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


23 November 2016

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this afternoon held consultations with civil society, under the title “Joining Hands to End Racial Discrimination”.

In her opening remarks, Anastacia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, stated that it was very clear that racial discrimination remained a major form of oppression throughout the world today.  Denials of inequality and denials of racism persisted, but hope remained.  The Committee was looking forward to hearing about current challenges that civil society organizations were facing around the world. 

Panel 1 discussed key issues identified and challenges faced by civil society around the world in combatting racial discrimination. 

Panel 2 focused on civil society experiences engaging with the Committee and ideas to improve the work of the Committee on racial discrimination, as well as its engagement with civil society. 

Throughout the discussion, numerous civil society representatives presented the issues that they were working on, and the issues they considered as major challenges.  Those included the discrimination of persons of African origin, and Afro-descendant women in particular, in the Americas; the rise of xenophobia, Islamophobia and racism in Europe and the United States; mistreatment of indigenous peoples; caste-based discrimination of Dalits in India and Nepal; and the treatment of small indigenous groups in Russia.  Speakers also discussed how the Committee could better communicate with civil society around the world, suggesting easing access to information, better utilization of online platforms, and issuance of a statement on the protection of human rights defenders.  The Committee should also do more to promote its activities globally, and to increase awareness of the Convention and its universal applicability.  Non-governmental organizations which were not based in Geneva faced financial obstacles coming here to interact with the Committee.  Several speakers expressed readiness to help the Committee in fighting racial discrimination around the world.      

Ms. Crickley, in closing remarks, said that the Committee was very grateful for the useful information provided by the speakers in today’s consultation.  Non-governmental organizations were encouraged to provide alternative reports and to come to Geneva, when they could, to engage with the Committee before their respective countries’ reports were considered.

The Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 24 November at 3 p.m., to start considering the combined twenty-first to twenty-third periodic report of Uruguay CERD/C/URY/21-23.

Opening Remarks

ANASTACIA CRICKLEY, Chairperson of the Committee, said that the current times were challenging for all those concerned about human rights and racial discrimination.  It was very clear that racial discrimination remained a major form of oppression throughout the world today.  Denials of inequality and denials of racism persisted, but hope remained, including in the peace agreement in Colombia, the new cabinet in Canada and the leadership of Angela Merkel.  The Convention might be 50 years ago, but the definition of racial discrimination remained valid today and provided as valuable a framework as ever.  Different forms of racial discrimination were more visible and more outrageous at different points of time, but all were insidious.  The current rise in racism, coupled with the side-stepping and renaming, including xenophobia, posed immediate challenges.  All had an immediate challenge and a lot of work to do.  The Sustainable Development Goals could only seek to achieve their targets if racism at all levels was not fully acknowledged and properly addressed.  Today’s consultation would allow for the voices of civil society to be heard.  The Committee was looking forward to hearing about current challenges civil society organizations were facing around the world. 

Panel 1

CARLOS QUESADA, Executive Director of the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights, said that his organization was working on combatting racial discrimination against persons of African descent in Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Peru.  This year the Americas had reached one billion people, 30 per cent of whom were of African descent.  Afro-descendants were often victims of police brutality, and the majority of people in jails in those countries were of African descent.  While the Durban Declaration was a positive development, its implementation was inadequate.  The electoral process in the United States had seemingly been allowed to be racist, xenophobic and intolerant towards others.  The other problem was the criminalization of poverty in countries in the Americas, which disproportionately affected those of African origin.  The reality of the region and the world today was very similar to that of 10 years earlier, except that it now seemed acceptable to be racist in public.  A strong Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was needed; the Committee had to demand States to send reports, and if they did not do so, those States could be reviewed without reports.  Many counterparts of the Institute unfortunately did not know what the Committee was and were not aware of the Convention, and States were not properly following up on its recommendations.   

SARAH CHANDER, Advocacy Officer at the European Network against Racism, said that the Network included more than 100 organizations fighting racism across Europe.  There had been a consistent rise of violence and hate speech against minorities in Europe.  Anti-Semitic crimes were also on the rise in many European countries; the same was the case for Islamophobia.  Despite limited data, in many European countries, most violent attacks were reported against black and Asian minorities.  Another worrying trend was the rise of populist far right parties and their increased electoral success.  Minority groups in Europe seemed to go through persistent structural racial discrimination.  That included inequalities in access to education, health care and employment.  One main challenge for civil society was to understand and communicate racism in a holistic way.  Civil society ought to work on dismantling broader mantles of institutional racism.  European Governments had done little to address the role of institutions in perpetuating violence.  For example, how could undocumented migrants who were victims of hate crimes ask for support from the authorities seeking to deport them?  

VERENE ALBERTHA SHEPHERD, Committee Member, presented key themes from civil society written submissions for the consultation.  The Committee had received close to 50 written submissions.  The first question asked was on the key challenges related to racial discrimination in their respective regions.  Civil society reported that there seemed to be lack of awareness of the Convention, and there was often denial that racial discrimination existed.  The “otherization” of ethnic minorities and restrictions on religious practices were also listed as challenges.  Poverty was often racialized; there was no sufficient data collection on racial discrimination cases.  Some organizations also brought up the rise of white supremacy and Islamophobia.  There was general over-criminalization of people of African descent. 

A representative of a Dutch civil society organization of people of African descent said that the Committee was taking seriously all problems brought to its attention.  The Black Pete tradition in the Netherlands was becoming worse and worse, and symbolic violence in the country was on the rise. 

Comitato per la promozione e protezione dei diritti umani, a coalition of more than 100 non-governmental organizations from Italy, stated that its members were working on numerous aspects of racial discrimination in Italy.  The Convention and the Committee should be better known in Italy.  The labour and migrant mobility was about to become the greatest challenge not only in Italy, but around the world. 

Badil Resource Centre stated that the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories could be described as apartheid.  Just today a military court had decided to authorize the destruction of a village with more than 1,000 Palestinian Arab residents.  The Centre had a list of more than 60 racist laws in Israel, which would be submitted to the Committee. 

A civil society representative from the Dominican Republic said that in her country leaders often denied that there was racial discrimination.  It was regrettable that the nationality of people of Haitian origin was still not recognized, and they were considered as second-class citizens. 

Centre for Development of Black Peruvian Women stated that there was still racial discrimination against women of African descent in Latin America.  The Decade for People of African Descent did not make a reference to women.  Efforts needed to be redoubled to bring about change in Peru.  The State knew that it needed to intensify efforts to close the gap on racial discrimination. 

A representative of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latin American women said that women of colour needed to be taken into consideration in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

A speaker from the African diaspora in Germany stressed that discrimination against certain groups could be eliminated only if those groups were recognized at the national level.  The African diaspora in Germany was not acknowledged as such.  The phenomenon of Afrophobia needed to be recognized.

A civil society organization from Scotland said that the challenge in Scotland came from its own specific demographics.  Challenging structural racism in Scotland was being done through the powers which were devolved to Scotland.  The emphasis ought to be placed on specific Scottish challenges.

Community Work Ireland and Traveller Movement stated that there had been an increase of racist language and incidents in Ireland in recent years.  Significant funding cuts for community development had been experienced.  The Traveller community was not yet recognized as such by the Irish authorities.  The importance of data was stressed.

Coalition of Africans to Promote Human Health, in a joint statement, noted that there seemed to be tacit agreement among States which had participated in the Durban meeting to do away with its programme of action.  An increasing spread of racist discourse was a worrisome development, including Donald Trump’s triumphant campaign.

Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial said that in Russia civil society was collapsing due to the oppressive legislation dubbed “foreign agents law”.  The representative body of Crimean Tatars was not recognized in the annexed Crimea.  A repressive approach to Roma settlements had existed in Russia for decades.

Amazigh Network for Citizenship stated that discrimination of the Berbers in Morocco was connected to numerous public policies.  Despite the fact that the Amazigh were not a numerical minority, how could they be classified as such and not be given their full rights? The Committee’s recommendations to Morocco in that regard were welcomed.

International Dalit Network said that in the globalizing world racial discrimination originated from various parts of the globe.  Discrimination based on origin was visible in harsher sentences for certain groups.  Safeguards for Dalits in India and Nepal were misused, and the caste-based discrimination should be treated like racial discrimination.

Anti-caste Discrimination Alliance stated that legal protection for the victims of caste discrimination in the United Kingdom was being delayed by the Government, which was now questioning whether the law was needed at all.  Increasing violence and atrocities against Dalits in India were a worrisome trend.       

Panel 2

TAISUKE KOMATSU, Undersecretary-General of the International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, said that the Committee was especially important for indigenous and minority groups, since it paid attention to different needs of each community.  The early warning and urgent action procedure was highly important as it could be the last resort for many vulnerable groups.  Out of the non-governmental organizations that had responded to the Movement’s questionnaire on their experience with the Committee, many had expressed difficulties with accessing information and a large majority had experienced difficulties in preparing submissions to the Committee due to different reasons, including a language barrier and the lack of capacity.  Those who had come to Geneva had had problems engaging with the Committee because of time constraints, a language barrier and a lack of channels in Geneva.  The respondents to the survey had expressed their satisfaction with recommendations from the Committee, but their implementation remained a key question.  A template was being currently prepared for civil society for submission of alternative follow-up information to the Committee.   

CLAIRE THOMAS, Deputy Director of the Minority Rights Group International, said that its mandate was around ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities.  The Committee could be seen as an organization with the focus on a particular kind of racism, such as apartheid, civil rights in the United States, Dalits, etc., and maybe not looking into more subtle forms of racism in some African and Asian countries.  The latter communities needed to understand that the Committee could help them with their problems.  Reporting to the Committee added a layer of complexity for civil society organizations because they needed to describe a pattern of discrimination rather than include anecdotal evidence.  Racism was considered as quite a political topic by some people, which could be very off-putting.  The Committee should reach out more through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ offices to get the right messages to people on the ground; there should also be more cross-referencing with the Universal Periodic Review; Special Rapporteurs should be briefed before they went on their country visits.  More general comments on global topics would be welcome.  Ethnicity was at the risk of falling out of the Sustainable Development Goals, said Ms. Thomas. 

NICOLAS MARUGAN, Committee Member, said that the second question in the survey sent out to civil society organizations related to their experience in engaging with the Committee.  Some organizations said that the Committee provided them with access to national representatives, who were otherwise not accessible.  Others used the recommendations issued by the Committee.  On how the Committee could improve and enhance its engagement with civil society, organizations believed that a database of non-governmental organizations working domestically on racism should be created.  The Committee’s accessibility should be enhanced through Internet tools, such as a “virtual forum”.  Country visits should be conducted for fact finding, and research partnerships with non-governmental organizations should be established.  The Committee ought to focus more on provincial governments and authorities rather than federal ones in its recommendations, as those were more sensitive to international pressure.  The Committee could also fund periodic meetings with non-governmental organizations and build momentum on the shared agenda. 

A representative of an indigenous community in Russia spoke of an ethnocide against her people in Russia.  The community was being deprived of its lands, while the water and the air were polluted.  Those who refused to sell their property to the authorities were harassed and subjected to pressure. The Committee should pay more attention to small, indigenous peoples of Russia.

Citizens Committee for Racial Integration said that there had been very little progress in applying the Committee’s recommendations in Cuba.  The official policy continued to be that speaking about the issues of race could stir troubles in Cuba.  Black Cubans were absent from the upper echelons of the economy.

A Committee Member noted an absence of non-governmental organizations from certain parts of the world, which was certainly not their choice.  One of the main issues that the Committee needed to look into was fighting against reprisals.  The fact that the Committee was often working in a discrete fashion was often criticized, but at the same time it allowed it to move forward. 

Bahrain Association for Monitoring Human Rights drew the attention of the Committee to all forms of racial discrimination in Syria, Iran and Iraq.  Discrimination practices in Iran violated the rights of minorities, especially the Sunnis.  Activists and Sunni political leaders were harassed and even executed.

International Dalit Solidarity Network said that the Dalit community in Nepal was the most marginalized group in the country, which had a very adverse effect on their socio-economic development.  The constitutional and legislative arrangements were not applied properly.  The individual complaints mechanism to the Committee was a useful tool, but the Committee should look into new ways to combat caste-based discrimination.

A civil society representative from the Netherlands believed that the most relevant topic was the introduction and promotion of the term “Afrophobia”.  It was not simply anti-black racism, but it went much deeper.  The awful tradition of Black Pete in the Netherlands ought to be combatted.

Collective Black Sheep said that Uruguay was a country complying with international standards, including the penalization of hate crimes.  However, racial discrimination was not criminalized, which meant that those not victims of flagrant forms of racism had little recourse to justice.  In 90 per cent of situations of racial discrimination, victims were not covered by the existing legislation.

International Service for Human Rights noted the central role played by human rights defenders, and recommended that the Committee adopt a statement on the importance of their protection.  A safe and enabling environment for them to operate needed to be created.  Human rights defenders’ focal points ought to exist in Member States.

A Committee Expert wanted to hear more about what civil society organizations were doing to face the challenges they were facing, and what the Committee could do to help them out. 

Centre for Activism against Racism said that what was seen on the ground was that the Convention and the Committee were not sufficiently visible.  Financing was also a crucial issue for civil society organizations; those not based in Geneva had difficulties coming to attend the Committee’s sessions.  Country visits could also be conducted by the Committee. 

Ms. Crickley explained that there was no provision for the Committee to conduct country visits.  The Committee, unfortunately, did not have resources to financially support civil society organizations.  She noted that the discussion through Twitter, utilizing #fightracism, raised numerous issues, including the rise of Islamophobia, treatment of certain minority groups by law enforcement officers, and the perpetuation of hate speech through social media.

A civil society representative said that it was the responsibility of the United Nations system to better disseminate information.  The compartmentalization of issues was also a problem.  The early warning mechanism had proven to be essential for many countries.  Follow-up was crucial, and those who submitted information to the Committee should be informed about what happened with that information. 

Fellowship Programme for the People of African Descent – Canada said that there was concern for the Somali Muslim people in the criminal justice system in Canada.  The speaker provided an example of a Somali detainee who had been kept in detention for three years and had eventually died in custody.

Fellowship Programme for the People of African Descent – Barbados stated that fellows were at the Committee’s disposal and would be happy to actively engage in the anti-discrimination work in their respective countries. 

Fellowship Programme for the People of African Descent – Brazil said that the human rights of black people in Brazil were systematically violated.  A programme to decrease the mortality of young black people in Brazil had been discontinued without an explanation, and mortality rates among young black men had been increasing. 

A former Committee Member opined that the Committee was very wise to insist on the ubiquity of racial discrimination.  The Committee had always insisted that development needed to be of an inclusive nature, and take into consideration the needs of minorities.  Invisibility could be a precursor of something worse and lead to grave discrimination.

A Committee Member said that it was sobering to hear what was happening around the world.  Being a national of the United States, she said that she was in a state of mourning and shock.  One had to pick oneself up, resist and organize.  Civil society representatives had provided a wealth of great ideas on what could and should be done.  Creating political will should be done together.  The Committee and civil society were partners and needed to help each other.  The ball had to always be in both courts. 

Another Committee Member noted that the challenge was to pick up the subject of the Durban Declaration once more and to ensure it was placed at the centre of public agendas.  The new peace agreement would be signed in Colombia the following day, which was a very positive development, informed the Expert.

A Committee Expert noted that without the help of non-governmental organizations, the Committee would not do half of the work it was doing.  Civil society was a precious source of information, and its alternative reports, while sometimes divergent, were very much appreciated.  Communicating directly with a wide variety of non-governmental organizations was appreciated.

Concluding Remarks

CARLOS QUESADA, Executive Director of the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights, said that the fact that there were about 14 representatives from Latin America here demonstrated that the region believed in the Committee.  Civil society was needed, now more than ever. 

SARAH CHANDER, Advocacy Officer at the European Network against Racism, stressed that structural racism ought to be acknowledged and combatted in a comprehensive manner through the mechanisms of the States.

TAISUKE KOMATSU, Undersecretary-General of the International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, was very impressed by the welcome attitude of the Committee, which had engaged in a constructive dialogue with civil sector.

CLAIRE THOMAS, Deputy Director of the Minority Rights Group International, said that the world was, sadly, at the moment when racial discrimination was again becoming a big topic.  The Committee needed to do its work globally rather than focus on several high-profile cases. 

ANASTACIA CRICKLEY, Chairperson of the Committee, was conscious of the issues related to reprisals, and the Committee had a focal point for that matter.  Not all suggestions made today would be able to be implemented immediately.  The Committee was very grateful for the useful information provided by the speakers in today’s consultation.  Non-governmental organizations were encouraged to provide alternative reports and to come to Geneva, when they could, to engage with the Committee before their respective countries’ reports were considered.  The Committee looked at the civil sector as partners, who could help it create conditions for eliminating racism, and was very conscious of the insidiousness of the current political discourse.  Ms. Crickley thanked all those who contributed to the discussion by submitting comments and questions through social media.  The struggle against racism ought to continue in solidarity.

For use of the information media; not an official record