ISLAMABAD: Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today celebrated its one hundredth session.
Addressing the centenary session Noureddine Amir, Chairperson of the Committee, said the centenary session provided the opportunity to take stock of what had been achieved. It should never be forgotten that the Committee was the first United Nations treaty body created after the Second World War, he added, stressing that it remained relevant today.
Kyle Ward, Director of the Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the work of this Committee in combatting the scourge of racial discrimination was as important now as it had ever been. Highlighting some of the Committee’s main achievements, he recalled that the Committee had been a pioneer in many aspects of the treaty bodies’ institution making. It had paved the way for other Committees by inspiring their methods of work. Its substantive work had contributed to the development of international human rights law, including through the Committee’s 35 general recommendations. Through its Early Warning and Urgent Actions Procedures, the Committee had played a very important preventive role. The submission of the first ever inter-State communications to the Committee undoubtedly illustrated the confidence that States placed in the Committee to settle their disputes.
Currently, the fight against racial discrimination faced a number of challenges and pushbacks, such as the expansion of racist hate speech, the resurgence of national populism and ideas of racial superiority, and the persistence of structural discrimination against minorities, migrants, people of African descent, indigenous peoples and other people who were in vulnerable situations and exposed to racial discrimination. Addressing such challenges and pushbacks probably necessitated reflection of a more concerted action. It required the development of joint synergies, sharing of experiences and good practices among all bodies and institutions within and outside the United Nations System, including civil society and national human rights institutions, in view of achieving concrete results on the ground.
He expressed confidence that the Committee would redouble vigilance, and reinforce efforts including through innovative approaches to achieve concrete results. The Office stood ready to support the Committee in that journey to the best of its ability. On behalf of the Office, Mr. Ward thanked all Committee Members for the significant contributions they had made to the work of this Committee and to the global efforts to combat racial discrimination.
Verene Shepherd, Committee Expert, said that for many people race was a sociological construct, but racism was very real. This scourge was disfiguring the global landscape. Contrary to what skeptics believed, the Committee did not conduct its work in vain: it gave voice to those who were shunned from the corridors of power.
Yeung Kam John Yeung Sik Yuen, Committee Expert, said it was a privilege for all members of the Committee to serve in such an important institution. It was not clear whether the Committee’s work was appreciated in all quarters. Committee Members would nevertheless continue their work, doing their utmost to discharge their mandate.
Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, Committee Expert, said this one hundredth anniversary was truly historic. More than ever the Committee was necessary, and the Convention needed to be implemented faithfully. Racism was on the rise and adopting more cynical forms. It was crucial that the Committee continue its work.
The International Movement against All Forms of Racism and Discrimination said that despite the progress achieved, the Committee faced enormous challenges in discharging its mandate. Its work had served as a blueprint for other treaty bodies, and the Committee had proven to be a key guardian of marginalized groups. This one hundredth session should be an opportunity to reaffirm the Committee’s demonstrated commitment to fight discrimination and racism.
The Institution on Race, Equality and Human Rights thanked the Committee for its work. The Committee had shown receptiveness to, and awareness of, the voice of people of African descent in Latin America. Significant steps had been taken in that regard: the Committee had considered the situation of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people of African descent. It’s emphasis on free, prior and informed consent of the communities of African descent deserved special mention. And yet, there was an increase in racist speech.
The Indigenous Peoples’ Centre for Documentation, Research and Information recalled that the Committee had issued a significant number of recommendations regarding countries where indigenous peoples lived. Through the 198 urgent actions taken by the Committee, 170 concerned indigenous peoples. It had contributed to the interpretation of human rights so that they were relevant to indigenous peoples, despite indigenousness not being included in the prohibited discrimination grounds outlined in the Convention.
Noureddine Amir thanked representatives of non-governmental organizations. It was impossible to understand and the Convention’s purpose without considering the historical context in which they had come about. Within these walls, illustrious men had come together and reached agreement, laying the ground for what would become a symbol for a better tomorrow. This had been done following the Second World War, during which rivers of blood had gone through Europe and Asia and six million people had died in the Holocaust for no other reasons than being Jew.
Many States were party to the Convention and were moving towards implementing its provisions. People had sacrificed their lives so that racism and racial discrimination would not again be a cause for war. There were no multiple human species, but rather a single human kind. The Committee believed in its work, and despite the reduction in the resources allocated to it, it would continue to march on. It was a matter of moral imperative. It was something it owed to those who had died in the world wars. It would continue the struggle, so that those who were waiting for justice, including indigenous peoples, could one day enjoy it.