Magazine article UN Chronicle

Eliminating Racial Discrimination: The Challenges of Prevention and Enforcement of Prohibition

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Eliminating Racial Discrimination: The Challenges of Prevention and Enforcement of Prohibition

Article excerpt

"States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law", according to the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, notably in the enjoyment of political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights. State Parties shall also assure effective protection and remedies against any acts of racial discrimination.

Both the preamble of the Charter of the United Nations and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaim the right of everyone to enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms, without distinction to race, colour or national origin. The UN system and its specialized agencies, through various conventions and declarations, prohibited discrimination and disseminated information specifically addressing the issue and proposing solutions to the problem. However, despite these efforts, many individuals and groups belonging to the minority continue to experience various forms of discrimination, especially in countries with a dominant majority or a history of colonialism and occupation. As we prepare to celebrate the anniversaries of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the General Assembly's adoption of the International Convention, prevention and enforcement of United Nations guidelines pertaining to racial discrimination are still a major challenge. As such, human rights for all are still violated in polities where racial discrimination persists.

Manifestation of racial discrimination varies in different contexts. For example, in countries like the United States, which have enacted prevention laws, changes in social norms have led some commentators to use phrases like "colour-blind racism" (1) and "laissez-faire racism" (2) to capture the challenges of preventing racial discrimination and enforcing laws. Racial discrimination is manifested also in practices generally thought to be relics of the past, such as race-based slavery, as in the case of the continuing enslavement of dark skinned people in contemporary Mauritania, (3) as well as crimes against humanity or, as argued by some, the genocide committed in the Darfur region of the Sudan.

UN agencies, such as the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), have played a key role in organizing and mobilizing education and information relevant to the protection of all human rights. The OHCHR role in the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa, is an example, where the discourses arising from the event and the participation of thousands of non-governmental organizations, youth groups and networks had an impact on millions of people. The contribution of UNESCO in formulating declarations and conventions--such as the Declaration on Fundamental Principles concerning the Contribution to the Mass Media to Strengthening Peace and International Understanding, to the Promotion of Human Rights and to Countering Racialism, Apartheid and Incitement to War, adopted on 22 November 1978--reveals the United Nations role in fostering discourses of respect and dignity for all.

Specifically, Article 12 of the Declaration on the Prevention of Genocide, adopted on 11 March 2005 by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), "urges the international community to look at the need for a comprehensive understanding of the dimensions of genocide, including in the context of situations where economic globalization adversely affects disadvantaged communities, in particular indigenous peoples". This clearly indicates the recognition of the complex factors in facilitating discriminatory practices leading to genocide. It is worth noting that, whereas genocide is not always directly linked to racial discrimination, they are often interlinked, as demonstrated by the 2005 Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the Secretary-General. …

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