Today’s review of the INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION ON THE ELIMINATION OF ALL FORMS OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION (ICERD) is the next in a series of reviews of United Nations human rights conventions and treaties. The reviews are written by a group of League members from across the country who are inspired by the League’s history of human rights advocacy and motivated to start a fresh dialogue about the impact these historical UN conventions have today on the League’s principle of Empowering Voters-Defending Democracy.  Democratic principles respecting human rights are enshrined in United Nations conventions.

Review by: UN Observer Jill Follows (VA); CSW63 Delegates Sheila Denn (NC); Sue Sherer (PA); Kathleen Montgomery (CA); Savanna Mapelli (PA); Anu Sahai (VA); ErinLeigh Darnley (NY)

Overview:  The United Nations General Assembly adopted the INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION ON THE ELIMINATION OF ALL FORMS OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION (ICERD) on December 21, 1965.  The Preamble to this Convention spoke plainly. It affirmed that the United Nations finds the existence of racial barriers repugnant to the principles of human dignity and equality.  It condemned any doctrine of superiority based on race as scientifically false, morally reprehensible, and capable of disturbing peace and security throughout the world.

ICERD defines the term racial discrimination  as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, or any other field of public life.” https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CERD.aspx

This convention calls on all States Parties (countries) to condemn racial discrimination and racial segregation rescind all laws and regulations that create or perpetuate racial discrimination, condemn racially motivated propaganda, and institute immediate action to eradicate discrimination, and declare all offenses constituting racial discrimination and inciting racist activities to be punishable by law.  

Protected Human Rights: The States Parties to ICERD commit to educating and informing their people about tolerance and friendship between all people of all racial or ethnic groups. The States Parties agree to protect everyone’s human rights to: equal treatment before the law; protection from government-inflicted violence; vote and stand for election; take part in government; move and reside within the nation’s borders; leave and then return to the nation; marry the person of their own choosing; own property; inherit property; assemble peacefully; think and worship freely; secure a job; secure housing; receive health care and social protection services; go to school; participate in cultural and social activities and access any place or service intended for general public use.

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD):  CERD is a body of 18 experts with the mandate to monitor the implementation of the convention.  The experts fulfill their mandate by analyzing reports from the States Parties, civil society, human rights institutions, and UN partners.  Those reports spell out the measures a nation has taken to comply with the provisions of the convention.  After completing the review of the reports, CERD files an annual report with the United Nations General Assembly and may make concluding observations and general recommendations aimed at improving or clarifying the obligations of the States Parties under the convention.  CERD also has a mechanism to receive urgent warnings of a risk of racial discrimination and a procedure to intervene to prevent or stop the racial discrimination.  https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/14579OHCHR_Comm_on_the_Elimination_of_Racial_Discrimination.pdf 

The United States Gave a Qualified Ratification to ICERD: In 1994, nearly 30 years after the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the United States Senate gave its advice and consent to President Bill Clinton to ratify ICERD, but only with three Reservations, an Understanding, and a Declaration.  These additional qualifications restricted the extent to which the United States would adhere to the convention.

The Declaration stated that the United States would not consider ICERD to be a self-executing treaty.  In other words, even though the United States ratified the ICERD, it declared that ICERD had no teeth to create an independent cause of action for racial discrimination in US courts.  “The United States claimed that because its laws provided extensive protections and remedies against racial discrimination, it did not need to enact additional legislation to comply with CERD.”   http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1646&context=ilj 

The text of the Reservations, Understandings and Declaration by the United States to ICERD may be read at https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-2&chapter=4&clang=_en  (Scroll down and click on the United States of America-then scroll further to read the full text of the Declaration.) 

Synergy with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):  The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination collects and analyzes data from its review of the reports from States Parties and other stakeholders.  This data is used to track progress toward attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.   The data led CERD to identify racial discrimination as an underlying cause of migration that leads, in turn, to subsequent racial discrimination, hate speech, violence and poverty in the newly chosen host country.  By way of example:

SDG#1 and SDG#5 (Eliminate Poverty and Achieve Gender Equality): Data shows that racial discrimination exacerbates poverty by compromising individuals’, particularly women’s, access to health care (SDG#3) , access to basic services and housing (SDG#11), education (SDG#4), employment (SDG#8), access to water (SDG#6), and access to electricity (SDG#7.)

Synergy with the LWV:  The League’s overarching Social Policy Position is to “Secure equal rights and equal opportunity for all. Promote social and economic justice and the health and safety of all Americans.” More explicitly, the League addresses racial discrimination under the heading of Equality of Opportunity, where it is stated that the League “believes that the federal government shares with other levels of government the responsibility to provide equality of opportunity for education, employment, and housing for all persons in the United States regardless of their race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, or disability.” (Statement of Position on Equality of Opportunity, as revised by the National Board in January 1989, based on positions announced by the National Board in January 1969, adopted by the 1972 Convention, expanded by the 1980 Convention and the 2010 Convention. –Impact on Issues 2018-2020, p.68)

If we commit to the UN principle of “leaving no one behind,” then our future activities can reaffirm the core United Nations human rights conventions, starting with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We can acknowledge the need for disaggregated data in order to highlight the existence of systemic racism and strive for a more peaceful, inclusive and equitable world.  

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