Skip to main content

Background to the Convention

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Mounting international concern over racial discrimination led the United Nations General Assembly, in 1963, to take the formal step of adopting the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, A/RES/1904.

In 1965, the General Assembly provided the world community with a legal instrument by adopting the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Convention specifies the measures that States agree to undertake, once they have become parties by ratifying or acceding to it, to eliminate racial discrimination.

The Convention also established the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which was the first body created by the United Nations to monitor and review actions by States to fulfil their obligations under a specific human rights agreement.

The Convention came into force in 1969 after 27 States had ratified or acceded to it.

How the Convention protects human rights

The convention makes four principal points:

  1. Any doctrine of racial differentiation or superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous and has no justification in theory or practice;
  2. Racial discrimination and government policies based on racial superiority or hatred violate fundamental human rights, endanger friendly relations among peoples, co-operation among nations, and international peace and security;
  3. Racial discrimination harms not only those who are its objects but also those who practise it;
  4. A world society free of racial segregation and discrimination (factors which create hatred and division) is a fundamental aim of the United Nations.

Under the Convention, States parties pledge:

  • To engage in no act or practice of racial discrimination against individuals, groups of persons or institutions, and to ensure that public authorities and institutions do likewise;
  • Not to sponsor, defend or support racial discrimination by persons or organizations;
  • To review government, national and local policies and to amend or repeal laws and regulations which create or perpetuate racial discrimination;
  • To prohibit and put a stop to racial discrimination by persons, groups and organizations; and
  • To encourage integrationist or multiracial organizations and movements and other means of eliminating barriers between races, as well as to discourage anything which tends to strengthen racial division.

A key feature of the Convention is the pledge by all States parties to act in the areas of teaching, education, culture and information to combat prejudice and promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among nations and racial or ethnic groups.