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NGO Success stories

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Japan

Governments are often not doing enough to combat racism and racial inequality. For this reason, the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, based in Japan, sought the help of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which ensures that States uphold their international obligations. CERD paved the way forward by denouncing laws and policies that are racially discriminatory.

When the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued its findings on Japan in August 2014, Megumi Komori and her colleagues in Japan’s national network of NGOs sprang into action.

“We immediately organized a press conference as the issue of racial discrimination against communities is seldom covered by the media. We also organised a meeting with members of parliament and also one with representatives of foreign embassies in Tokyo,” says Megumi of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR).

“Hate speech in Japan is often aimed at the Korean community. They face humiliating remarks, comments like ‘you are not human’ and ‘go back to your country’. But many Japanese people don’t want to know anything about this,” Megumi adds. “The wide coverage of CERD’s strong recommendations regarding racist hate speech has had an impact on lawmakers and local councils. Combined with lobbying by civil society, so far 217 local councils have backed a statement calling for the adoption of measures against hate speech,” she says.

A bill to eliminate racial discrimination, including harassment and hate speech, is still being considered by the Japanese parliament. But Megumi stresses that participating in the CERD review process gives NGOs and civil society groups important advocacy tools.

“Unlike the last review in 2010, this time the media and the general public paid more attention to the recommendations. The frequent quoting of the findings in media and on social media has led to CERD and its work being more widely known than before – even among racist groups,” she adds.

Norway

Governments are often not doing enough to combat racism and racial inequality. For this reason, the Norwegian Centre against Racism sought the help of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which ensures that States uphold their international obligations. CERD paved the way forward by denouncing laws and policies that are racially discriminatory.

“Racism never goes away, but at certain periods it increases,” says Mari Linloekken of Norway’s Antirasistisk Senter (Norwegian Centre against Racism). “Right now, it is looking a bit like the late 1980s when we saw an increase in racist hate speech, followed by arson attacks against refugee reception centers, as well as violent attacks against immigrants and their homes and properties vandalized.”

The Senter coordinated Norwegian NGOs when the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) reviewed Norway in August 2015.

“We’ve been working with other human rights organizations and over the years the number of groups involved in the process has grown and created a momentum,” Mari says.

“We use CERD’s recommendations as leverage, to support our demands, raise awareness and for advocacy. They also help us hold the Norwegian authorities accountable. We can tell them, Norway is not in compliance with the Convention, what are you going to do,” Mari adds.

“One issue we are tackling is hate crimes. We are working with the police to register hate speech and hate crimes to get statistics, and to monitor how the issue is being dealt with by the courts. As CERD said, Oslo police are doing really good work on this,” she says.

CERD’s reviews allow NGOs to see what progress, or not, has been made, and set proper benchmarks, Mari highlights. “This cycle means we revisit issues, revise the situation every four years and it keeps both the government – and us - on our toes.”

USA

Governments often do not do enough to combat racism and racial inequality. For this reason, the US Human Rights Network organized a 100-strong delegation to come to Geneva to seek help from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which monitors how States are upholding their international obligations.

In February 2012, Sybrina Fulton’s 17-year-old son, Trayvon Martin, was shot dead in Florida. Two and a half years later, in August 2014, she was in Geneva to tell her story to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

“We thought it was important to bring people who are directly affected by the issues to attend the Committee’s review of how the United States is upholding the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination,” says Ejim Dike, USHRN Executive Director.

“We wanted to highlight to members the failure of the US Government to protect people against gun violence, the impact of Stand Your Ground laws, as well as the broader culture of criminalizing black and brown people,” she adds. The USHRN, which brings together over 300 groups, uses the Committee’s reviews to raise awareness about often marginalized human rights concerns in the US, organize around issues, reframe racial justice as a human rights demand and push for higher standards of accountability than is offered by US civil rights law.

“No one issue exists on its own. If you look at the issue of gun and police violence, it exists predominantly in communities of colour but also, importantly, communities that are poor, that lack their economic rights. Economic, civil and political rights are all interrelated,” Ejim adds.

She says it has been hugely important to engage international human rights experts and bodies in what is happening in the US, and she encourages NGOs worldwide to participate, if they can, in the ICERD reviews of their respective countries.

Statements from UN experts are, she says, of real significance. “We use them in our activism, and they give more hope to people on the ground than I think even the UN experts can imagine,” Ejim explains. “It’s recognition that, in fact, your issue is legitimate and we hear you.”