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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination holds informal meeting with States parties

Addresses Treaty Body Strengthening, Implementation of the Committee’s Recommendations, and the Resurgence of Extremism

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today held its sixth informal meeting with States parties, during which it addressed the 2020 review of the human rights treaty body system as per the General Assembly resolution 68/268, the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations, and new manifestations of racism and the resurgence of extremism.

In his opening remarks, Noureddine Amir, Committee Chairperson, noted that the Committee was keen to listen to States parties’ views. 

Silvio José Albuquerque E. Silva, Committee Expert and Focal Point for the 2020 Treaty Body Review, reminded that many stakeholders on human rights had produced countless proposals on the reform of the treaty body system.  The measures supported by the General Assembly had addressed short-term problems, and resolution 68/268 avoided dealing with the long-term problems, such as the low authority of treaty bodies, backlog in their work, the reporting burden on States, and insufficient funding in relation to the growth of the treaty body system. 

Speaking of States parties’ measures to implement the Committee’s recommendations, Rita Izsák Ndiaye, Committee Expert and Rapporteur, reminded States parties that they should disseminate the Committee’s concluding observations, translate them into minority languages, involve civil society in the follow-up process, and share good practices with the Committee and other countries.

On new manifestations of racism and the resurgence of extremism, Committee Expert Verene Shepherd warned of continued racism against the same groups of people and of a return to the old colonial forms of discrimination.  In the Caribbean region, racism was espoused by the descendants of former colonial rulers, who were now in the minority.  In spite of the existence of anti-discrimination legal frameworks, ethnic and religious minorities across the European Union faced exclusion and violence.  Ms. Shepherd asked States to do all in their power to fight the scourge of racism and to ensure that emboldened white-supremacy discourse did not spill over into the political mainstream. 

In the ensuing discussion, States inquired whether there had been any brainstorming within the Committee on ways to implement the 2020 treaty body review, and about the existence of formal criteria for participating in the simplified reporting procedure.  While recognizing the positive contribution of the enlargement of the treaty body system for law and follow-up by States, speakers noted that it had also added additional burden for the countries that had signed multiple conventions.  It was necessary to find concrete solutions to reduce the complexities of the current procedures and to improve coordination within the United Nations treaty body system.  Speakers emphasized that it was important for committees to coordinate the harmonization of their working methods, as mandated by resolution 68/268.  They added that there should be a vigorous discussion about the 2020 review in Geneva rather than in New York where there were fewer experts on human rights and the treaty body system.  Speakers also inquired whether increasing the visibility of the Committee’s work could help counter the rise of extremism and dehumanizing political discourse. 

Speaking during the discussion were Qatar, Iraq, Venezuela, Norway, France, State of Palestine, Hungary, Thailand, Iceland, Canada, Japan, Israel, Mauritius, Jamaica, Guatemala, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Costa Rica and Cuba. 

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 14 December, in the afternoon to close the ninety-seventh session. 

Opening Statements

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, welcomed representatives of States parties for their presence in great numbers.  The sixth informal meeting with States parties would focus on three issues: examination of the 2020 treaty body review, measures taken by States parties to implement the Committee’s recommendations, and the new forms of manifestations of racial discrimination and upsurge in extremism, Mr. Amir explained.  He noted that the Committee was keen to listen to States parties’ views.  

SILVIO JOSÉ ALBUQUERQUE E. SILVA, Committee Expert and Focal Point for the 2020 Treaty Body Review, reminded that the Committee was not a body mandated to take decisions of a compulsory nature vis-à-vis States, but a body mandated to undertake an objective assessment of States’ implementation of obligations under the Convention, and to conduct a fruitful dialogue with States parties.  The nature of the Committee’s mandate and role could not be lost in the 2020 review process of the United Nations treaty body system, which was in a crisis.  Many stakeholders on human rights had produced countless proposals on the reform of that process.  The measures supported by the General Assembly had addressed short-term problems of the treaty body system.  Resolution 68/268 avoided dealing with the long-term problems, such as the low authority of treaty bodies, backlog in their work, the reporting burden on States, and insufficient funding in relation to the growth of the treaty body system. 

RITA IZSÁK NDIAYE, Committee Expert and Rapporteur, reminded that the goal of the exercise in which States parties were taking part was ending racial discrimination.  In 2014, the Committee had amended the rules of procedure and had appointed a follow-up rapporteur to concluding observations.  Ms. Izsak Ndiaye reminded that the response rate by States parties varied.  In line with the Committee’s 2006 guidelines on the follow-up procedure, she encouraged States parties to disseminate the concluding observations, translate them into minority languages, involve civil society in the follow-up process, and share good practices with the Committee and other countries.  The Committee was at the disposal of States to provide technical assistance, if needed, Ms. Izsak Ndiaye noted. 

VERENE SHEPHERD, Committee Expert, speaking of the global rise of extremism, noted that racism continued against the same groups of people and that there was a return to the old colonial forms of discrimination.  There were few countries where racial discrimination was not present.  In the Caribbean region, racism was espoused by the descendants of former colonial rulers, who were now in the minority.  The majority of the population in the Caribbean region did not have economic power.  In spite of the existence of anti-discrimination legal frameworks, ethnic and religious minorities across the European Union faced exclusion and violence.  “Being black in the European Union often meant poor housing and poor jobs.”  Apart from the people of African descent, Roma and other ethnic and linguistic minorities faced discrimination in Europe, and there was a resurgence of anti-Semitism and far-right sentiments.  There was a backlash against migrants in Asia too.  The Committee, therefore, asked States parties to do all in their power to fight the scourge of racism and ensure that emboldened white-supremacy discourse did not spill over into political mainstream. 

Discussion

Qatar noted that it always looked forward to the Committee’s comments about Qatar’s efforts to implement the Convention.  It further condemned the racial discrimination policies of the four countries that had imposed the blockade against Qatar.  Their measures against Qatari citizens were indeed discriminatory.  Qatar had requested the United Arab Emirates to end the discriminatory measures against Qatari students.  Could the Committee in the future use the simplified reporting procedure in the publication of reports, and could reports be translated into Arabic?

Iraq thanked the Committee Members for their comments and questions received during the recent review of Iraq by the Committee.  Different sectors of the Iraqi Government continued to follow the Committee’s recommendations and to diffuse them to various ministries. 

Venezuela expressed support for the work of the Committee and its commitment to implement its obligations under the Convention.  The President of Venezuela had recently launched an action plan for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent, and the country had improved its legal framework in that respect.  Venezuela supported the creation of a permanent forum on people of African descent.  On behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Venezuela would be raising its voice in the Human Rights Council against the rise of extremism and about the need to combat that scourge without delay.

Norway asked whether there had been any brainstorming within the Committee on ways to implement the 2020 treaty body review.  Turning to the simplified reporting procedure, Norway inquired about the formal criteria for the participation in that procedure.

France noted that it fought against all forms of discrimination with great firmness, making the fight against racism one of its priorities, as indicated in its new action plan for combatting racism and anti-Semitism 2018-2020.  The new action plan responded to the Committee’s recommendations addressed to France in 2015, namely with respect to the fight against hate speech online and anti-racist education.  While recognizing the positive contribution of the enlargement of the treaty body system for law and follow-up by States, it had also added additional burden for the countries that had signed multiple conventions, such as France.  France noted that it was necessary to find concrete solutions to reduce the complexities of the current procedures and to improve coordination within the United Nations treaty body system.  What were the Committee’s views on that?  

State of Palestine reminded that on 23 April 2018 it had filed an inter-State complaint against Israel, the occupying power, for breaches of its obligations under the Convention.  In July 2018, Israel had passed a discriminatory law called the Nation-State Law, which granted certain rights exclusively to Jews.  It stated that the right to exercise of national self-determination in Israel was unique to the Jewish people; it established Hebrew as Israel’s official language and it downgraded Arabic to a “special status.”  The law also established “Jewish settlements as a national value” and it mandated that the State would labour to encourage and promote their establishment and development.  Those Jewish settlements were built on stolen Palestinian land and were illegal under international law.  Another worrying violation was the continued construction and approval of funds for large-scale road infrastructure projects in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem that improved the connectivity of settlements to Israel.  

Hungary agreed that the proposed three themes of discussion were the most topical ones for the implementation of the Convention.  Based on that discussion, Hungarian representatives would suggest to the capital to pay particular attention to the follow-up on the Committee’s earlier recommendations.

Thailand expressed its firm commitment to the implementation of the Convention.  Thailand had a committee that monitored the implementation of the Convention.  The Cabinet had already approved Thailand’s next periodic report.  Thailand was late in its submission, but the process was inclusive and civil society had been engaged in the preparation of the report.

Iceland welcomed the practice of regular convening of States parties and the focus on the rise of extremism.  Turning to the 2020 treaty body review, Iceland commended the fact that the Committee had appointed a focal point.  It emphasized that it was important for committees to coordinate the harmonization of their working methods, as mandated by resolution 68/268.

Canada stressed that it saw the United Nations treaty body system as key for the promotion and implementation of human rights.  How did the treaty bodies intend to engage with States in going forward with the review itself?  

Japan underscored the importance of constructive dialogue and genuine cooperation between the Committee and States parties.  It stressed that treaty body strengthening was important for the promotion of human rights.  There should be a vigorous discussion about the 2020 review in Geneva where there was a concentration of expertise on human rights.  The treaty body system should, thus, streamline and produce recommendations that would have a real effect on human rights. 

Israel deplored the attempt of the Palestinians to politicize the discussion, and stressed that it was fully committed to the elimination of racial discrimination.  The Committee was not the appropriate forum for pursuing a discussion on the complaint filed by the Palestinians, as Israel had expressed its view on the communication to the Committee.  As for the 2020 review, Israel stressed that there was a need to enhance relevant discussions in Geneva.       

Mauritius thanked the Committee for its concluding observations issued to Mauritius in August 2018.  It recommended greater use of the simplified reporting procedure, which would allow small States to meet their reporting obligations in a timely manner. 

Jamaica drew attention to the reporting burden of States, and to the need for better sensitization of Committee Experts to different legal systems.  It informed that Jamaica was preparing its next periodic report in the first half of 2019.  The Government was actively pursuing the establishment of a national human rights institution.  The national Constitution provided for equality before law and freedom from discrimination, thus providing a broad protection against racial discrimination.  The Government had also introduced a new section in its criminal legislation to prohibit the publication of materials that promoted incitement to hatred. 

Guatemala expressed gratitude to the Committee for its work and found the Committee’s appointment of a focal point on the 2020 review very useful.  How could the exchange of views among contracting parties be fostered in that respect?  Guatemala had a body that collected input from all relevant Government departments on the Committee’s concluding observations.  It also had a presidential committee on racial discrimination. 

Pakistan stated that it had taken important measures at all levels, following its third review in the Committee in August 2016, especially in the field of education.  On the treaty body review process, Pakistan wanted the process to be inclusive and State-driven.  It would participate in the process in a constructive manner. 

United Arab Emirates raised a procedural matter in relation to Qatar’s demand that the Committee consider its complaint against the United Arab Emirates.  It noted that article 11 of the Convention stipulated that States first needed to turn to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and wait for the Committee to finish the analysis before turning to other instances.  What was the Committee’s position on the distinction between ethnic groups and nationality?

Costa Rica agreed with the Committee that resolution 68/268 did not address the longstanding challenges of the treaty body system, and agreed that funding was key for the process.  Costa Rica had identified that there was a lot of overlap in various committees’ questions during short review periods.  Sometimes countries had very little time to implement the committees’ recommendations.  What views did the Committee have on the rise of extremism and dehumanizing political discourse?  Would increasing the visibility of the Committee’s work help counter that trend? 

Cuba appreciated the opportunity in August 2018 to exchange views with the Committee and go beyond the strict evaluation of the periodic report.  It reminded that each convention and each committee mandate was different.  The United Nations system was facing new challenges and stakeholders needed to look at things with a new vision. 

Responses by the Committee Experts

ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Expert, noted that the Committee was moving to the increased use of the simplified reporting procedure.  There were two types of approaches under that procedure: for those countries that regularly submitted their reports, and those that did not submit reports regularly.  The latter could receive technical assistance.  The Committee on average spent 12 to 18 months to review periodic reports due to the reduced capacity of the secretariat.  Likewise, the Committee currently worked only in three official languages and Arabic was not one of them.  In addition, some committees carried out investigations and could visit countries, while the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination could not.  Finally, it was not the Committee that decided on those matters, but States through the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Avtonomov emphasized. 
 
RITA IZSÁK NDIAYE, Committee Expert and Rapporteur, recalled that the Committee had first offered the simplified reporting procedure to countries that had their reports overdue for more than 10 years, and then to countries with reports overdue for more than five years.  According to the 2018 data, there were 16 countries overdue for 15 years, 41 overdue for more 10 years, and 32 countries overdue for more than five years.  The committees would soon hold a two-day workshop on the use of the simplified reporting procedure and on making it more available to States, Ms. Izsák Ndiaye reminded.
 
VERENE SHEPHERD, Committee Expert, assured small island developing States that the Committee was very much aware of the challenges they faced.  Because of that awareness, the Committee had formed an informal sub-committee to work on the failure or inability of certain States to report or to report on time.  Ms. Shepherd said she was happy to hear the commitment of States to eliminate racial discrimination.  As for the rise of extremism, Ms. Shepherd reminded that the Committee was not a tribunal and that it could only appeal to States to eliminate racism.  The Committee was doing what it could to address hate speech and violence against minority groups.    

SILVIO JOSÉ ALBUQUERQUE E. SILVA, Committee Expert and Focal Point for the 2020 Treaty Body Review, stressed that treaty body strengthening was a key issue for the Committee, which still did not have a unified view on that matter.  Responding to States parties’ comments, Mr. Albuquerque E. Silva noted that the discussion on treaty body strengthening could not ignore the current state of political affairs and low level of multilateralism.  The 2020 review process would inevitably be challenged by the anti-human rights rhetoric; the review was not simply a technical exercise.  That discussion should primarily take place in Geneva, where the expertise on human rights was concentrated, and then be brought to New York.  Mr. Albuquerque E. Silva recalled that in the report of the former High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to the General Assembly in 2012, she had proposed the creation of a comprehensive reporting calendar to ensure regular and predictable review of States, the creation of a joint treaty body working group on communications, and the introduction of the simplified reporting procedure.  The General Assembly had softened a number of her recommendations in order to reduce, what had been seen by Member States as a major financial burden imposed on the United Nations’ budget.  Accordingly, the General Assembly had not addressed the long-term challenges of the treaty body system.  Mr. Albuquerque E. Silva noted that it was curious that the committees had never been able to present a consolidated position of all committees on that crucial reform of the treaty body system.

PASTOR ELIAS MURILLO MARTINEZ, Committee Expert and Vice-Chair, invited States parties to reflect on some kind of a decision that could condemn racism, xenophobia and intolerance, along the lines of the decision taken by Latin American and Caribbean countries in 2015 during the Third World Conference against Racism.

GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, regretted that the Committee was not on the same page with many States.  Success depended on regular reporting by States parties and their cooperation in following up to the Committee’s concluding observations.  The statistics on States’ compliance were not encouraging and they were not a sign of a strong treaty body system, Mr. Kut stressed.  A strong treaty body system depended on strong secretarial support.  The majority of States parties had demanded the harmonization of committees’ methods of work and the lowering of reporting pressure on them.  To Mr. Kut that indicated that those States wanted to be free of the reporting obligations they themselves had signed up for.  If all committees followed the same procedures, no committee would be efficient, and that would defeat the initiative to strengthen the treaty body system.  What the majority of States parties demanded was purely cosmetic change.         

IBRAHIM SALAMA, Chief of the Human Rights Treaties Branch, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed the participation of States parties and the substance of their comments.  It was urgent to act because the system was not sustainable at the moment.  All ingredients for a solution were already on the table and there was no need to re-invent the wheel.  The position of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on treaty body strengthening as presented to the General Assembly in 2012 remained as valid nowadays as then.  Informing the participants of his recent meeting in New York, Mr. Salama said there was a need for coordination between Geneva and New York.  There was a lack of clarity on the modalities of the 2020 review, but there was flexibility among Member States representatives in New York.  A powerful multi-stakeholder approach was necessary for the 2020 review.  What was missing was a decisive role of chairs of treaty bodies, and creative exploration of possible solutions.  The objective of the reform was for all States to take their obligations seriously, Mr. Salama stressed.       

Concluding Remarks

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, thanked Mr. Salama for calling for flexibility and balance in pursuing treaty body strengthening.  He also thanked all participants for their contribution to the discussion.  He added that treaty bodies should be able to respond to the needs of States parties by 2020.