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International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 1966 (ICERD)

Category: Event
Date: Date of entry into force 4 January 1969
Sub Category:Convention
Subject Matter:Customary Law | Law - Policy and Justice
Summary Information:

The International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination 1966 (ICERD) is a United Nations human rights treaty. ICERD was adopted and opened for signature and ratification by General Assembly Resolution 2106 (XX) on 21 December 1965 and entered into force on 4 January 1969.

Under the Convention, state parties commit to eliminating racial discrimination and to promoting racial equality. The Convention expands upon the principles of dignity and inherent equality of all human beings which the United Nations Charter is based on. The Convention also condemns colonialism, segregation and discrimination based on race in any form.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is the United Nations body of independent experts which monitors the implementation of the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 1966 (ICERD) by state parties. State parties are required to submit regular reports to the Committee. Individuals and groups can make individual petitions to the Committee if they allege the Convention has been violated.

Over 186 countries have ratified the Convention. Australia ratified the Convention on 30 September 1975. The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) incorporated the Convention into Australian law. In ratifying ICERD, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) criminalised racial discrimination based on race, colour, descent and national or ethnic origin and held all persons had a legal right to equality before the law (Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth), ss9 & 10).

The Convention promotes substantive rather than formal racial equality. This means that the Convention recognises that to promote substantial equality affirmative action or other different treatment may be required to attain a result which 'establishes an equilibrium between different situations' (Triggs, 1999).

Detailed Information:

Some of the main features of the Convention are:

  • In Article 1, the Convention defines 'racial discrimination' to mean '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' (CERD, 1965).
  • The Convention allows 'special measures' to be taken to secure the advancement of a particular racial or ethnic groups as long as this does not create separate rights for different racial groups.
  • By ratifying the Convention, state parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue all appropriate means to eliminate racial discrimination and promote understanding and racial equality in accordance with Article 2. This Article requires states to undertake reviews of government policies, laws and regulations to ensure they comply with the goals of the Convention. Article 7 of the Convention expands this obligation to require state parties to adopt immediate and effective measures to combat prejudices which lead to racial discrimination.
  • Article 4 of the Convention requires states to condemn propaganda and organisations based on theories of racial superiority and to criminalise the promotion or incitement of racial discrimination or racial violence. In Australia, these offences are contained in Part II of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).
  • The rights which are guaranteed to all persons regardless of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin are set out in Article 5. These rights include equality before the law, freedom of movement and residence within the border of the state, political rights including the right to vote and stand for election, and the right to own property.
  • The Convention also requires state parties to provide effective protection and remedies against acts of racial discrimination or human rights violations within their jurisdiction in Article 6.

Part II of the Convention sets out the procedures for the creation and running of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. As well as the processes for state reporting to the Committee.

State parties can recognise the competence of the Committee to hear and consider communications from individuals or groups within their jurisdiction in accordance with Article 14. If a state party recognises the competence of the Committee in accordance with Article 14, the Committee is empowered to investigate and make recommendations. The Committee cannot consider communications from individuals unless they have first exhausted all domestic remedies available to them.

Related Entries

  • The Northern Territory Emergency Response
  • Legislation
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth)
  • Case Law
  • Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) decision on the Native Title Amendment Act 1998 (Cth) decision
  • Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) decision on mining concessions and Sami Reindeer Husbandry

  • Glossary

    International Convention

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