, which created residential segregation and heightened territorial awareness that now impacted upon minority ethnic communities.  Together: Building a United Community was the strategy which provided the framework for Government action in tackling sectarianism, racism and other forms of intolerance while seeking to address division, hate and separation.  

Questions from the Committee Experts

GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the report of the United Kingdom, noted some of the important developments in the United Kingdom since its last review in 2011: the progress in the devolution which continued to change the structure of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and raised issues of jurisdiction and application of the Convention; societal response to the surge of migration in Europe; a passionate campaign on the decision on whether to leave or stay in the European Union, which was also associated with the rise of racism and xenophobia in the country; and a change in the Government and the election of Sadiq Khan as a mayor of London, which had proven the complexities of the situation in the United Kingdom.  The United Kingdom had submitted its periodic report one year late, and there were indications that the consultations with non-governmental organizations in the preparation of the report were not sufficient. 

In terms of follow-up to the Committee’s concluding observations, the Rapporteur asked about the actions taken to implement the recommendations related to independent investigations of the riots, to police stop and search operations, and safeguards from deliberate targeting of certain groups in counter-terrorism plans and strategies.  The Convention was still not a part of the domestic legal order in the United Kingdom, and interpretative declarations on article 4 were still in place.  The Convention did not apply to the British Indian Ocean Territory, and the delegation was asked to explain its position about the limited access to the Territory and the resettlement of the Chagossians of the islands, which was now the subject of policy review. The full application of the Equality Act was another salient issue, and Mr. Kut asked the delegation about the Red Tape Challenge Programme, and whether it served the purpose of fighting racism or was an impediment to it.  The effective implementation of the equality and anti-racism legislation across devolved areas was an issue of concern.

Continuing, the Committee Rapporteur commended the United Kingdom for having three status A national human rights institutions, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and wondered whether they had sufficient resources to fulfil their functions effectively.  The Equality Act did not apply to Northern Ireland, which also did not have a Bill of Rights.  What was being done to address sectarianism, and intersectionality of sectarianism and racism in Northern Ireland?  A Committee Expert also asked the delegation about the existing employment gap, and the gap in access to justice between ethnic minorities and the rest of the population, particularly impacting Blacks, about the action taken to provide legal protection from caste-based discrimination, and asked for an explanation on why the United Kingdom had rejected withdrawing its declaration on article 14 of the Convention.

A Committee Expert took up the issue of systemic discrimination against people of African descent and said that the criminal justice system treated Blacks harder than others in the United Kingdom, noting that Blacks made up the majority of the prison population and that they were held longer in pre-trial detention.  There was evidence of health inequalities and discrimination of Black people in the health sector.  Did the United Kingdom recognize that the situation of people of African descent was a reflection of a systemic and structural discrimination which had its roots in slavery and the transatlantic slave trade of which the United Kingdom had been the main beneficiary?

Another Expert remarked the complexity of the administrative structure of the United Kingdom and asked why the United Kingdom still maintained its reservations to articles 4 and 15 of the Convention.  What was the accepted definition of “extremism” in the United Kingdom?

In relation to police stop and search activities which disproportionately targeted Blacks and Asians, the delegation was asked to explain the meaning of “enforcement action” and the use of “regulatory powers”.  The increase in associated fees had hampered the access to justice in discrimination cases.  Access to justice would be further hampered by the cuts in legal aid for housing, immigration, social security, employment and education cases, and the legal aid reforms had led to a nearly 70 per cent drop in the number of cases in which people had received legal advice, with minorities seriously affected.  The proposed 500 per cent increase in fees for immigration and asylum proceedings, made on 21 April this year, was likely to place people from ethnic minorities at a serious disadvantage.  A Committee Expert noted that the United Kingdom consistently dodged the question concerning the resettlement of the Chaggosians from the Chagos Islands, and asked about the creation of the Chagos Marine Reserve, the real aim of which was to prevent the former inhabitants from returning to their islands.

Racial profiling negated the benefits of a colour-blind approach, remarked another Expert, and, recognizing the right of the United Kingdom to protect itself from terrorism, stressed that all counter-terrorism activities must contain safeguards to protect human rights.  While the United Kingdom applied a colour-blind policy, including in the employment sector, there was still discrimination based on names, with people with names other than Anglo-Saxon standing a lower chance of being invited to an interview.

Considering that the United Kingdom did not incorporate the Convention into the domestic law, and that the Equality Law did not apply in Northern Ireland, how did the United Kingdom ensure the full application of the Convention in all of its territory?

Institutional racism in the criminal justice system was the reason which explained the over-representation of Blacks in prison, remarked another Expert and asked the delegation to comment on this and to provide statistics about the Blacks in detention, including pre-trial detention.

How did the Prevent Agenda affect the freedom of expression, particularly in universities?  How useful was the use of the collective term “BME” – Black and Minority Ethnic – given different situations of people referred to by this term?  What was being done to implement the programme of action for the International Decade for People of African Descent?

Were there any control mechanisms that applied to local authorities to ensure that discrimination did not occur?

GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the United Kingdom, was very alarmed by the reported spike in anti-Semitism, the arrest of a British Muslim woman after reading a book about Syria on a plane, and more than 6,000 hate crimes in the month after the Brexit vote – all those were signals of very different mind-sets and attitudes that must be addressed.  It was important to note that Prevent Duty, adopted in June 2015, would further disproportionately target Muslims.  The Country Rapporteur also spoke of the situation of migrants in detention, the situation of Roma, and homelessness among the youth.

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, noted that the implementation of the Localism Act of 2010 had specific negative implications on the situation of minorities and asked what was being done to ensure that various municipal administrations could fully implement the duties?  Another concern was the identity procedures or tests to determine that Gypsy and Travellers had access to pitches, as well as the decrease in the number of pitches, which was directly related to the powers at the municipal levels and localism.  The Chairperson commended the way in which the United Kingdom framed its national interests in its equality legislation, and that it noted that race and ethnicity were not only concerns, and asked how the United Kingdom ensured that specific measures and the creation of conditions for integration rather than assimilation continued.

Statements by National Human Rights Institutions

ALISTAIR PRINGLE, Equality and Human Rights Commission, considered that the Human Rights Act 1998 was well-crafted and was embedded in the constitutional arrangements across the United Kingdom’s devolved administrations.  If the United Kingdom took forward the proposals for a Bill of Rights, any changes to the human rights framework should not be regressive and should consider options for better eliminating racial discrimination.  Restrictions in the scope of legal aid in England and Wales were having a significant impact on the ability of people to access justice and had led to a nearly 70 per cent drop in the number of cases in which people had received initial legal advice and assistance.  The changes had a particularly adverse impact on access to justice for people from ethnic minorities.  Since the introduction of fees in employment tribunals across Great Britain, race discrimination cases had dropped by 61 per cent.  A spike in racism and hate crime in England and Wales had been reported following the referendum on the United Kingdom membership in the European Union, while in Scotland, racially motivated crime remained the most commonly reported by the police.  The rates of prosecution and sentencing for the Black ethnic group were three times higher than for the White group, while for the “Mixed” group they were twice as high; 40 per cent of prisoners aged under 18 were from Black and ethnic minority communities.  

RHYANNON BLYTHE, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, expressed concern about proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law, and which formed a part of the peace settlement under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement 1998.  Any replacement must ensure effective protection across all the jurisdictions of the United Kingdom.  The Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland had not progressed since 2008 due to the lack of political consensus, there was no single equality legislation, while discrimination law did not recognize intersectional multiple discrimination.  Although figures for racist and sectarian hate crime had decreased this year, concern remained about the effective response, and the Committee should ask about the action taken to ensure that all forms of hate crime were effectively dealt with.  Despite a 2013 commitment, there had been no progress on developing a statutory definition of sectarianism, and the Commission was concerned that sectarianism and racism continued to be seen as distinct concepts.  Sectarianism should be treated as a form of racism within the scope of the Convention.  The Committee should recommend that the United Kingdom take steps to ensure that the housing rights of Travellers were fully compliant with the Convention.

Responses by the Delegation

In response to the issues raised by the Experts, the head of the delegation referred to the questions concerning the broad approach to tackling racial discrimination and said that in her statement to the Parliament last October, Foreign Office Minister Baroness Anelay had noted that the British Government did not have specific plans to mark the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent.  However, she had emphasized the United  Kingdom’s strong commitment to combatting racial discrimination, xenophobia and racial intolerance, adding that it had in place one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world to protect communities from hostility, violence and bigotry.  The key legislation included specific offences for inciting hatred on the grounds of race, religion, belief and sexual orientation; separate racially and religiously aggravated offences; and powers for the courts to increase the sentence of an offender convicted of a crime where hostility towards the victims had been shown to be based on their disability, race, religion, belief, sexual orientation or transgender identity.  The Government kept its body of legislation under review to ensure that it remained effective and appropriate in the face of new and emerging threats. 

The United Kingdom believed it was a mistake to see inequalities only in terms of race and ethnic origin, since socio-economic status and poverty affected people’s chances in life regardless of racial or ethnic background.  At the same time, the Government never ignored race and ethnic origin in the design of its policies, and had for example for several years supported working groups specifically targeted at addressing anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred.  Following the May 2015 elections, a new Government had been put in place and there had been new developments in policy on race equality.  The 2020 Vision very clearly used ethnicity as a framework for identifying disadvantaged groups and setting clear goals to make improvements.  The United Kingdom’s approach was not one-dimensional but a rather pragmatic approach seeking to tackle problems at their roots.

The Government had changed the definition of Gypsy and Travellers in its planning documents, who for the purposes of planning were seen as nomadic persons.  Local authorities were making progress and in July 2015 the number of places in caravan sites had reached more than 11,000, while over the several past years, the Government had spent 42 million pounds on the development and improvement of caravan sites and pitches.

Schools in the United Kingdom were required to have a behaviour policy and the Government had developed guidance on bullying and exclusion.  Schools were free to develop their own anti-bullying strategies, but were clearly accountable to the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.  The standards for schools were set in the Education Act 2011.  In England, schools were advised to develop their own monitoring system for anti-bullying measures.  The Scottish Government would publish an updated anti-bullying strategy that would introduce new guidance for local authorities and schools to ensure that bullying of all kinds – including prejudice-based incidents – was recorded accurately and monitored effectively.  The Welsh Government had issued Respecting Others, a comprehensive anti-bullying guidance which included bullying on the grounds of race and religion.  Exclusion from school was used as a measure of last resort, in cases of consistent breach of school rules and regulations.  The statistics for the 2013/2014 school year had shown a significant decrease in permanent exclusions compared to previous years, but was still higher compared to 2012.  Among the students permanently excluded from minority groups, the majority were Gypsy, Roma, Travellers, and Black, with students of Black, Caribbean and mixed origins three times more likely to be excluded.  In Wales, the rate of exclusion of up to five days was 26 per cent overall, and 31 per cent for Blacks.

The 2020 Vision had set targets for a 20 per cent increase in the employment of Black and minority ethnic groups.  Since the target had been set in the first quarter of 2015 and until the first quarter of 2016, some 160,000 more persons of Black and minority ethnic origin were in employment.  It had been noted, however, that once in employment, they did not use their potential to the maximum, so programmes were being put in place to facilitate their progression to top echelons in the workplace.

Turning to the approach to Localism, including the Act of 2011 for England, and the achievement of integration aspirations, the head of the delegation said that the United Kingdom’s Government in its 2012 policy paper Creating Conditions for Integration had stressed that building a more integrated society was not just for the Government, but it required collective action at national and local levels, by public bodies, private companies and above all civil society at large.  The Government was currently facing large fiscal deficit and local authorities were required to make significant savings.  The Localism Act of 2011 included a new General Power of Competence, extending the ability of local authorities to innovate and to think and act beyond the confines of central Government direction.  It also included new powers for Community Empowerment, enabling local people to take more control over local services and to develop local neighbour plans.

A number of Committee Experts had remarked that the United Kingdom did not integrate into its domestic legislation the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, said another delegate, stressing that States parties were under no obligation to do so.  The United Kingdom was confident that it had put in place legislation to achieve the aims of the Convention.  Many of the rights contained in articles 5 and 6 of the Convention were covered by the Equality Act 2010 in England, Scotland and Wales, while other rights were covered by criminal legislation in England and Wales.  In Scotland, there had been an active debate about the incorporation of a number of international treaties, including this Convention, and Parliament had the competence to legislate insofar as the subject matter was within devolved areas.  It was important to say that the Equality Act 2010, Human Rights Act 1998, Scotland Act 1998 and Wales Act 1998 secured equality and human rights for everyone in Scotland and Wales and explicitly acknowledged that ethnicity and race could be expressed in a variety of ways.

Northern Ireland had legislation on racial discrimination which protected all individuals from unlawful discrimination.  The Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997, amended by the Race Relations Order (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003, and the Race Relations Order (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009 was the most relevant piece of legislation which defined discrimination as a person treating another less favourably than he or she would treat other persons.  It outlawed discrimination on racial grounds, which included colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origins, but not religion.  The Irish Traveller community was specifically identified as a racial group which was protected against unlawful racial discrimination.  The legislation in Northern Ireland was not in the form of a unified equality act, so in its recently adopted Racial Equality Strategy 2015-2020, the Executive had committed to a review of the legislation.  Currently, there was no political agreement on the relationship between sectarianism and racism, but this did not stop effective action to tackle sectarianism, racism and other forms of intolerance.

Public sector equality duty had come in force in April 2011 and covered protective characteristics as defined in the Equality Act 2010, obliging the public sector to give due regard – or to think consciously about the aims of the equality legislation – and to adopt every four year equality targets.  This information was published by all public sector bodies.  The Red Tape Challenge focused on repealing all the legislation which was not necessary and made sure that the Government carefully reviewed its legislation to make sure that laws served their purpose; the repeal of the laws was not done on a purely financial basis.  Explaining why the United Kingdom had not made a declaration concerning individual communications to the Committee, a delegate said that the United Kingdom had a strong legal framework for the protection of individuals from racism and hate crimes, and it was complemented by the ratification of international and regional human rights treaties.  Further, there was a very low number of cases against the United Kingdom under similar mechanisms, for example the complaint mechanism of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

The United Kingdom’s Government deemed that questions pertaining to the British Indian Ocean Territories were outside the remit of this Committee until the United Kingdom extended the application of the Convention to those territories.  The United Kingdom was not a signatory to the International Labour Organization Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, and did not intend to sign it as there were no indigenous people as defined by Article 1A of the Convention in the United Kingdom, Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies. 

The United Kingdom’s Government took very seriously the stop and search operations and was aware that when used correctly it had the power to prevent crimes.  The statistics on stop and searches data were recorded, including on ethnicity, and were published regularly.  In 2015 in England and Wales, there had been 40 per cent fall in stop and search incidents compared to 2014, with highest drop recorded among Asians. 

The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation was an independent person appointed by the Home Secretary who had access to classified documents and reported to the Parliament.  The aim was to reassure the public that adequate measures were being taken to ensure civil liberties and rights in the framework of anti-terrorism measures.  The anti-terrorism legislation allowed for the issuance by courts of anonymity orders to protect the identity of those being investigated under this law.  The Government’s Counter-extremism Strategy adopted in October 2015 provided a clear definition of extremism.

There was indeed a disproportionate representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic populations among the prisoners and that was why the Government had announced in January this year an independent review of the issue, with the report expected in 2017.

The Prevent Programme safeguarded people who were vulnerable to radicalisation and guidance provided by the Government made it clear to higher education providers to protect students while taking into account the right to freedom of expression.  Currently the greatest radicalisation threat came from Daesh, which was reflected in the Programme which focused on the protection of British Muslims.

With regard to hate crimes, a delegate explained that the United Kingdom maintained its interpretation of Article 4 of the Convention and that it had a long tradition of freedom of speech.  Individuals had the rights to express their views for as long as they were not expressed violently and did not incite hate and violence.  There had been an increase in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents and it remained an issue of concern.  The best protection against such hate crimes was the effective implementation of the relevant legislation, and the provision of reassurance to communities and Jewish and Muslim groups.  In Wales, as part of its ongoing commitment to tackling hate crime and racial violence, the Hate Crime Criminal Justice Board had been set up, which brought together different agencies to develop an action plan, while the National Hate Crime Report Centre had been established to support the victims and increase reporting.

Further Questions from the Experts

GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the United Kingdom, noted that the United Kingdom did not actively address intersectionality between racism and sectarianism, despite the fact that it had recognized the connection.  It was disappointing that the United Kingdom had not accepted the individual complaint mechanism, as it had for some other human rights treaty bodies.  Immigrants and asylum seekers were among the most vulnerable groups and increasing legal and court fees for issues of their concern was not justice.  There indeed must be a balance between freedom of speech and other human rights, and the United Kingdom’s efforts in this regard were well appreciated; however, certain groups enjoyed the right to freedom of expression more, while at the same time there were very few court cases for insults of certain ethnic groups.  

Committee Experts asked about the efforts to promote the political participation of ethnic minorities, including providing support for their registration as voters in the new system, measures taken to stop intolerance toward people from Eastern Europe following Brexit, further steps taken on activating the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 concerning caste-based discrimination, and the attitudes towards slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

Further Responses by the Delegation

Responding to those and other questions and comments, the head of the delegation said, with regard to free speech, that the Government challenge speech was disquieting and revolting.  It was true that there was a spike in hate crime following the referendum, directed against people of all sorts of ethnic minorities, but there was also a strong outburst of public support for communities, the local people who did not wait for the Government to take action but reacted in building the kind of society they wanted to live in.

The United Kingdom had introduced changes in the electoral registration system from head of the household to individual registration, and it was true that there were particular groups which could be affected by those changes.  It was not in the interest of the United Kingdom to see a reduction of the number of voters and 10 million pounds had been invested to support certain groups, such as Blacks, to register.

Over the past several years, there was a move to neighbour policing, and the Government was absolutely committed to increasing the diversity in the police to ensure that the police was more representative of the communities in which they were working.  It had in place a number of programmes, including “BME Progression 2018” to facilitate promotion through the ranks of Black and minority ethnic police officers and to increase the proportion of recruits from those communities.

The United Kingdom fully endorsed the statement which had been agreed as a part of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action that slavery and slave trade were abhorrent parts of human history, and that those were crimes against humanity and should have always been so.  The United Kingdom had played a major part in bringing down slavery and slave trade in the nineteenth century and agreed that it was important to remember the human cost of the slave trade.  In 2007, as the United Kingdom was celebrating the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the British Empire, an International Slavery Museum had been opened in Liverpool, which also addressed contemporary forms of slavery.  In March 2015, the United Kingdom had adopted the Modern Slavery Act to protect victims and to bring perpetrators to justice.

Further Questions from the Experts

In the next round of follow-up questions, a Committee Expert inquired about the 2003 legislation requiring the Government to examine serious hate crimes, wondering what “serious” meant.  The United Kingdom would leave the European Union and the Expert wondered about the legal framework, particularly in penal and civil matters, which would apply to citizens and non-citizens.

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, asked about the mechanisms pertaining to racial discrimination in the activities of international corporations headquartered in the United Kingdom.  The Committee Chairperson was still not at all clear how the Prevent Programme protected people from racial discrimination.

What intentions were there in terms of developing a plan of action for the International Decade of People of African Descent?  There were deep inequalities in the health system which required more active participation of some groups of people of African descent in the United Kingdom.  Asymmetries also existed in the justice system.

Further Responses by the Delegation

As far as the Prevent Programme was concerned, the emphasis should be on the programme as a safeguard mechanism, and not as a method to spy on people.  With regard to the International Decade, the United Kingdom had undertaken a whole series of activities and it remained committed to them to combat racism.   

The United Kingdom’s Government was very conscious of hate crime prosecutions and was aware of the disparity between the figure of 42,000 reported crimes of which just over 12,000 had been prosecuted.  The approach was to increase reporting and the number of successful prosecutions.  Within the 12,000 prosecuted cases, more than 80 per cent had resulted in sentences so there was a high level of confidence of a successful outcome once the case was brought before the court.  The strategy to increase the number of prosecutions was contained in the new Hate Crime Action Plan.

The United Kingdom remained a member of the European Union for the time being, which meant that the law of the European Union continued to be fully applicable.  Important elements of the European Union legislation had been transposed to the United Kingdom law and remained part of the domestic law.  It was important to say that the United Kingdom was not leaving Europe and remained a member of other important regional bodies such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, which meant it remained a party to the European Convention of Human Rights and the Framework Convention for the Protection of Minorities.

Concluding Remarks

GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the United Kingdom, took note of the areas of positive developments in the United Kingdom and the political will to tackle the challenges.  Those would be included in the Committee’s concluding observations, as well as the areas in which problems remained or were even deteriorating.   The dialogue was a very useful exercise and Mr. Kut thanked the delegation for their positive approach, and thanked the United Kingdom’s national human rights institutions and civil society for their very important contributions. 

PAUL DOWNIE, Department for Communities and Local Government, said that the questions asked by the Committee Experts had shown that they had a good picture of the situation in the United Kingdom.  Those questions and comments would help the United Kingdom to improve.

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation, national human rights institutions and the civil society representatives who had engaged extensively with the Committee and for the time given to the process. 



For use of the information media; not an official record

CERD16/015E