The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) oversees implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) through its consideration of State reports, individual complaints, inter-State complaints, and early-warning and urgent procedures, as well as its preparation of general comments (referred to as “general recommendations” by the Committee) and thematic discussions. As of October 2021, 182 States are party to the ICERD.
- WORKING METHODS
- CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION
- RESEARCH AND ADDITIONAL SOURCES
The CERD is composed of 18 independent experts who are elected for a term of four years. See ICERD, art. 8. Elections for 9 out of the 18 members occur every two years in order to ensure CERD maintains a balance between changing the Committee’s composition and continuity. See id. Members are chosen based on their high moral standing, acknowledged impartiality, and considering an equitable geographical distribution where Members can represent different forms of civilization and principal legal systems. See id. Further information about the election process can be found on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ website on Elections of Treaty Body Members.
The CERD generally holds two sessions per year in Geneva, Switzerland, each session lasting three weeks. The schedule of past and upcoming CERD sessions is available online, and the OHCHR maintains a Master Calendar of all UN Member States’ upcoming treaty body reviews.
State parties are required to submit an initial report within one year after acceding to the ICERD. State parties to the ICERD are then required to submit regular periodic reports on how rights are being implemented every two years. The reporting system requires each State party to submit (1) a common core document, which lists general information about the reporting State, a framework for protecting human rights, and information on non-discrimination and equality, and (2) a treaty-specific document, which accounts for specific information relating to the implementation of articles 1 to 7 of the ICERD and any national law or policies taken to implement the ICERD. See CERD, Guidelines for the CERD-Specific Document to be Submitted by State Parties Under Article 9, CERD/C/2007/1, 13 June 2008. For more specific guidelines regarding the form and content of reports, the Secretary General has published a Compilation of Guidelines on the Form and Content of Reports to be Submitted by State Parties to the International Human Rights Treaties.
Following the submission of State reports, the CERD will engage in a constructive dialogue with each State party that has submitted a State report. The Committee will engage in a private discussion following the constructive dialogue, and will then issue recommendations in the form of concluding observations. The Committee also keeps a current list of concluding observations.
The CERD further has a follow-up procedure such that the Committee request further information or any additional reports concerning action taken by the State party to implement the Committee’ recommendations. See Other Activities of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies and Participation of Stakeholders in the Human Rights Treaty Body Process, UN Doc. HRI/MC/2013/3, 22 April 2013, para. 4. A coordinator is also appointed to work in cooperation with country rapporteurs in order to present follow-up reports to the CERD at each subsequent session.
The CERD may consider individual complaints that allege a violation of an individual’s rights under the ICERD if the State party has made the necessary declaration under Article 14 of the ICERD. See ICERD, art. 14. Article 14 also identifies the basic requirements a complaint must satisfy in order to be considered by the Committee. As of October 2021, 59 States have accepted the CERD complaint mechanism.
In order to submit an individual complaint, a model complaint form can be used to provide: (1) basic information, (2) the State party in which the complaint is directed against, (3) a chronological list of facts on which the complaint is based, (4) the rights set out in the ICERD that have been alleged to be violated, and (5) any potential remedies the complainant would like to obtain if the Committee agrees there has been a violation of the ICERD. All individual complaints should be submitted to the Petitions Team mailing address:
Petitions and Inquiries Section
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
The CERD also publishes a table summary of its recent jurisprudence and maintains a list of its past decisions. More information for the procedure on individual complaints can be found in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 23 Frequently Asked Questions about Treaty Body Complaints Procedure and Procedure for Complaints by Individuals under the Human Rights Treaties webpage.
Articles 11 through 13 of the ICERD provide a mechanism for States to complain about violations of the ICERD made by another State through the establishment of an ad hoc Conciliation Commission. See ICERD, arts. 11-13. This procedure for inter-State complaints applies to all States parties to the ICERD and has been used in several instances.
Article 22 of the ICERD also provides a mechanism for States to resolve inter-State disputes concerning the interpretation of application of the Convention. See ICERD, art. 22. This procedure allows for disputes to be resolved in the first instance by negotiation, and should that fail, by arbitration. If the parties then fail to agree to the arbitration within a period of six months, then one of the States may refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice unless a State opted out of the procedure by making a declaration at the time of ratification or accession to ICERD.
The CERD employs an early-warning procedure in order to prevent the escalation of existing conflicts as well as urgent procedures to prevent the number of serious violations of the ICERD. Situations that qualify for an early-warning procedure could include: the lack of an adequate basis for defining and prohibiting racial discrimination in domestic legislation, inadequate enforcement mechanisms, or an emerging pattern of racial propaganda or appeals to racial intolerance made by other individuals. Situations that qualify for urgent procedures may include a situation where serious and persistent racial discrimination exists.
Once the CERD decides to undertake an early-warning procedure or an urgent procedure, the Committee may make requests to the State party involved to provide information, request the Secretariat to collect information from the field offices of relevant organizations, and adopt a decision that addresses specific concerns and recommends action.
The Committee also records a table of its past decisions under these procedures, statements, and letters sent to relevant State parties. More information is also included in the CERD’s Revised Guidelines for the Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedures.
Complaints of Systematic Violations (Inquiry Procedures)
The CERD does not have a system in place for initiating inquiries of serious or systematic violations of the ICERD.
The CERD also prepares general comments, known as general recommendations, interpreting the ICERD’s articles and provisions in order to assist State parties in fulfilling their obligations. Each general recommendation focuses on either a specific article of the ICERD or comments following thematic conferences and can be found published in a list on the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s website.
Open Letters and Statements
The CERD does issue statements and letters to relevant State parties according to its mandate under its early warning and urgent action procedures.
Thematic Discussions and Conferences
The CERD holds regular thematic discussions concerning the ICERD’s provisions and issues relevant to racial discrimination. These thematic discussions are informal meetings that allow for States parties and inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations to engage in a constructive dialogue. A summary of past discussions, listed in table format, is available on the Committee’s webpage on Thematic Discussions.
CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION
NGOs or other civil society stakeholders can submit alternative reports at any time, although it is generally suggested that the most effective submissions will be after the submission of a relevant State report and before its consideration by the Committee. The CERD’s Secretariat generally advises that all reports be submitted at least two weeks prior to the relevant session.
NGOs or other civil society stakeholders are also welcome to participate in an informal meeting with the CERD prior to the beginning of each session. Informal briefings can also be requested by contacting the Secretariat of the Committee. The informal briefings are usually allocated 1 hour during a break prior to the consideration of the relevant State report, although Committee members are not required to attend. Finally, NGOs are also allowed to attend sessions as observers, where participants will be able to watch the process, but not take part in a formal dialogue with the Committee.
The International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism also provides a Guide for Civil Society Actors that explains the functions of the Committee and discusses how NGOs can contribute in its work.
Attending Sessions and Accreditation
If an NGO or other civil society stakeholder wishes to attend a session of the CERD, the organization is required to be duly registered. Participants will have to create an account and register through the United Nations Indico system.
More information can be found in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Information Note on Accreditation to attend sessions of Treaty Bodies.
RESEARCH AND ADDITIONAL SOURCES
The Committee’s outputs can be found on its website and are linked to in the relevant sections above. The UN Treaty Body Database also collects these documents, which may be searched by several criteria, but not by keyword or subject matter. For additional research tools, view the Research Aids section of this Online Resource Hub.
Another useful resource is the International Service for Human Rights’ Simple Guide to UN Treaty Bodies (2010), which examines each treaty bodies’ reports, individual communications, State-to-State complaints, inquiry procedures, urgent interventions, general comments, and how NGOs can engage with treaty bodies.