The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law

« Calling things by the wrong name adds to the affliction of the world. » Albert Camus.

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is the body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). This Convention was adopted on 21 December 1965 and entered into force in 1969. As of June 2015, it had 177 States Parties.

The Committee, established pursuant to Article 8 of the Convention, was the first body established by the United Nations to examine the application of a human rights treaty. It opened the path to the establishment of similar treaty-based monitoring committees. ▸ Committee onthe Elimination of Discrimination against WomenCommittee on the Rights of the ChildCommittee against TortureHuman Rights Committee

The Committee holds two annual two- to three-week sessions, generally in March and August. The Convention foresees that the meetings will be held at the UN headquarters in New York (Art. 10.4 of CERD), but they usually take place in Geneva.

The Committee is made up of eighteen independent experts, elected for four years by the States party to the Convention. Equitable geographic distribution and the representation of the “different forms of civilization” and of the principal legal systems are taken into consideration.

Four different procedures are used to examine the Convention’s implementation, each of which is described in the following sections.

Country Reports

States Parties must present country reports on the legislative, judicial, administrative, or other measures that they have adopted in order to give effect to the provisions of the Convention (Art. 9 of CERD). Usually, a representative of the State presents the report and answers the Committee’s questions. The Committee may request additional information. It then presents its recommendations, which are not mandatory.

Originally, the States were to present an initial report, one year after the Convention’s entry into force, and then a report every two years. However, in 1988, the Committee decided to request that States provide a detailed report every four years, with an intermediate report every two years. The Committee can also ask States to present a special report at any moment, when it considers that the situation in the country in question so demands.

If a State has not presented a report in five years or more, the Committee will automatically exercise its control and require the State’s accountability.

NGOs may also transmit information to the Committee to assist the examination of the report.

State Communications

Under Article 11 of the Convention, if a State Party considers that another State Party is not adequately implementing the provisions of the Convention or is violating them, it may bring this to the Committee’s attention. As of April 2013, this procedure had never been used: States rarely choose to accuse one another of violating human rights. The Committee examines the communication according to a procedure described in Articles 11 to 13 of the Convention, which aims to achieve an amicable solution between the two States. The Committee transmits the complaint to the State concerned, which then has three months to submit written explanations or statements clarifying the matter and any remedy that may have been taken.

Once the Committee has gathered and studied all the information, it establishes an ad hoc Conciliation Commission made up of five members appointed with the consent of the parties to the dispute. The members are independent and cannot be nationals of the States party to the dispute or of a State not party to the Convention. They do not have to be members of the Committee. The Conciliation Commission makes its good offices available to the States concerned with a view to reaching an amicable solution, on the basis of respect for the Convention. When the Commission has fully considered the matter, it submits a report to the Committee with its findings on all questions of fact relevant to the issue and any recommendations. The Committee communicates the report to the States party to the dispute, which have three months to inform the Committee of their decision to accept the recommendations or not.

Individual Communications

Article 14 of the Convention establishes a procedure that allows individuals or groups of persons who claim to be victims of a violation of the Convention by their State to transmit communications to the Committee. This recourse is only available to them if the State in question has recognized the competence of the Committee to receive individual communications. As of June 2015, fifty-seven States had accepted this competence: Algeria, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Moldavia, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

These communications are subject to two conditions: they must not be anonymous, and the individual or group of individuals must have exhausted all local remedies, except where the application of the remedies has been unreasonably prolonged.

The Committee began examining individual communications in 1982, after ten States had agreed to submit to this optional competence, per Article 14.9. The procedure for examining such communications is established in Articles 14.6 to 14.8 of the Convention.

The Committee refers the communication to the State Party alleged to be violating the Convention, without revealing the identity of the individual or groups of individuals concerned. The State then has three months to submit written explanations or statements clarifying the matter and any remedy taken. The Committee then considers the communication in light of the information made available by the State and the petitioner. Finally, it transmits its suggestions and recommendations, if any, to them.

Prevention of Racial Discrimination, Early Warning, and Emergency Procedure

The Committee can decide on an ad hoc basis to monitor any situation that presents a risk of racial discrimination or in which the provisions of the Convention are being violated. Within this framework, NGOs can usefully transmit information to the Committee.

The Committee can then request that the State in question submit a special report, or it can invite this State to send a representative to its session to explain the situation and answer its questions.

ApartheidDiscriminationHuman rightsIndividual recourseProtectionSpecial Rapporteurs

List of States Party to International Human Rights and Humanitarian Conventions (no. 25)

Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

52 rue Paquis

1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Tel.: (41) 22 917 92 39

Fax: (41) 22 917 90 12

For Additional Information: Banton, Michael. “Decision-Taking in the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.” In The Future of United Nations Human Rights Treaty Monitoring , edited by P. Alston and J. Crawford, 55–78. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Van Boven, Theo. “The Experience of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.” In Discrimination and Toleration , edited by K. Hastrup and G. Ulrish, 165–74. The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2002.

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