Thursday, December 14, 2023

In celebration of Human Rights Day the IHRC releases the Summary of Record of the 107th Session of CERD.

AlejandraBy Alejandra PalaciosStaff Attorney, International Human Rights Clinic at UIC Law

“We must understand the role of human rights as empowering of individuals and communities.” – Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

On Human Rights Day, we take time to reflect on the activities and work done by everyone involved to further human rights in the United States during the 107th Review Session by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

From August 8th to August 30th, 2022, the CERD held its 107th Session where it reviewed the U.S.’s efforts to implement the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination. CERD holds governments accountable for their international obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (“ICERD”). It does so by evaluating state practice and regular reporting, examining State Party reports and issuing recommendations to the State Party in order to fulfill their obligations under ICERD. 

To hold States like the U.S. responsible under the treaty, members of civil society submit detailed reports to CERD regarding the State’s lack of protection against racial discrimination. In response, the State prepares a report to CERD describing the fulfillment of international obligations pursuant to the treaty. Members of CERD, including the Country Rapporteur, then consider the State’s report and construct a list of issues with civil society’s concerns to return to the State’s delegation. Finally, CERD provides concluding observations and recommendations that the State must implement. This process is designed to encourage meaningful dialogue between the U.S. as the State Party, civil society, and the Committee.

The CERD’s list of themes for the U.S. Review included: racial profiling; discriminatory practices in education; the discrimination of immigrants and non-citizens; gun violence and the use of excessive force by law enforcement; voting rights; women’s and reproductive rights; and environmental racism and pollution. During the review, Country Rapportuer, Ms. Pansy Tlakula, and other members of CERD requested information and questioned U.S. efforts to address racial discrimination based on the list of themes presented.

CERD expressed regret that the U.S. had not established a national action plan to combat systematic racism and structural discrimination, an issue raised civil society in shadow reports. Although the Committee recognized positive developments by the U.S., it urged them to do more to further the protection of social and economic rights, including access to health care and safe abortion; address disparities in sentencing and the use of excessive and deadly force by law enforcement; protecting the right to protest and speak freely; improve relations with Indigenous Peoples, among many other recommendations.

In its concluding observations, the Committee expressed concern that “the lingering legacies of colonialism and slavery continue to fuel racism and racial discrimination…undermining the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all individuals and communities.” This was followed by a call for a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for slavery – effectively linking current challenges experienced by Black Americans and people of African descent to the issue of slavery.

On August 24, 2023, the U.S. submitted a follow-up report to the concluding observations of the 107th Session. Pursuant to the Committee’s request, it provided information about maternal mortality and sexual and reproductive health, Indigenous Peoples, and migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and stateless persons. The U.S. acknowledged there is “significant work ahead to eliminate the racial and ethnic disparities” in these fields.

The U.S. must continue to engage with international bodies like CERD as it grapples with systemic racism and other human rights violations domestically. The experts on the Committee provide a blueprint to address structural discrimination through their concluding observations and recommendations. The U.S. has an obligation under the ICERD to strive meet the standards outlined therein. Being aware of what happens internationally to set standards for human rights is instrumental to grassroots movements challenging the status quo. Making that information accessible to the public, affected populations, and civil society is instrumental in creating persuasive arguments that push towards change.

After engaging in human rights advocacy at the United Nations CERD in Geneva, Switzerland, the International Human Rights Clinic releases a Summary of Record of the 107th Review of the United States in relation to its obligations under the treaty. In working alongside civil society organizations and groups, the clinic produced this record to support continued advocacy to combat systemic and structural racism in the United States. The Summary of Record is available here.

The purpose of the Summary of Record is to provide an overview of the discussions on the themes presented during the 107th Review Session of the U.S., along with details about the input from Civil Society. The summary of record also includes a short description of themes presented in prior sessions demonstrating how the themes evolved over time. This document can serve as a reference material to be used by the directly impacted individuals, organizations, and the public.

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